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MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Devin Smith 370.(Photo by: Adi Avishai)
Mac TA looks to punch ticket with win over Malaga
Maccabi Tel Aviv can take a significant step towards locking up first place in Euroleague regular season Group B.
Maccabi Tel Aviv can take a significant step towards locking up first place in Euroleague regular season Group B on Thursday night when it hosts Unicaja Malaga at Nokia Arena.

Maccabi can already qualify for the Top 16 with a win on Thursday, as a sixth straight victory will guarantee its place among the group’s best four teams at the end of the 10- week regular season.

The first of those victories came at Malaga where Maccabi won its Euroleague road opener for the first time since 2004, which was also the last season it lifted the Euroleague title. Maccabi opened a double- digit margin (47-36) after an impressive first half in Malaga and survived a comeback to clinch an 85-80 win thanks to a 10-0 fourth-quarter run.

Malaga bounced back to record four consecutive wins and Maccabi coach David Blatt believes his team will have to be at its best to get the better of the Spaniards once more on Thursday.

“We played superbly to win in Malaga and we will have to repeat that to win on Thursday,” Blatt said.

“This is a game which can determine many things for us as we have a chance to already secure our progress and close in on finishing in first.”

Malaga leads the Euroleague through five games with 36.6 rebounds per game, and has four players who are averaging more than 10 points per contest, led by Earl Calloway (14.6 ppg), who scored a Euroleague career-high 25 points in the loss to Maccabi.

“Malaga has many weapons and a deep and versatile roster,” Blatt added.

“This will be a very challenging game.”

Maccabi’s biggest success in Malaga was holding big-men James Gist, Fran Vazquez, Kosta Perovic and Luka Zoric to a combined nine points, but they have since averaged 26 points per game and give the visitors a clear size advantage under the baskets.

“I think that Maccabi has a good team but it’s still a bit early to know if it’s better than other European teams,” said Malaga’s coach Jasmin Repesa.

“They are playing well and are in good shape but this is still the start of the season.

“We lost the first game against them in Malaga as we had too many turnovers in the second quarter.

“We have to control the rhythm of the game, be smart, try to avoid turnovers and try to have a flowing offense. That will help us win the game.”

Devin Smith missed the game in Malaga through injury, but scored a career-high 20 points in Maccabi’s tight win at Alba Berlin last week and is expecting a stern test on Thursday.

“Malaga isn’t the same team we faced five weeks ago,” Smith said. “They have gelled as a team and have put together a decent run of wins.

“Coach has prepared us well for the game and now it is all up to us.”
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