Another do-or-die for Maccabi with Khimki in town

The critics weren’t just sharpening their knives, they were already gleefully carving up the supposed corpse.

David Logan 370 (photo credit: Lilach Weiss/BSL)
David Logan 370
(photo credit: Lilach Weiss/BSL)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague campaign was supposed to be over exactly one month ago.
The 82-77 defeat to Barcelona at Nokia Arena on February 14 capped a miserable first round of action in Top 16 Group F for Maccabi and left the yellowand- blue floundering with a 2-5 record.
The critics weren’t just sharpening their knives, they were already gleefully carving up the supposed corpse.
However, three straight wins to start the second round of action have resurrected Maccabi’s season, giving it real hope of sneaking into the group’s top four and progressing to the quarterfinal playoffs.
That is, of course, assuming Tel Aviv defeats Khimki Moscow at Nokia on Thursday night.
A loss, and it really will be time to print the obituaries. But a win over the Russians will keep Maccabi in the hunt for at least one more week, with a victory by 22 points or more needed to significantly improve the yellow-andblue’s chances by clinching the tiebreaker over Khimki, which thrashed Tel Aviv 88-67 when the teams met in Moscow two months ago.
Khimki completely outplayed Maccabi in that game, opening a double-digit lead by the break and easily maintaining it until the final buzzer.
That was probably Tel Aviv’s worst display of the Top 16, with Maccabi’s four other defeats in Group F coming by a combined 17 points.
After struggling mightily from three-point range for much of the season, the yellow-and-blue has registered a noteworthy improvement from beyond the arc in recent weeks, hitting a Euroleague team record of 15- from-27 attempts in last week’s 94-85 win over Fenerbahce Ulker after connecting on 12- from-20 shots from downtown in the 92-61 thrashing of Montepaschi Siena three weeks ago.
It is that triumph over Siena which has got Maccabi believing that it can beat Khimki by the desired 22 points.
“Clearly, we need to first and foremost focus on winning the game,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “It is not honorable to say that we are going to beat them by 22 points.
“However, few people believed we would beat Siena by more than 10 points and overturn our road defeat in Italy.”
Khimki improved to 6-4 last week with a 78-71 victory over Siena, winning for the ninth time in 10 Euroleague home games this season.
However, it has lost five of its past seven road encounters, although four of those defeats came by six points or less.
Center Paul Davis has scored in double figures in 13 consecutive continental games, notching 18 points or more over his past five, while 30-year-old Zoran Planinic is having a career year in his ninth Euroleague season, averaging career highs in scoring (13.2 PPG) and assists (6.2 APG).
“It will be a very important and tough game for both teams and the balance in the group will tilt to one side,” said Khimki coach Rimas Kurtinaitis, whose side leads the league in assists with 18.5 per game.
Blatt claimed that Khimki is a stronger team than Maccabi, but he has every confidence that his men can prevail on Thursday and maintain their bid for a quarterfinal berth.
“We have learned from our mistakes against them earlier this season,” said Blatt. “We are in excellent form in Europe and are playing at home. We have every reason to look forward to this game.”