Basketball: Maccabi TA desperate for win against old foe

Real Madrid has won 21 of the 35 encounters, but Tel Aviv defeated Real by 15 points when the teams last met two years ago at the Nokia Arena.

Maccabi TA 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi TA 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
One of European basketball's oldest and greatest rivalries will be renewed on Thursday night when Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Real Madrid at the Nokia Arena. The two foes have met 35 times in the past, with their first meeting coming more than 40 years ago in 1967. Madrid has the overall advantage, winning 21 of the 35 encounters, but Tel Aviv defeated Real by 15 points when the teams last met two years ago at the Nokia Arena. However, the past will be of little relevance on Thursday as Maccabi's Final Four aspirations could be history if the team fails to claim a win. A defeat to the Spanish giant at the Nokia Arena will mean Maccabi will have almost no chance of finishing first in its top-16 group and will also dent its hopes of qualifying for the last eight via second position. Maccabi enters the game still reeling from its 19 point loss (101-82) to Zalgiris Kaunas last week. The team struggled terribly in Lithuania without Marcus Fizer and Nikola Vujcic, but the Croatian center is expected to be fit to face Real, news which considerably boosts Tel Aviv's hopes. The loss against Zalgiris was Maccabi's first in European action under coach Tzvika Sherf, who had won all six of his previous Euroleague games after replacing Oded Katash. "Everybody in the team knows the importance of this game," Sherf said. "All the players are ready for the game and Vujcic will play. We will have to stick to our game plan and maintain our composure throughout the entire encounter if we want to win. There's a lot of pressure on us, but we live for these nights." Real will be looking to take a significant step towards the Final Four, which will be played in Madrid, with a crucial win in Tel Aviv. The team has won seven straight Euroleague games and opened the top-16 stage with two home victories against Zaligiris and Olympiacos. The Spaniards' Greek center Lazaros Papadopoulos will miss the game through injury, but the visitors have more than enough weapons in the frontcourt and backcourt to claim a win. Louis Bullock (13.5 ppg) and Kerem Tunceri (7.5 ppg, 2.3 apg) will be a serious threat from the perimeter, with Charles Smith (10.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Axel Hervelle (8.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) capable of shooting down Maccabi from any distance. Felipe Reyes (12 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Alex Mumbru (10.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) are Madrid's top big men, with Blagota Sekulic likely to get plenty of court time due to Papadopoulos's absence. "We have a very difficult and important game ahead of us," Real coach Joan Plaza told the Euroleague Web site. "We have won our first two games at home and now we want to enter this game with the same mentality. Maccabi has a great roster which on top of everything else is also getting injured players back. We have to be ready for a tough and intense game in which we will need to maintain our concentration to get the win." A few minutes before the game a ceremony will be held on-court, where 13 present and past Maccabi players and coaches will be honored by Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu. Derrick Sharp, Nikola Vujcic, Tal Burstein, Tanhum Cohen-Minz, Yehoshua Rozin, Lou Silver, Aulcie Perry, Nadav Henefeld, Doron Jamchy, Ralph Klein, Moti Aroesti, Tal Brody and Miki Berkowitz will all be honored in the commemorative event. On TV: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Real Madrid (live at 8:50 p.m. on Channel 10)