With a victory over Alba Berlin, Maccabi Tel Aviv will ensure it advances to the Euroleague Top 16 as the winner of Group B.
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be aiming to avoid an upset when it hosts Alba Berlin at Nokia Arena on Thursday night, with a victory to ensure it advances to the Euroleague Top 16 as the winner of Group B.A win against the Germans will see the yellow-and-blue end the regular season with an 8-2 record and finish ahead of Unicaja Malaga on a tiebreaker even should the Spaniards beat Chalon-Sur-Saone.Maccabi required a fourth-quarter surge to remain top of its group last week, beating Prokom Gdynia by 16 points (89-73), but only after outscoring the hosts 29-8 in the final frame.After opening their campaign with five straight wins, David Blatt’s men have not had it all their own way in the second half of the regular season.Defeats to Malaga and Montepaschi Siena were followed by a tighter-than-expected home win over Chalon before last week’s scare in Poland.Blatt will be hoping things are far more straightforward on Thursday, with the Top 16 already getting underway in two weeks.The yellow-and-blue made the most of a relatively weak regular season group, but matters will be exceedingly more difficult in the next round, especially if Tel Aviv fails to significantly improve on its play from recent weeks.AdvertisementThe Top 16 has a new format this season, with the teams to be split into two groups of eight and the best four from each group to progress to the playoffs after a 14-game round robin, which begins on December 27 and runs until April 5.As a result, even should Maccabi win its regular season group, it is set to face another group winner, likely Spanish powerhouse Barcelona, as well as the strong second placed teams from Groups A and C.First things first, however, with Maccabi needing to avoid a slip-up against Alba at home to ensure it ends the regular season on a high.“This is the time of the season where the players get tired and hurt,” said Alba coach Sasa Obradovic. “Now that we have Deon Thompson and Heiko Schaffartzik back in the team, we miss Vule Avdalovic. Having lost one of our leading players, some roles in the team will change a little and we will have to find a new chemistry.”With Guy Pnini suspended indefinitely after being caught calling Hapoel Tel Aviv player Jonathan Skjoldebrand a Nazi during last week’s derby, new swingman Sylven Landesberg has got a golden opportunity to carve out a greater role for himself in the rotation.Landesberg, who joined Tel Aviv from Maccabi Haifa, has only netted a total of 12 points in the Euroleague so far, averaging just over six minutes per game and failing to even score a point in seven of the team’s continental contests.However, he recorded seasonhighs in points (14) and minutes (23) in Maccabi’s most recent BSL win at Barak Netanya and will be hoping to carry the momentum into Thursday’s showdown.“It feels good to be back playing and I’ll try to continue to improve and earn the coach’s trust,” Landesberg said. “We are looking forward to winning on Thursday and clinching first place.”
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