Early must-win for Mac TA after 0-2 start

Yellow-and-blue hosts fellow bottom-feeder Fenerbahce hoping for drastic Top 16 improvements.

Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Any way you look at it, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s hopes of reaching the Euroleague quarterfinals will be as good as over should it fail to beat Fenerbahce Ulker in Top 16 Group F at Nokia Arena on Thursday night.
Maccabi dropped to an agonizing 71-70 home defeat to Caja Laboral Vitoria last week, falling to 0-2.
The Top 16’s new 14-game format means Tel Aviv still has plenty of time to make up lost ground.
However, a second straight defeat in Tel Aviv to a Fenerbahce team which has also opened the Top 16 with two consecutive losses would realistically end the yellowand- blue’s hopes considering it has yet to face the group’s big names – Barcelona, Olympiacos and Khimki Moscow.
“If there is such a thing as a do-or-die game than this is it,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt after his side returned to winning ways with a BSL victory against Hapoel Jerusalem at Malha Arena on Sunday.
“We showed a lot of maturity by bouncing back from the defeat to Caja. We may be lacking in certain departments, but with guys like we have you can go to war.”
Despite having one of the more star-studded rosters in Europe, Fenerbahce only managed a 5-5 record in the regular season and suffered a 98-92 home defeat to Montepaschi Siena last week after being thrashed 100-78 at Barcelona in its Top 16 opener.
Bo McCalebb (11.8 PPG) and Bojan Bogdanovic (13.2 PPG) are Fener’s clear top two options, but Maccabi will also be keeping a close eye on Emir Preldzic (9.4 PPG) and Romain Sato (9.1 PPG), with veterans Mike Batiste (6.3 PPG) and David Andersen (6.8 PPG) giving the Ulker roster vast experience in playing at Nokia Arena.
“We are playing against one of the top teams in the Euroleague who are in the same situation as us,” said Fener coach Simone Pianigiani, whose team was beaten 94-76 by Anadolu Efes in Turkish league action on Monday.
“At home Maccabi always presents something special. I don’t know how many years it has been since they lost two games in a row. It will be a mentally difficult game. We lost our confidence in the last two games. We have to keep our heads high and try to stay in the game and play until the end.”
Maccabi is just 2-2 in its past four Euroleague home games, with all four of its continental defeats to date strongly linked to its accuracy from three-point range.
Tel Aviv hit less than 28 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc with no more than five successful shots in each of its losses and will be eyeing a significant improvement in that department on Thursday, especially from Devin Smith.
The American swingman has gone 0-for-9 thus far in the Top 16 after making 43.2% of his threes during the regular season.
“We have got to win this game,” Smith said. “The win over Jerusalem was important to us because we wanted to get the week off on the right foot.
The fact we beat Hapoel through our defense and rebounding was important as those will be two of the keys for a win on Thursday as well.”