Euroleage: Maccabi TA under pressure in Istanbul

Tel Aviv coach admits the team must improve dramatically to contend in Turkey tonight.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
New coach Tzvika Sherf will have to work some magic on Thursday night if Maccabi Tel Aviv is to return triumphant from its visit to Efes Pilsen in Turkey. Sherf replaced Oded Katash at the helm of the slumping Israeli champion on Tuesday and admitted he has a tough task ahead of him. Maccabi's recent form has been nothing short of pathetic and the game against Pilsen in Istanbul on Thursday would have been considered difficult even at the best of times, not to mention the worst. Tel Aviv lost its last Euroleague game against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at the Nokia Arena last month, but Sherf said he is far more concerned with the team's play and not its results. Despite being a respectable 6-3 in the competition, Maccabi has been erratic at best this season. The team has crumbled under pressure (shooting 64 percent from the free-throw line, last in the Euroleague) and hasn't matched the effort of its opponents in most of its games (18th of the 24 teams in rebounding). "I'm not a savior," Sherf said as the team left Israel on Wednesday. "With the defense we played against Ramat Gan [in Maccabi's last BSL game] it's impossible to win against any opponent. The defense is the key, especially in the Euroleague and against a team like Pilsen. We also, however, have plenty to improve on the offensive end. Sherf stressed that he has done his homework and prepped the players for the match. "I watched tapes of Pilsen overnight and it's not going to be an easy game," he said. "We have 24 hours to prepare, but the outcome of the game will rest on the players performance and the way in which we play as a team." Pilsen is 6-3 in the Euroleague, but is a perfect 4-0 at home in European basketball's most prestigious competition. The Turks won their last two Euroleague home games against Cibona Zagreb and Unicaja Malaga by an average 21 points and are currently on a three-game winning streak in the competition. Efes is led by American Drew Nicholas, who has averaged 16.4 points per game. Blatt, however, will likely have to manage without the guard and without Serkan Erdogan ( 6.8 ppg), as both are injured and are not expected to play on Thursday. The absence of both guards means that Kenny Gregory (10.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg), Scoonie Penn (7.1 ppg, 2.7 apg) and Ender Arslan (5 ppg) will be playing extra minutes and will have to shoulder more responsibility against Maccabi. "It's highly unlikely that Nicholas will play on Thursday. I'm not expecting him or Erdogan to play against Maccabi," Blatt told The Jerusalem Post. "This is a significant game. There are only five games left in the first round and obviously every game has a big significance." Maccabi's Uruguayan center Esteben Batista had his best game for the club in the team's 73-67 victory over Pilsen when the clubs first met this season at the Nokia Arena back in November. Batista has been relatively successful at Tel Aviv, averaging 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds in 15 minutes on court. Batista and Tel Aviv's other big men will, however, have a tough time on Thursday against Andre Hutson (11.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Loren Woods (7.6 ppg, 6.1) and Kerem Gonlum ( 5.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg). "We're going to their backyard and their going to want to defend their house," Maccabi's disappointing guard Vonteego Cummings said. "It's an important game for them just like it is for us, so we're going to have to find a way to win." Channel 10 revealed on Wednesday that the security establishment has warned of a security threat at the game but Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi insisted the team was not concerned. "We've got security forces from Israel with us and the local security forces are also keeping an eye on us," Mizrahi told Channel 10. "We're calm and are being protected properly. I don't think there's any reason to mention the security warning to the players at the moment."