Euroleague Basketball: All eyes on Pini in TA coaching (re)debut
Reeling Maccabi hosts fellow 2-2 Unicaja Malaga with crucial home victory on the line.
By ALLON SINAI
Just 48 hours after he met his roster for the first time, Pini Gershon will try and guide Maccabi Tel Aviv to a crucially important home victory against Unicaja Malaga on Thursday night.
Gershon admitted that there is not much he can change in a couple of training sessions, but his powerful presence has already made a difference, injecting some much-needed confidence into the previously downcast side.
"You can't make a 180 degree change in such a short time, but the players understand my basketball philosophy and we'll see that on court against Malaga," said Gershon, who opened his pre-game press conference by claiming that Thursday's result, win or lose, will belong to ex-coach Effi Birenboim.
"I think the players understand the state the team is in and they all want to win."
Despite its unconvincing play, Birenboim's Maccabi recorded reasonable results in the Euroleague, losing its two road games to Cibona Zagreb and Olympiacos, but defeating Avellino and Le Mans in Tel Aviv.
With five of the six teams in Maccabi's Group A within just one game of each other, it's essential that Pini's Tel Aviv maintains its perfect home record throughout the Euroleague's regular season, beginning with Thursday's game against the injury-ravaged Malaga.
"Malaga is one of the best teams in Europe," said Gershon, whose debut with Maccabi after his first comeback, in the 2003-04 season, was also in Tel Aviv against Unicaja, a game which Maccabi won 88-73 on the way to the Euroleague title.
"You can't prepare to face an Aito Reneses team in one-and-a-half days. He's one of the greatest coaches in Europe and I haven't had time to get ready to face his side because I've been too busy with my team."
Like Maccabi, Malaga also has a 2-2 record in the Euroleague so far, losing twice on the road and winning twice at home.
Unicaja, which is currently second in the Spanish league with an 8-2 record, defeated Barcelona 82-71 on Saturday, despite losing star power forward Marcus Haislip during the encounter and playing without long-term injury victims Berni Rodriguez, Alfonso Sanchez and German Gabriel.
"We are not in our best condition ahead of the game against Maccabi," Malaga coach Reneses said. "Marcus Haislip joins our already long injury list and that coincides with German Gabriel's absence which creates big problems for us.
"However, we have to fight. We may not have the level needed to beat Maccabi in Tel Aviv with the injuries, but if we do not fight, we will surely lose."
Reneses can at least count of the contributions of big men, Boniface Ndong (14 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Robert Archibald (11 ppg, 5.3 rpg), and will also have point guard Carlos Cabezas back from an ankle injury.
"We couldn't have worst luck," Ndong said. "We were missing many players and now Haislip is the new name on the injury list. This will make this game even more difficult.
"It may look that Maccabi is not so strong but we know that playing in Tel Aviv is always tough. They are not playing as well as last year but this is still Maccabi Tel Aviv."
Rodney White will be on Maccabi's Euroleague roster for the first time on Thursday and Marcus Brown is confident the change at the coaching position can make all the difference.
"We need to play like pros and be focused," Brown said. "It's going to be crazy in the arena and I believe Pini can bring about an immediate change."
In Wedndesday night's Euroleague Group A action, group-leader Cibona beat Avellino 82-79 in overtime after Avellino's Tamar Slay made two free-throws with ten seconds left in regulation to send the match to an extra session.
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