Euroleague Basketball: Mac TA aims to hold on to top spot in Slovenia

Euroleague Basketball M

After opening a one-game lead atop of Euroleague's Group C last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv enters Thursday's game at Olimpija Ljubljana in the knowledge that its fate is in its own hands. Maccabi has put some breathing space between itself and its group rivals after winning four of its first five games and will hope to keep the momentum going with a road victory in Slovenia. Tel Aviv thrashed Ljubljana 85-65 in the group opener in Tel Aviv seven weeks ago, handing the Slovenian champion the first of its four straight losses to start the Euroleague campaign. However, Olimpija will be entering Thursday's game on a high after claiming an impressive 87-70 victory over Lottomatica Roma last week, improving to 1-4 on the season. "Not everybody knows, but one the toughest gyms to play in on the road is Ljubljana's," Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said. Gershon's men have also done well in BSL action so far this season, winning their first seven games of the campaign. Nevertheless, the coach knows that his team still has plenty of room for improvement and has no intention of taking Ljubljana lightly. "Maccabi never had walks in the park in Ljubljana, and I don't expect anything different this time," he said. "We are in a good position in the group, but we can't allow ourselves to rest. "One accidental loss can ruin everything we built in the first round, so we must stay in attack mode and not underestimate any team, no matter what happened in the first game." Despite playing without the Euroleague's leading scorer, Matt Walsh (24.5 points per game), Ljubljana finally played to potential in last week's victory over Roma. Sani Becirovic looked like his old self with 24 points, six assists and five rebounds and the Slovenians defense forced the Italians to commit 17 turnovers. Walsh will be back in the lineup on Thursday and together with Becirovic forms a tandem which can give Gershon a real headache. "If we want to keep on dreaming about making the Top 16, we have to beat Maccabi," Ljubljana coach Jure Zdovc said. "No math needed, only a win is good enough. I am sure that with all our players focused and the help of our fans we can beat this European giant. Thankfully, Matt Walsh is back with us after his ankle problems, so I hope we are prepared for this duel." Maccabi, which officially oaned Gal Mekel to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil on Wednesday, was truly dreadful in its 75-67 victory over Maroussi last week, with Alan Anderson and Chuck Eidson combining for 10 points and six turnovers. Another player who will be hoping for a significant improvement on Thursday is David Bluthenthal. The American shooter only made one of five attempts from beyond the arc against Maroussi and has scored just two of eight from three-point range in his last three Euroleague games. Bluthenthal will be hoping to translate his BSL scoring form to the Euroleague after hitting nine of 10 three-point attempts in his last two league games. "It's going to be a completely different story than the game we played against them in Tel Aviv," Bluthenthal said ahead of Thursday's encounter at Ljubljana. "I played there before, it's a tough gym to play in. For sure they are going to come with their best game. I'm happy I'm able to help my team more lately. I think I'm in the right places and in the right times. I'm just trying to be patient and let the game come to me."