Euroleague Basketball: Maccabi needs home win to even record

Tel Aviv must find a quick boost vs Cibona to avoid falling out of contention early.

tre simmons mac ta 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
tre simmons mac ta 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
When Maccabi Tel Aviv began its Euroleague campaign just six weeks ago no one at the club dreamed the team would have any difficulty advancing to the top-16 of the competition. On Thursday, Maccabi (2-3) hosts Cibona Zagreb (4-1) at the Nokia Arena, knowing a defeat will further complicate the team's already difficult situation in Group A. Even though four of the group's six sides will progress to the top-16, Maccabi is in danger of missing out, especially if it fails to beat the Croats on Thursday. "We're trying to improve what we can and create a style of play which will suit the players," said coach Pini Gershon, who lost at home to Unicaja Malaga in his first game back at Maccabi last week. "Cibona is a good and tough team and we're obviously expecting a difficult game. However, we must do everything we can to win at home. Every Euroleague game is important, but this one is even slightly more significant because of our situation." Cibona is perhaps the biggest surprise of the Euroleague so far. The Croats began their campaign with an 81-79 defeat of Maccabi in Zagreb and have also defeated Olympiacos at home. Zagreb's only loss to date came away at Malaga, but last week the team rebounded from that defeat with an 82-79 victory over Air Avellino. Coach Velimir Perasovic, who has guided Tau Vitoria to the Final Four, is the man in charge of Cibona's surprise success, and as one would expect he's downplaying his team's chances at the Nokia Arena. "We will be facing an incredible atmosphere and a team which will be really determined to win," Perasovic said. "I see Maccabi as one of the team's that has Final Four potential." American Rawle Marshall, who scored 20 points against Maccabi earlier this season, leads Cibona in scoring, averaging 15.4 points, as well as 4.4 rebounds per game. Davor Kus (13.4 ppg), who scored 23 points in the victory over Maccabi, Earl Calloway (12.8 ppg) and Nikola Prkacin (10.4 ppg), are three more players Gershon and his players must be wary of, knowing the Croatian side needs them to be on top-form if they are to win in Tel Aviv. One of the keys to Cibona's home victory over Maccabi was the team's successful defense on Carlos Arroyo. The Puerto Rican hit just two of his 13 shots in Zagreb and dished out only two assists. "Arroyo is the player who gets things going for Maccabi. Calloway and Vedran Princ did a good job stopping him in the first game and if they can do it again we can look forward to good things happening," Marshall said. "Maccabi is a big team and it will not be easy for us because they are in a must-win situation. We're not under any pressure in this encounter, so we can play our game and hope for the best." Besides Arroyo (15.8 ppg, 5 apg, 4.8 rpg), Maccabi only has two more players who have averaged double-figures in the first five games in European play. The play of D'or Fischer (14 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Lior Eliyahu (11.6 ppg, 4 rpg) has been one of the only bright spots in Tel Aviv's otherwise catastrophic continental campaign. "It's a big game for us because we must get this win to improve our position in the standings," Fischer said. "We lost our last home game to Unicaja, so that really doesn't leave us with a lot of options." The signing of big man Elton Brown this week will obviously see Fischer and Eliyahu play fewer minutes, but not until next week, as Gershon has decided that Maccabi's newest recruit will sit out Thursday's game. "This is a game we must win. We can't even think about the possibility of losing," Eliyahu said on Wednesday. "Obviously, all the recent changes at the club aren't ideal, but we must put everything aside and win the game."