Euroleague Basketball: Maccabi primed for t?te-?-t?te with Le Mans

TA needs another road win vs 0-7 French side to climb towards top-3 in Group A.

Maccabi TA 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi TA 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
After effectively clinching its place in the Euroleague Top 16 with its first road victory of the season last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv turns its attention to improving its position in the standings with the hope of avoiding a tough draw in the next round. Maccabi, at 4-3, trails Olympiacos, Malaga and Cibona by one game entering this week's action and must defeat the still-winless Le Mans in France on Thursday if it's to have a reasonable chance of finishing among the top three in Group A. "Although we're already theoretically in the Top 16, we want to make it official and from there try to move up the standings to finish as high as possible at the end of the regular season," Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said. "If we wish to achieve that, a win this week is a must. Le Mans lost all its games so far, but the vast majority of them were close losses. Even Olympiacos needed an overtime to win in France. We need to focus on ourselves. We need to fix our own mistakes, and concentrate only on our game. The loss in the BSL has no influence on this game." Maccabi fell in a disappointing defeat to Bnei Hasharon in the BSL on Sunday and, despite the road victory at Air Avellino last Thursday, is still suffering from all the ills which plagued Effi Birenboim's team. Tel Aviv still desperately lacks the balance and consistency a team with such high expectations requires, and the changes in the roster have had little, if any, effect so far. The club's newest signing, center Elton Brown, hasn't been given much of an opportunity to showcase his game as of yet. On Thursday, however, he'll likely get his chance to impress Gershon, going into the Euroleague's three-week New Year's break, as D'or Fischer will miss the game with a broken finger and out-of-favor Esteban Batista didn't even fly out with the team. "It might be a big chance for me since D'or and Esteban won't play, but I don't look at it like that," Brown said. "Maccabi is a team with a very deep roster and players always need to fill in for each other. "It's my very first Euroleague game and I'm very excited. I hope to bring to the court whatever coach will ask me to. I hope to contribute to my team as much as possible and hopefully make a difference." When Maccabi hosted Le Mans earlier this season, the Israeli team needed overtime to pull out an 82-80 victory. In fact, the French side lost all five of its first games by no more than five points before falling apart in its last two outings, losing to Malaga and Cibona by a combined 51 points. "The motivation for this game is pride," Le Mans coach John-David Jackson said. "Even if we no longer have a chance to qualify for the Top 16, we want to win some games before the end to show that we are a good Euroleague team. "The last two games have been demoralizing for my players and we are practicing very hard with the hope of getting back to our highest level. It will obviously be very difficult against a Maccabi team which is fighting for the top spot in the group and has found inspiration with the arrival of Pini Gershon." Former Maccabi sharpshooter David Bluthenthal leads Le Mans in points (13.7 ppg) and minutes (36 mpg), but Maccabi still has a far superior roster and will have no excuse should it fail to win on Thursday. "We shouldn't enter the game thinking it will be easy, just because we won at Avellino last week," said Maccabi guard Marcus Brown, who scored 26 points in Italy last Thursday, but was held scoreless in Ra'anana on Sunday. "We want to win as many games as possible, even though we're already on our way to the Top 16. Our goal is to improve with every game."