Euroleague Basketball: Maccabi seeks consecutive road wins

The Israelis have begun to inch closer to the goal of reaching the finals tournament in Madrid.

maccabi tel aviv 224 (photo credit: Associated Press)
maccabi tel aviv 224
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Towards the end of November last year it seemed more likely that Maccabi Tel Aviv fans would see former star Guy Goodes back on the Yad Eliyahu court playing for the team than Maccabi qualifying for the Euroleague Final Four in May. The perrenial Israeli champs had an apalling start to the local BSL season and couldn't win away from home in Europe. However, since the Maccabi management took decisive action and sacked then-coach Oded Katash before the situation got out of hand, his replacement Tzvika Sherf has turned things around in an incredible fashion. Now the Israelis have begun to inch closer to the goal of reaching the finals tournament in Madrid. Under Sherf, the yellows put together a stunning six-game winning streak in the Euroleague, culminating in last week's hard-fought victory at Olympiakos. Sherf's players and staff now know that a second consecutive road win in the Top 16 stage, at Lithuanian side Zalgiris on Thursday night, would make them favorites to make it into the quarterfinal playoffs. But, like all games at this level, it won't be easy to overcome a Zalgiris team which lost by only three points at Real Madrid a week ago. Sherf, a Euroleague veteran coach, said he has been studying his opponents carefuly in advance of the encounter in Eastern Europe. "I know from watching them, from reading about them and from scouting reports that Zalgiris is a good team. Their results speak for themselves," he told the Euroleague Web site. "They have good players, but we're dying to win. This is a very important game. Everyone wants to win at home. We hope to win on the road, but this is just the start of the road." Playing on their home court at the S. Darius and S Girenas Sport Center in the city of Kaunas, Zalgiris will likely come out fighting with all-time Euroleague Basketball leading scorer Marcus Brown likely to be firing on all cylinders from the tip off. Zalgiris is 6-1 at home this season and needs a win to keep its Euroleague season alive. Maccabi will be missing Marcus Fizer who was ruled out for the season after hurting his knee in last week's game in Greece and Nikola Vujcic who is still injured. The injuries have dominated talk in Israel about Maccabi and Sherf insisted that, despite their importance, it was time to move on. "We need to talk about the players that are here and to stop dealing with Nikola and Fizer, even though I love them both," he said. "We need to give the players that are playing confidence so they can prepare themselves. Zalgiris is an excellent offensive team where every player cans core from any spot. "Their three-point shooting is high and they shoot without reservations. They want to reach the Final Four like about 10 other teams." Zalgiris head coach Rimantas Grigas noted the loss of Fizer and Vujcic but said he was focused on the entire Maccabi team. "Maccabi has a lot of strong players and it is a very hard to pin point just one player that is important to their schemes. Everyone is involved in the game and they run the pick-and-roll almost to perfection," he said. "Though they lost Marcus Fizer and Nikola Vujcic, it's still a very tough team to beat. We have our goals and we want to win this game, no matter what had happened in the past. "Maybe the media highlights the fact that this game is the first game since that dramatic match in Tel Aviv, but we don't think about game that way. We have our goal and that is a victory." Brown will be the man Maccabi must look out for. The 34-year-old is averaging 14.3 points-per-game in European play and shooting 44.7 percent from beyond the arc. Fellow American DeJuan Collins is also likely to make an impact. With Fizer out Uruguayan Esteban Batista is likely to step up to the plate and take control in the center of the court. Maccabi captain Derrick Sharp was sure his team can take the win. "If we play our game the way we're capable of playing, we can beat anyone. It doesn't matter who the team is. If we play good defense, starting in the first quarter, and make a statement, and if we control their guards, who take a lot of three-point shots," he said.