Euroleague Basketball: Maccabi TA needs lift in France

Yellow-and-blue looking for improvement against Pau-Orthez.

Maccabi Tel Aviv  298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv can clinch a Euroleague quarterfinal berth on Thursday night with a win against Pau-Orthez in France and a Tau Vitoria victory over Lottomatica Roma in Italy. Despite a dismal display at Nokia Arena two weeks ago, Tel Aviv (2-2) defeated Pau (1-3) 74-70. However, the Israeli club's form finally caught up with it last week in Spain, where the side was overwhelmed 94-73 by Group D leader Tau (4-0). The defeat against the Spanish club, which was Maccabi's seventh road loss in nine games, showed how far Tel Aviv has strayed from the top of European basketball since it played in the Final Four almost 11 months ago. Nonetheless, on Thursday night, Tel Aviv faces an Orthez team they can, and even should beat. "It's tough to say who's the favorite in this game, but we're going to Pau to get a win," Maccabi coach Neven Spahija said Wednesday morning before boarding the flight to France. "For Maccabi, it doesn't matter where or whom we play. We are coming out to win in every game, and for that, we'll need to control the tempo and stop their high tempo offense. "We have to win this game. Pau is a good team, and we saw that again in their win last week against Roma." The French club recorded its only victory of the Top 16 against Roma last week, winning 74-69 in Orthez, and needs to defeat Tel Aviv to have any chance of advancing to the quarterfinals. Michael Wright (15.1 points per game) leads Pau in scoring, with Britton Johnsen (11.6 ppg) and Aaron Miles (10 ppg) the only two other players on the team averaging double figures. The hosts will need to get points from more players to have a chance of winning on Thursday, with C.C. Harrison (9.8 ppg), Ricardo Greer (7.7 ppg, 6.1 rebounds per game) and Melvin Sanders (9.9 ppg) the most likely contributors. "We need to win to keep our chances alive and to play a decisive game next week in Vitoria," Sanders said. "The only way to get the win is to keep our concentration and determination and reproduce the good basketball we played over the last games. "We are playing better and better and we want to get revenge over Maccabi. We were 12 points up in the third quarter and we lost a great opportunity in Tel Aviv." Pau has averaged 75.3 points in its first four Top 16 Group D games, almost four more points than Tel Aviv. Maccabi, once a proud scoring team, has fallen from 87.9 ppg in the first 14 games of the Euroleague to 71.5 ppg in its last four and is shooting only 28.4 percent from beyond the arc. Croatian center Nikola Vujcic (15.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.3 assists per game) strained his hamstring in Sunday's BSL game against Ironi Nahariya, but is nevertheless expected to play. "I want to play this game. It's very important to us," Vujcic said. "We analyzed our last game against them and we know what mistakes we made. That should make our life easier on Thursday." Jaime Arnold (7.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg), who is suffering from flu-like symptoms, is also doubtful for the game and Lior Eliyahu (11.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) will need to step up for his ailing teammates. Derrick Sharp (11.6 ppg), Will Bynum (10.6 ppg) and Goran Jeretin will lead Tel Aviv's struggling backcourt once again and Spahija will be hoping swingman Tal Burstein can finally find the way to stabilize the team's playmaking. "This is a very decisive game for us," Burstein said. "If we win this game, we can secure our spot in the quarterfinals and that's very important to us. "Pau is a very athletic team and we'll need to know how to handle their pressure. A loss can make our life much more complicated, but we try not to think about it. Pau is a good home team. They beat CSKA in Orthez and that says it all. "I really hope Vujcic will play. Everybody knows how important he is for the team. At the end of the day the most important thing is the win, not the way. "We want to come back to Israel with a win."