Euroleague: Mac TA seeks 1st win over Rytus in 2 years

Tel Aviv has won seven straight European home games and 22 of its last 23, but has lost all three of its previous meetings against Rytas in the last two years.

Mac TA Le Mans 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mac TA Le Mans 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's perfect home record will face a stern test on Thursday night when Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius visits the Nokia Arena. Tel Aviv has won seven straight European home games and 22 of its last 23, but has lost all three of its previous meetings against Rytas in the last two years, including a 92-86 home defeat in December 2005. Vilnius, which thrashed Maccabi 92-74 in the teams' first meeting this season, is one of only of two European clubs (along with ASK Riga) that Maccabi has faced, but failed to defeat. Despite its erratic start to the season, Tel Aviv has won its last four Euroleague games and six of its first eight, and is tied with Unicaja Malaga (6-2) and Rytas (6-2) for top position in Group B. Influential center Nikola Vujcic is set to return to training in a couple weeks time and with Tal Burstein also on the mend, things are all of the sudden beginning to look up for first-year coach Oded Katash. "Rytas is probably our toughest opponent in this stage of the competition," Katash said on Wednesday. "They play true team basketball on both ends of the court and we'll have to play smart basketball to defeat them. "We're entering this game with higher confidence after winning our last two road games in the Euroleague, but we're always under pressure to maintain our perfect home record. We're definitely entering the game as favorites and we should get the job done." Vilnius's excellent team basketball is a result of coach Aleksandar Trifunovic's short seven-man roster in which every player knows his place. Hollis Price leads the team in points (17.4), assists (4) and minutes played (33), and unsurprisingly is the side's most consistent player. Katash will, however, be far more concerned with Rytas' vast array of big men. With Terence Morris (17 ppg and 7 rpg in the last three games) Maccabi's only reliable contributor in the paint this season, Vilnius will be hoping to dominate under the baskets in the fashion it did when the teams met earlier this season. The Lithuanians controlled the boards throughout the encounter, out-rebounding Tel Aviv 40-17. Marijonas Petravicius (15.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Chuck Eidson (11.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Matt Nielsen (9 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Kenan Bajramovic (8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) make sure Rytas is never shorthanded in the paint, meaning that Tel Aviv's big men will have to be at their best on Thursday night. Mindaugas Lukauskis (9 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and Arturas Jomantas (7.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg), who led his team in the win against Maccabi with 19 points, complete Rytas's seven-man core. "Maccabi has improved a lot. They are proving they are one of the biggest clubs in Europe," Vilnius coach Trifunovic told the Euroleague Web site. "I think they have managed to put the qualities of individual players together into a fine team play. "They're doing really well at the moment and it's really tough to match them in the famous Tel Aviv arena. "This game is obviously pretty important, looking at the standings, but we try not to bother ourselves with calculations. "Of course, we're going to try to go as far as possible, but I don't think that the Maccabi game is really any different from the other five games we've still got left." Maccabi's two comfortable wins against Aris Thessaloniki (85-70) and Le Mans (99-91) in the last two weeks have given the much-criticized team some desperately needed confidence and David luthenthal believes the side will continue its recent improvement on Thursday. "We lost by a large margin in Lithuania, but a lot has happened in the six weeks since," Bluthenthal said. "We're a much better team now, we understand what our coach wants from us and we've gotten to know each other much better. We must build on our recent wins on Thursday."