Euroleague: Maccabi needs win to avoid CSKA

All of Tel Aviv's hard work in Madrid last week will go to waste if the team fails to defeat Zalgiris Kaunas.

Vujcic 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Vujcic 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
All of Maccabi Tel Aviv's hard work at Madrid last week will go to waste if the team fails to defeat Zalgiris Kaunas at the Nokia Arena on Thursday night. The tremendous victory against Real Madrid secured Maccabi a quarterfinal berth, but should the side lose on Thursday it will face the daunting, almost hopeless task of playing CSKA Moscow in the last eight - without home court advantage. A win, however, will guarantee Tel Aviv first position in Group F and will put the side in prime position to reach the Euroleague Final Four for the seventh time in nine years. "I haven't slept for a few nights now. Everybody knows how important home court advantage is in the quarterfinal playoff," Maccabi coach Tzvika Sherf said on Wednesday. "We haven't done well against Lithuanian sides recently, but there's no reason why we shouldn't win on Thursday. Defense will be the key. We also must rebound well on the defensive end and lower their percentages from beyond the arc. "We're one win away from winning this top-16 group, and we're going to do everything possible to make it happen." Maccabi has lost its last five games against Lithuanian teams, with three of those defeats coming this season. Zalgiris (1-4) thrashed Maccabi (3-2) 101-82 when the teams met in Lithuania three weeks ago, with Kaunas clinching the win thanks to a 31-14 third period. That victory, however, proved to be Zalgiris's only win of the top 16 and the Lithuanians will enter Thursday's encounter pressure-free after last week's home loss to Olympiacos ended any hopes they had of advancing. "We won't feel any pressure, because we don't have any chance to go further. But you have to keep your pride and we're not on a vacation trip to Israel," Zalgiris coach Rimantas Grigas told the Euroleague Web site. "We will fight hard and we told the players that we cannot go to Tel Aviv without a sense of urgency. We would like to finish our season on a high note, so I think the players will do their best. The players promised us to fight until the very end." Jonas Maciulis, who led Kaunas with 22 points in the win over Maccabi, promised that even though his team can no longer progress in the Euroleague, each and every player will do his very best at the Nokia Arena. "Motivation won't be an issue for Thursday's game. Even though we have no possibilities of advancing to the next round, we want to finish our season with a win," he said. "Maybe the fact that we don't have anything to lose will help us in Tel Aviv. I think that Maccabi has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four from our group. If they finish first in our group, they will face a weaker opponent and they are strong enough to go to the Final Four." Derrick Sharp, who scored one of the most famous baskets in Maccabi history against Zalgiris four years ago, can't wait for Thursday's game to start. "We're all ready for this important game and we know exactly what we need to do," Sharp said. "Sherf has prepared us well and I believe the fans will push us to the win and we will make sure they have a happy Purim."