Euroleague: Maccabi TA looks for first road win

Tel Aviv's last away game was a humbling experience, with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius walking all over the yellow-and-blue in an 18 point thrashing two weeks ago.

maccabi tel aviv 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
maccabi tel aviv 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv continues its search for a first Euroleague road win of the season on Thursday, when it visits Unicaja Malaga in Spain. Tel Aviv's last away game was a humbling experience, with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius walking all over the yellow-and-blue in an 18 point thrashing two weeks ago. The team has since beaten Efes Pilsen at the Nokia Arena, but has yet to play consistently well this season. Maccabi (2-1) has won its two home games by a lowly average of 4.5 points and has failed to score more than 74 points so far in European competition. The injury to star center Nikola Vujcic has also not helped matters, with Will Bynum the only other roster member to average more than 10 points a game. Maccabi is the last European team to win at Malaga, defeating the side 73-67 last December. Unicaja (2-1), however, has not lost a European home game since, winning nine straight encounters at the Martin Carpena Arena. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv has struggled on the road, only winning two of its last eight games. "All away games are tough," Maccabi coach Oded Katash said. "Malaga is a very good home team, even though it has been struggling in local league play recently." Malaga fell to its fifth defeat in seven league matches on Saturday, losing 77-76 at home to Iurbentia Bilbao. The Spaniards have lost their last four league games, but have won their last two in the Euroleague, defeating Cibona Zagreb 102-64 two weeks ago and Armani Jeans Milano 74-65 last week in Italy. "I watched Malaga's games against Cibona and Milano and the team played well. They have excellent guards, who are extremely quick. However, if we control the tempo of the game we can limit their options," Katash said. One of the keys for Maccabi on Thursday will be the play of the team's big men in the absence of Vujcic. Esteban Batista and Terence Morris combined for 25 points and 13 rebounds against Pilsen last week, but Marcus Fizer was his usual disappointing self, scoring a mere seven points. Fizer has averaged just 5.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in continental play this season and Katash will be hoping a return to Spain, where he had a strong season last year for Murcia CB, will help the American finally live up to the massive expectations. Malaga has four players who average more than 10 points a game, with Davor Kus, the team's top scorer, averaging 16.4 points. Kus's backcourt partner Carlos Cabezas plays more than any of his teammates and averages 10.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Forward Carlos Jimenez has a modest statistical output (5.7 ppg. 5 rpg), but is nevertheless one of the side's most important players. The Spaniards deep roster also includes Boniface N'dong (12.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Daniel Santiago (10.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Jiri Welsch (5.7 ppg, 3.4 apg, 3 rpg) and Marcus Haislip (10.5 ppg), who is doubtful for Thursday's game. "We have a game against one of the strongest teams in the competition in terms of talent and tradition," Unicaja coach Sergio Scariolo told the Euroleague Web site. "After a good start to the competition, we have the opportunity to move ourselves into a good spot in the standings, although the obstacle in front of us is one of the highest you can find in the Euroleague. We've suffered from inconsistent play and up-and-down results, but in the last week we have taken an important step forward regarding our attitude on the court." Lior Eliyahu scored 16 points and had one of his best games as a Maccabi player in the victory at Malaga last year and is hoping the team can record a similar result in Spain on Thursday. "The win at Malaga was one of only a few away victories we claimed last season and we enjoyed it. Unfortunately, we have also struggled on the road this year. This is an important game for both clubs and we will have to work hard to claim the win."