Euroleague: Maccabi TA looks to be top seed

Maccabi Tel Aviv will need to defeat AJ Milano on Thursday night to remain in contention to be a top seed in the upcoming Euroleague top 16 draw.

Maccabi Tel Aviv will need to defeat AJ Milano on Thursday night to remain in contention to be a top seed in the upcoming Euroleague top 16 draw. A win on Thursday at the Nokia Arena and next week at Aris Thessaloniki will put Maccabi in an excellent position to finish in first place in Group B or at least with the best overall record among second-place teams. Maccabi (9-3) has won three straight Euroleague games by an average of 13 points since Tzvika Sherf's arrival and has shown the determination it will need to contend for a Final Four berth. "On paper this looks like an easy game, but we can't afford to underestimate any team," Sherf said on Wednesday. "Milano has many ups and downs and we will have to perform on Thursday. The atmosphere in the team is good and the work ethic is also excellent. All we need to do is to maintain this." Milano's (3-9) hopes of advancing to the top 16 are virtually non-existent despite a 77-69 win over Aris last week. Despite the Italians slender chances coach Attilio Caja is still looking to win on Thursday with the hope of progressing as the best fifth place finisher. "We still have two games to play in the Euroleague and we'll try to do our best, as we did in all the other contests," Caja told the Euroleague Web site. "We have to play the same way we played last week against Aris, where we finally won our first game at home in the Euroleague. We know that Maccabi has a deep roster and huge potential, and also that it's always hard to play on their court. We were so unlucky in our first meeting, losing at the buzzer, but we had a great performance as a team." A Terence Morris basket in the dying seconds gave Maccabi an 82-81 win over Milano when the teams' first met this season in Italy in what was one of the hosts' better games of the season. Danilo Gallinari and Dusan Vukcevic led their team with 20 points each and will be a major threat once more on Thursday. The 19-year-old Gallinari (13.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is widely regarded as one of European basketball's biggest talents and is expected to be a lottery pick at the upcoming NBA draft. Vukcevic (13.7 ppg, 2.9 apg) is one of Milano's veterans and is still hopeful the team can sneak into the top 16. "We know that we have only a small chance to qualify for the top 16, because we depend on the results of the other teams, but as long as we can hope to do that, we'll try to believe in our chances as we did in the very first game," Vukcevic said. "We're going to Tel Aviv to play the best game possible. We're going to have to be careful on defense and try to avoid their fast-breaks." Tel Aviv's Croatian center Nikola Vujcic has slowly worked his way back from injury in the last couple weeks and will feature in Thursday's game, should Sherf ask him to play. "Milano is only coming to enjoy the game and that is always dangerous," Vujcic said on Wednesday. "They lost in the Italian league and they need to win to get back to themselves. They will give us a fight. We're preparing seriously for this game. It's important to our battle to finish in first place in the group."