Euroleague: Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Tau Vitoria

Enters game as big underdog hoping to avoid embarrassment

maccabi tel aviv 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
maccabi tel aviv 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be a massive underdog against Tau Vitoria in Spain on Wednesday night in its fourth game of the Euroleague Top 16. Despite Maccabi coach Neven Spahija's remark, "We are Maccabi Tel Aviv. We never come to a game as an underdog," and despite the fact that no one at the club would admit to it, Tel Aviv will first and foremost try to avoid embarrassment Wednesday night. Maccabi (2-1) has, to put it mildly, failed to impress in its first three games of the Top 16. Despite being is an excellent position to reach the best-of-three quarterfinal playoff, it is playing basketball that causes its fans to jeer even after victories. Vitoria (3-0), on the other hand, is one of most impressive sides in the Top 16, winning its games by an average 21.3 points. Tau snapped Maccabi's 15-game home winning streak three weeks ago, by defeating the hosts 79-68, and set a Top 16 record by thrashing Lottomatica Roma by 43 points last week. The Spaniards are averaging a fantastic 92.3 ppg in their first three games of the stage, 22 more points than Tel Aviv, which topped the Euroleague in scoring during the regular season. "Tau has done an amazing thing with its big wins over Roma and Unicaja Malaga [85-56 victory in the Spanish league over the weekend], but we're not giving up," Spahija said. "We're going to give our best. We are in better shape than we were in the first game against Tau. We'll play under less pressure and with more confidence. "We haven't qualified yet, and we need to first of all win the game. Tau is one of the strongest teams in Europe. They are excellent in the paint and shoot very well from the outside. I promise that we won't give up without giving a fight and trying our best." Tau's Luis Scola (16.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg), who only scored eight points in his team's win at Nokia Arena, will be hoping for a much bigger contribution on Wednesday. He may become the all-time Euroleague leading scorer if he scores seven points against Maccabi. Talented 22-year-old Brazilian Tiago Splitter (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg), Mirza Teletovic (5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Kaya Peker (5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg) will complement Scola in the frontcourt. Zoran Plininic (10 ppg, 4.3 apg), who didn't play in Tel Aviv, is returning from an injury just in time to face the yellow-and-blue. Together with Pablo Prigioni (7 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.7 spg), Serkan Erdogan (12.8 ppg), Fred House (7.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.4 spg) and Ender Arslan, he gives Vitoria a backcourt of a quality, well superior to anything Maccabi can put on the court. Tel Aviv can at least encourage itself with the fact that Igor Rakocevic (16.7 ppg), who scored 19 points in 21 minutes in the first meeting of the season, is out with an injury and will not play. "Our team's mood is good," assistant coach Ignacio Lezcano said. "We are improving physically despite Rakocevic's injury, recovering players like Vidal and Planinic lately. We are better on defense, too, and that has given us the possibility of playing fluid basketball in offense. "It's true that we got two huge wins against Lottomatica and Unicaja in our last two games, but we all know that each game is totally different and these results wouldn't repeat themselves when we face them in the future. We played a good game in Tel Aviv and we won, but this one will be really hard and very different." Lezcano has been in charge of the team for the last three weeks since head coach Velimir Perasovic suffered from heart problems before the first Maccabi game. Perasovic's contract with the club is now suspended and Lezcano may well be installed as the team's head coach in the coming weeks. Nikola Vujcic (16.2 ppg, 8 rpg, 4.4 apg) was only two assists short of a triple-double in Maccabi's last meeting against Tau, and the Croatian understands that he and his teammates will need to be at their best to end Vitoria's record-tying 25-game home win streak on Wednesday. "Maccabi and Tau have a great tradition of big games, in Tel Aviv, Vitoria or Final Fours, so we can expect another one," Vujcic said. "Tau is the only team that won at the Nokia Arena, so we need to show that game was a one-off. A mistake we can fix. The last two wins gave us confidence, because we showed character in the last minutes and managed to win. Victory at Tau will give us a big boost." On TV: Tau Vitoria vs Maccabi Tel Aviv (live at 9:45 p.m. on Channel 1).