It’s time to find out what Mac TA is made of

Sinai Says: Despite the many doubters, coach David Blatt believes his team has what it takes to advance from the Euroleague Top 16.

David Blatt 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
David Blatt 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After almost three months and a full two dozen games over all competitions, there still remain more questions than answers regarding this season’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.
On the face of it, Maccabi once again has a team capable of challenging for a place in the Euroleague Final Four.
Besides winning 13 of 14 games in local competitions as expected, the yellow- and-blue also advanced to the Euroleague Top 16 from first place in regular season Group B with an 8-2 record.
Even if it has displayed the occasional erratic game, how possibly could there be any doubts regarding a team which has gone 21-3 in all competitions since the start of the season? But it is not just cynical journalists who are questioning Maccabi’s chances of success by its standards this season.
Part-owner David Federman is also one of the skeptics.
“I’m not sure we are good enough to progress past the Top 16,” Federman said at the halftime break of Maccabi’s win over Ironi Ashkelon in the last 16 of the State Cup last Sunday.
“The team needs time to gel. We saw Maccabi in the regular season and I think we have the potential to be a good team. But we need a lot of patience and the fans, and perhaps also the ownership, don’t have that much patience.”
Blatt reacted vehemently when he was told of Federman’s assessment.
“Everyone can keep talking and we will continue to win and finish in first place,” he said. “It is true that we are not the strongest team in Europe, but we come to play every day. I don’t know what people want from us. I really enjoy working with my guys every day and people can continue to disregard us and that might help us down the road.”
So who to believe? After all, it seems like Federman and Blatt haven’t been watching the same team this season.
But the true difference between the two is probably more philosophical than practical.
Pessimistic Federman is aware of Maccabi’s record and the fact that it led the Euroleague in index rating during the regular season, but he also takes into account that the team did so in the weakest of the four groups and was far from impressive in many of its wins.
Optimistic Blatt, on the other hand, remembers that he once more had to build a team almost from scratch, with only five players returning from last season, doing so with what is a mediocre budget by current Euroleague standards.
Blatt is right to say that it is unrealistic to demand any more from his team, but Federman recognizes that expectations at Maccabi usually have very little to do with reality.
The fact Maccabi rarely faced a toplevel opponent in the first three months of the campaign means that the side’s true potential has yet to be revealed.
While on paper it seems almost inevitable that Tel Aviv’s roster will crumble against the likes of Barcelona, European champion Olympiacos and BV Khimki Moscow in Group F of the Top 16, Blatt has accustomed fans to expect his teams to play far better than the sum of their parts.
There was a hope among Maccabi supporters that the squad would be significantly strengthened ahead of the Top 16, but few believe that the lone addition of young Croatian center Darko Planinic in place of Giorgi Shermadini will be of any importance in the short run.
Even the likes of Caja Laboral Vitoria, Montepaschi Siena and Fenerbahce Ulker look to have superior rosters to Maccabi, leaving Besiktas JK as the only one of the eight teams in Group F which is content with simply reaching the Top 16.
Blatt is confident his side will finish in the top four and reach the quarterfinal playoffs for the third straight year under his guidance.
Federman and the critics have done him a favor by lowering the expectations, but Blatt knows that ultimately it is he who shoulders the responsibility for any failure.
Either way, starting from Thursday’s Top 16 opener at Siena we will discover if it was Blatt or Federman who got it right.
The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle.
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