Mac TA already looking ahead to Top 16

Despite guaranteeing first place in Group D, yellow-and-blue still searching for further improvement.

Tyrese Rice 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Tyrese Rice 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv may still have one Euroleague regular season game to play, but its Top 16 group has already begun to take shape after the yellow-and-blue clinched first place in Group D over the weekend.
Maccabi improved to a 7-2 record with Thursday’s 78-71 win over Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at Nokia Arena and secured first place after Red Star Belgrade defeated Laboral Vitoria 81-65 on Thursday before Panathinaikos beat Lokomotiv Kuban 82-63 in Russia on Friday.
Tel Aviv visits Panathinaikos in Athens on Thursday in a showdown between the old rivals in which only the Greeks will have something to play for.
While he would never admit it, Maccabi coach David Blatt can already turn his focus to the Top 16, which will get underway on January 2.
Maccabi already knows it will be coming up against Real Madrid, which won Group B with a game to spare thanks to Friday’s 79-66 victory over Strasbourg.
Madrid swept Maccabi 3- 0 in the Euroleague quarterfinals last season before eventually losing in the final.
Tel Aviv also knows it will face Galatasaray in the Top 16, with the Turks guaranteed to end Group C in second place. The yellow-and-blue’s five remaining opponents in the next round will be decided when the regular season comes to a close this coming Friday.
Meanwhile, Maccabi will look to record two straight BSL wins for just the second time this season when it visits Barak Netanya on Monday evening.
While Maccabi has won seven of its past eight Euroleague games, it improved to just a 6-4 record with last week’s BSL victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
Hapoel Jerusalem’s (7-3) BSL game at Maccabi Haifa (6-4) was postponed from Sunday to Friday due to the recent stormy weather.
Friday’s training session at Malha Arena was canceled as a result of the heavy snow in Jerusalem and four of the team’s players, Lior Eliyahu, Yotam Halperin, Yaniv Green and Rafi Menko, were unable to join the rest of the roster for Saturday’s workout following the closure of all roads to the capital.
Haifa asked that the game not be played on Monday when the club’s soccer side faces Hapoel Ramat Hasharon and both teams agreed to reschedule the contest for Friday, which will also allow them to focus on their important Eurocup encounters on Wednesday.
Haifa, which has lost three of its last four BSL games, requires a home win over Kalev Tallinn on Wednesday to end Eurocup Group G in second place.
Jerusalem hosts Karsiyaka Izmir of Turkey at Malha on Wednesday in a direct battle for second place in Group E.
Both Haifa and Jerusalem have already secured their progress to the Eurocup Last 32, but will want to advance to the next round from the runners- up position with wins this week.
On Sunday, the surging Ironi Ness Ziona (7-3) visits Hapoel Eilat (5-5), which has lost three straight games, but has added Israeli internationals Elishay Kadir and Yuval Naimi to its roster in the past two weeks.
Also Sunday, Maccabi Ashdod hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion welcomes Hapoel Holon and Bnei Herzliya plays Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.