Mac TA controls own destiny going into final group games

Yellow-and-blue facing Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at Nokia Arena, could clinch first place.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Sofoklis Schortsanitis 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be confident of maintaining its grip on first place in Euroleague Group D on Thursday night when it hosts Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi climbed back to the top of the group with last week’s 75-73 win over Lokomotiv Kuban and victories in its final two regular season games, against Vilnius on Thursday and at Panathinaikos next week, will see it qualify for the Top 16 as a No. 1 seed regardless of other results.
Tel Aviv could even clinch first place with one game to spare should it defeat Vilnius combined with a Red Star Belgrade win versus Laboral Vitoria and a Panathinaikos triumph over Kuban on Friday.
However, Maccabi will not want to depend on favors from other teams, meaning it must first defeat Vilnius on Thursday ahead of next week’s visit to Athens.
Maccabi edged Rytas 76-74 in Lithuania last month thanks to a late floater by former Vilnius guard Tyrese Rice.
Vilnius has lost seven straight Euroleague contests since stunning Panathinaikos in its regular season opener, falling by an average 17 points per game when excluding the defeat to Maccabi.
“Lithuanian teams always play hard when it comes to their pride so this is a game we will have to be ready for,” said Maccabi forward David Blu, who with 8.5 points per game is only his team’s sixth-highest scorer, with five yellow-and-blue players averaging double-digits.
“Vilnius may no longer have a chance to reach the Top 16, but it will be playing in the next round of the Eurocup and will want to build some momentum.”
In other news, guard Yuval Naimi, who signed a three-year contract to play for Maccabi during the summer, left the club on Tuesday, joining Hapoel Eilat.
Maccabi always intended to loan Naimi to another BSL team during the first year of his deal, but according to the new BSL regulations only players under the age of 26 can be loaned between teams in the league.
With Maccabi not having any room on its roster for the 28-year-old and the Israeli guard unwilling to spend an entire season without playing, the two sides agreed to void the contract, allowing Naimi to sign with Eilat until the end of the season.