Mac TA happy with Top 16 draw despite tough Barca

Blatt optimistic that Tel Aviv will finish among the top two in its Top 16 group.

Lior Eliyahu 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Lior Eliyahu 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt was confident his team will reach the Euroleague quarterfinals after the yellow-and-blue was drawn on Wednesday into Top 16 Group H with Barcelona, Bennet Cantu and Zalgiris Kaunas.
Maccabi ended regular season Group C in second place with a 7-3 record, and although Barca is undoubtedly one of the best team’s in Europe, Blatt was optimistic that Tel Aviv will finish among the top two in its Top 16 group to advance to the best-of- five quarterfinal playoffs.
“The most important thing is that we advance to the playoffs, it is less critical from which position in the group,” Blatt said.
“I want to remind people that last season we ended our Top 16 group in second place and reached the Final Four and that two years ago Maccabi finished in first but that didn’t help it in the quarterfinals.”
Blatt was speaking from Serbia where Maccabi is preparing for Thursday’s Adriatic League game against KK Hemofarm after beating KK Radnicki 91-70 on Tuesday to improve to 11-1.
Maccabi has won its last seven games in all competitions by an average 23.7 points, and with Demond Mallet to officially join the team on Thursday subject to a successful medical, Blatt is upbeat regarding the yellow-and-blue’s prospects in 2012.
“We are in good shape and we are improving all the time,” he said. “But we need to be in even better form for the start of the Top 16 on January 19.”
Barcelona won regular season Group D with a 9-1 record after holding its opponents to a Euroleague-best 59.9 points per game. Lethal sharpshooter Juan Carlos Navarro (12.1 ppg, 3.1 apg), Erazem Lorbek (14.7 ppg) and Marcelinho Huertas (9.2 ppg, 5 apg) are three of the players Maccabi will have to focus on, with Blatt’s men to also come up against a familiar face in Chuck Eidson (8.8 ppg), who helped the yellow-andblue reach the Euroleague final last season.
Cantu of Italy became the first team to seal a Top 16 spot, and with a 4-1 record at home, will be especially tricky to beat on the road.
Forward Vladimir Micov (10.5 ppg) is the team’s only player with a double-figure scoring average, but Maccabi fans will be particularly wary of veteran Gianluca Basile, who has burned the yellow-and-blue many times in the past.
Kaunas advanced to the Top 16 for a third straight season after winning three of its final four games, and with players like Sonny Weems (17.5 ppg) on its roster, will not go down without a fight.
“We have received a very reasonable draw,” Blatt said. “Barcelona, together with CSKA Moscow, has the deepest roster in the Euroleague. Barca is very experienced and has superb quality, but we can find a way to beat them, especially at Nokia Arena.
“Cantu is an excellent team and not many people are aware of that. It was one of the surprise packages in the Euroleague this season and knows how to beat big teams.
“Zalgiris is very experienced in the Euroleague and is always dangerous, especially on the road.”
Should Maccabi progress to the last eight it will meet a team from Group G, which includes Fenerbahce Ulker, Panathinaikos, Unics Kazan and Olimpia Milano.
“Group G is relatively comfortable, but of course that guarantees us nothing,” Blatt said.
“We must remain focused because there is almost no room for mistakes in the Top 16.”
Maccabi will open its Top 16 campaign against Zalgiris on the road on January 19 before hosting Barcelona, playing Cantu twice and welcoming Kaunas ahead of its final group game away at Barca.
“The draw is basically fine,” Maccabi forward Lior Eliyahu said. “But we mustn’t think that our place in the playoffs is guaranteed.
Everyone is talking about the scary Barcelona, but we can’t take Cantu or Zalgiris lightly.”