Mac TA has another huge hurdle in Fenerbahce

The yellow-and-blue has a mountain to climb to finish among the group’s top four and progress to the quarterfinal playoffs.

Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Ricky Hickman 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Ricky Hickman 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt is hoping the shock BSL defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv will prove to be a blessing in disguise when the yellow-and-blue visits Fenerbahce Ulker in another must-win Euroleague Top 16 showdown on Thursday night.
Maccabi saw its 15-game BSL winning streak snapped on Sunday with its first defeat in the derby in nine years, losing 69-65 to its arch-rival.
The humbling loss came three days after Maccabi revived its Top 16 campaign by beating Caja Laboral Vitoria 66-62 on the road to improve to a 4-5 record in Group F.
The yellow-and-blue moved up to fifth place in the standings with the win, but still has a mountain to climb to finish among the group’s top four and progress to the quarterfinal playoffs.
With five more games to play in the group, Barcelona (8-1), Montepaschi Siena (7-2) and Olympiacos (6-3) already all seem out of reach for Maccabi.
Tel Aviv only trails fourth-placed Khimki Moscow (5-4) by a single game and hosts the Russians next week. However, it will have to defeat Khimki by 22 points at Nokia Arena to overturn its 88-67 loss in Russia and claim the tiebreaker. Assuming it fails to do so, it effectively has a two-game gap to close on Khimki.
First things first, however, as all the calculations will be irrelevant should Maccabi fail to defeat Fenerbahce on Thursday for its third straight continental win.
Fenerbahce has lost all hope of advancing after dropping to a 2-7 record with a loss to Siena last week, four days after announcing the sacking of coach Simone Pianigiani.
Fener has one of the highest budgets in the Euroleague, but despite leading the Turkish league, it has struggled throughout its continental campaign.
Nevertheless, Blatt is wary of the threat posed by the likes of Bojan Bogdanovic, who is the Top 16’s leading scorer with 21.3 points per game, and superb playmaker Bo McCalebb (12.9 PPG), although the Maccabi coach is expecting a positive reaction from his roster after the derby dejection.
“Sometimes a disappointment or letdown can refocus the players,” Blatt said ahead of the team’s departure for Istanbul on Wednesday morning.
“We entered Sunday’s game after two very difficult weeks and suffered a physical and mental drop. We need to get back to our best very quickly, and if Tuesday’s training session is anything to go by, than we are already back to our old selves.”
Maccabi thrashed Fener 91-73 when the teams met at Nokia two months ago, the first of four straight defeats suffered by the Turks to start the Top 16.
Fenerbahce has struggled especially on the defensive end, allowing a Top 16-worse 89.8 points per game. Maccabi, on the other hand, has limited opponents to just 62.8 points per game in its Group F victories, and a similar defensive performance on Thursday would likely see the team reach .500 for the first time in the Top 16.
“Fener built a roster in the summer which it thought could make the Final Four,” Blatt said.
“Matters haven’t worked out for them in Europe, but they are in first place in the Turkish league.
We know that if we don’t play at a high level we will have a very tough time.
“The most important thing is that we play with the same sharpness and energy that we displayed in our last two Euroleague games. I think that if we win this game we can really start thinking about reaching the quarterfinals.”