Mac TA hosts Barca with revenge in mind

Yellow-and-blue must overcome tough defense to beat the Catalans in Euroleague Top 16.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 390 (photo credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
Maccabi Tel Aviv 390
(photo credit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
Since coach David Blatt rejoined Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2010, the yellow-and-blue has lost just one of 16 Euroleague home games.
That one defeat came in February of last year against Barcelona in the Top 16.
Maccabi will have a chance to avenge that loss and take a significant step towards securing homecourt advantage in the quarterfinal playoffs when Barcelona returns to Nokia Arena on Thursday night in Game 2 of this season’s Top 16.
Barcelona has been one of the Euroleague’s strongest teams over the past four seasons, losing in the Final Four semifinals in 2008/09, lifting the title the following year and being stunned in last season’s quarterfinals by eventual champion Panathinaikos after going 6-0 in the Top 16.
The Catalans arguably still have the continent’s best roster this season, finishing first in regular season Group D with a 9-1 record before edging Bennet Cantu 65-60 in their Top 16 opener last week.
Barca had to manage without the Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer, Juan Carlos Navarro, in the win over Cantu, but the Spanish sharpshooter will be back in action on Thursday, bolstering Xavier Pascual’s already excellent roster, which includes the likes of Erazem Lorbek (14.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Marcelinho Huertas (9.4 ppg, 4.6 apg), Pete Mickeal (9.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and Chuck Eidson (9.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), who joined the team from Maccabi last summer.
“This is our first home game in the Top 16 and obviously it’s very important,” Blatt said on Thursday. “We took a significant step forward last week with the win in Kaunas, but in order to benefit from it we have to beat Barcelona on our home court.
“Barcelona is a great team, very well coached, with great players and a rich tradition, exactly like our own club. I expect an exceptional game, one that will be a celebration for fans on both sides and throughout Europe.”
Maccabi toughed out a tight fourth quarter to claim a crucial 84-76 win at Zalgiris Kaunas last week, scoring more than 80 points for the sixth time in 11 Euroleague games this season.
However, its offense will have to be at its very best to pass that mark once more on Thursday, with Barca allowing its opponents a Euroleague-low 59.9 points per game.
“Barcelona is the best defensive team in the Euroleague, one of the reasons for which is because it is tall and athletic in almost every position,” Blatt commented. “We saw last season that Barca failed to make it to the Final Four despite having homecourt advantage while we managed to advance. Therefore, our main goal is to reach the quarterfinals from either of the top two positions.
“We are not scared of Barca, but we certainly respect it.”
Maccabi will still be without the injured Guy Pnini on Thursday, but Blatt will otherwise have a full roster at his disposal, including Demond Mallet, who impressed with 15 points in his Euroleague debut in yellowand- blue last week.
“I am quite excited to return, because I know a lot of people there. It’ll be a good game with a great atmosphere,” Eidson said. “I can’t wait for it to start. We’ll have to play a good game and be intelligent. In games like this, anything can happen, but I believe we can win.
“This Maccabi team plays a little different than last season, because there are different players, but the coach is the same. Maccabi will always be Maccabi, a great team.”