Mac TA hosts Partizan in home opener

With Farmar back, yellow-and-blue hopes to put Milano loss in back mirror; Casspi on the way?

THEO PAPALOUKAS (photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)
(photo credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv website)
After opening its Euroleague season with a disappointing defeat at Olimpia Milano, Maccabi Tel Aviv is confident of getting off the mark when its hosts Partizan Belgrade in its home opener at Nokia Arena on Thursday night.
After cruising in its first few BSL and Adriatic League games, Maccabi looked lost for large periods of its encounter at Milano, getting outhustled under the baskets and failing to hit free shots from beyond the arc.
Maccabi was outrebounded 39-28 by the Italians, and despite the new additions of scorers Jordan Farmar, Devin Smith and Jon Scheyer, struggled from three-point range.
Tel Aviv was almost unstoppable from distance in the first few weeks of the season, but hit just 21.4 percent (3 of 14) against Milano, 15.4 percent (2 of 13) against Siroki in the Adriatic League two days later before going 23.5 percent (4 of 17) against Ashkelon in the BSL on Monday.
Making matters even more worrying for Maccabi coach David Blatt is the fact that when you remove the threepointers attempted and made by David Blu, his team has only scored an abysmal 6.0 percent (2 of 33) of its shots from beyond the arc in its last three games.
“It is important for us to score well from the perimeter and I believe we will do so again,” said Blatt, who has to decide if, and how, to use new signing Keith Langford on Thursday.
The 28-year-old American led the Euroleague regular season in scoring last season with 18.7 points per game, hitting 35.1percent of his three-point shots.
“Every day that I continue to practice and play will just help me more and more,” Langford said on Wednesday.
“If my name is called I’ll get in there and play to the best of my ability.”
Blatt’s biggest concern at the moment is his team’s defensive play after last week’s poor showing in the 89-82 defeat in Italy.
Maccabi’s suffocating defense was one of the main reasons it progressed to the Euroleague final last season, and despite the departure of several key defensive weapons in Jeremy Pargo, Doron Perkins and Chuck Eidson, Blatt believes his team is capable of guarding its opponents much better than it did last Thursday.
“You cannot think you can win a game on the road when you allow your opponents 89 points,” Blatt said.
“On a night when our offense did not work so well, with too many turnovers and a bad shooting percentage from long-distance, defense became crucial. We have a lot of work to do.
“Partizan is a good basketball team which knows what it’s doing,” Blatt added. “We need to force Belgrade to play the way we want them to play and not allow them to dictate their style. They have some good target players, which makes our mission extremely difficult.”
At least Blatt knows that if all else fails he can rely on Blu’s proficiency from long range, with the forward hitting 15 of 24 three-pointers to date.
“Partizan is an excellent team and we’re preparing for the game very seriously,” Blu said. “I have no doubt that we’ll be as ready as it’s possible to be.
After the loss last week in Milan, we really can’t allow ourselves to lose another game, especially not at home in Nokia Arena. We’ll be coming into the game extremely focused in order to win, and also in order to get the fans excited.”
After being rested in Maccabi’s last two games due to a strained groin muscle, Jordan Farmar will be back in action for Tel Aviv on Thursday.
“I think I made Jordan play too many minutes to start the season and that was my mistake,” Blatt admitted.
“We gave him four days off to recover and we saw how much the team missed him.
“We decided not to risk him and we hope he will feel well enough to play on Thursday.”
Maccabi’s players will be coming up on Thursday against former teammate Milan Macvan, who joined Belgrade on loan just last week. Macvan teams up in the paint with Minnesota Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, who has joined Partizan until the NBA lockout ends, giving the Serbians a deadly duo that can hurt any side.
“I know that Macvan will be ready for this game and will want to prove himself,” Blu said. “He’s a great player and I’m happy for him that he’s now playing for a team where he’s likely to get more playing time.”
Meanwhile, it seems that Omri Casspi is moving closer to agreeing a deal to join Maccabi Tel Aviv should the NBA lockout continue.
At the end of August, Casspi announced that he would not be joining Maccabi due to income-tax issues.
However, with still no end in sight to the lockout, and with offers from the likes of Spartak St. Petersburg and France’s Asvel Basket Lyon Villeurbanne still not coming to fruition, Casspi renewed talks with Maccabi and has reportedly agreed to play for the team should the entire NBA season be lost to the lockout.
“I don’t know if there’s an official agreement, but I’ve already said that the door at Maccabi is always open for Caspsi,” Blatt said. “If Omri ends up playing here that would be a blessing.”