Mac TA looking to relieve pressure in Russia

Yellow-and-blue in desperate need of Euro win after being upset locally by Ness Ziona.

coach David Blatt 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
coach David Blatt 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Despite its dismal start to the season and Friday’s daunting Euro league visit to Lokomotiv Kuban, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt continues to believe his team is capable of achieving great things this season.
Maccabi bounced back from its opening loss in Europe to claim a 96-82 win over Red Star Belgrade last week and improve to 1-1 in Group D.
However, Tel Aviv enters Friday’s encounter in Russia on the back of a shocking 72-71 BSL defeat to newly-promoted Ironi Ness Ziona, meaning the yellow-and-blue has lost two of its first three games in local action for the first time ever.
Nevertheless, Blatt is optimistic that it is only a matter of time until Maccabi finds its form and lives up to the lofty expectations.
“I know that it doesn’t look very good at the moment, but I really believe in this team,” said Blatt. “I think we have a lot of potential. It will take a little more time, but we will find our way and we will be a very strong team.”
Blatt surely drew plenty of encouragement from the performance against Belgrade last week, especially from the fact that the yellow-and-blue scored 15 of 28 three-point attempts.
However, the humbling defeat at Ness Ziona piled the pressure on the coach once more.
“This isn’t an easy period, but it isn’t as bad as what it is made out to be,” he claimed.
“Besides our pride, nothing has really been hurt. As we always said when things had gone well, what happens in October is fairly insignificant as it almost has no effect on what happens in May and June. Nevertheless, we are not used to losing and we don’t like it.”
Making matters all the more complicated for Maccabi is the tough task it faces on Friday.
Kuban currently leads Group D, being the only team with a 2-0 record after beating Rytas Vilnius 68-53 last week.
Maccabi will meet in Kuban familiar faces in the form of former players Richard Hendrix and Simas Jasaitis. Hendrix, who played for Maccabi between 2010 and 2012, has opened the season in excellent form, averaging 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in the Euroleague so far.
His fellow Americans, Derrick Brown (15.5 ppg) and Marcus Williams (13.5 ppg, 6.0 apg, 5.0 rpg), help form the core of the deep-pocketed team.
“I think Kuban is the best team in the group at the moment,” said Blatt.
Kuban coach Evgeny Pashutin has a clear game-plan for Friday.
“Active defense and three-pointers are the main components of Tel Aviv’s game,” Pashutin explained. “Blu, Smith and Hickman are very dangerous from outside. Sofo is a huge force down low both on defense and offense. Our goal is to control Sofo by limiting his touches and play extremely focused around the perimeter.”
Israeli forward Guy Pnini has been a complete non-factor so far this season, failing to score a single point in 14 minutes over three games in the BSL and in eight minutes over two Euroleague games.
The former captain does however believe that Friday’s game in Kuban could be the turning point for Maccabi.
“This is an unpleasant period,” admitted Pnini. “In my five years at Maccabi I don’t remember such a start to a season. However, this can happen and we need to overcome it.”