Mac TA opens busy stretch against Charleroi

Yellow-and-blue must focus on one-game-at-a-time mantra with three contests in four nights.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Sofoklis Schortsanitis_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Spirou Charleroi in Euroleague action on Thursday night in the first, and most important, of the three games it faces over the next four days.
Three consecutive continental wins, the last two against Real Madrid and Efes Istanbul being especially impressive, have taken Maccabi to the top of regular season Group C with a 3-1 record.
Tel Aviv will be expected to easily get the better of Charleroi at Nokia Arena, with the Belgians so far living up to their billing as the weakest team in the group, losing three of their four games to date.
Less than 48 hours after it plays Charleroi, Maccabi hosts Olimpija Ljubljana in the Adriatic League before welcoming Hapoel Jerusalem to Nokia Arena in BSL action just a day later.
However, coach David Blatt is adamant on focusing on one game at a time and has no intention of using Maccabi’s hectic schedule as an excuse.
“I think the only way to approach such a run of games is to look no further than the upcoming encounter,” Blatt said. “We are facing a very significant game against Charleroi and two days later we are playing Ljubljana. We have already gotten used to playing in the Euroleague on Thursday and in the Adriatic League on Saturday, but this will be the first time we will follow that with a BSL game on Sunday. I hope we can win the first two games and then it will be easier to prepare for the game against Jerusalem.
“There’s no such thing as an unimportant game at Maccabi. Anyone who says that is just looking for an excuse for playing poorly.”
Charleroi’s only Euroleague win of the season was especially surprising as it came in Istanbul.
However, the Belgians have since lost at Partizan Belgrade and at home against Olimpia Milano and another loss on Thursday will leave them with a 1-4 record at the midway point of the regular season and with little chance of progressing to the Top 16.
“This may be a very early stage of the season, but we are at a critical point,” Blatt said. “We are treating this game very seriously. We know Charleroi is a very dangerous team and we know we will need to play as well as we have done in the last couple of weeks to win.”
Charleroi gets over a quarter of its points from a single source, with Demond Mallet currently the third best scorer in the Euroleague with 20.3 points per game.
Shutting down Mallet could all but guarantee Maccabi the win, but the yellow- and-blue will also have to keep an eye on dangerous power forward Tornike Shengelia (10.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and veteran Jiri Welsch, who can torch any team when he catches fire.
“We’re coming up against one of the strongest teams in Europe,” Shengelia said. “We will try to record a big surprise.
Our last game against Milano was better.
We led almost all the time, with a great defense, except on outside shots in the end. If we avoid those mistakes, we can win some games again in this group.”
Charleroi coach Giovanni Bozzi was also encouraged by his team’s performance last week, but he knows that Thursday’s game depends first and foremost on the way the hosts play.
“Maccabi is one of the top candidates for the Final Four and at home, Tel Aviv is unmanageable,” Bozzi said. “But we also have some qualities. Our defense was better against Milano, as was our offensive execution. We must find solutions to stop some players like Schortsanitis inside and it will be necessary for us to control the rebound. If we stick to our game plan, we are capable of a great game.”
One of the main talking points for Maccabi over the last 24 hours has been Omri Casspi’s announcement that he has signed a contract to join the team in January should the NBA season be lost to the ongoing lockout.
After initially indicating that he wanted to play for Maccabi during the lockout, Casspi announced at the end of August that he would not be returning to the yellow-and-blue due to income tax issues.

However, the chances of the entire 2011/12 NBA season being canceled significantly increased on Monday after the NBA players’ union rejected the latest deal offered by owners and tax issues will be far less of a problem for Casspi from December onwards.
However, Blatt is not getting excited about the prospect of Casspi joining his roster just yet.
“I can’t understand the hype around Casspi coming back because the NBA season has still not been canceled,” Blatt said.
“Our team has looked good in recent weeks, both on and off the court. By the time Omri comes, should he come, it won’t be that difficult to add such a skilled player to the team.
“He is one of us and knows all about European basketball and Maccabi. He knows what our goals are and if and when he joins we will find a place for him.”