Mac TA waits in Rome for identity of quarterfinal foe

Maccabi will finish in second place in Group F regardless of the result it achieves in Italy.

Maccabi Tel Aviv slam 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv slam 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Lottomatica Roma in its final Euroleague Top 16 game on Thursday night, but it will have at least one eye on the corresponding Group E encounters going on in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Malaga, Spain.
Maccabi will finish in second place in Group F regardless of the result it achieves in Italy on Thursday, but the identity of the opponent it will face in the best-of-five quarterfinal playoffs is far from determined.
Three teams are fighting for first position in Group E, with the eventual winner to play the yellow-and-blue for a place in the Final Four, with the series starting on March 22.
Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos currently leads the group, but it doesn’t have its fate in its own hands entering Thursday’s game at Unicaja Malaga.
Should Caja Laboral Vitoria – which Maccabi faced in the Euroleague regular season – beat Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in Lithuania, it will finish top of the group regardless of the outcome of the game in Spain.
However, if Vitoria loses, and Panathinaikos wins in Malaga, the Greeks will clinch first place, while Vilnius will finish top should it defeat Caja Laboral and Pana fall in Spain.
Regardless of whom it eventually faces, Maccabi will not have home-court advantage after last week’s 92-85 overtime defeat to Barcelona ensured it would end Group F of the Top 16 in second position.
Despite not being involved in the games of significance on Thursday, Maccabi coach David Blatt wants his team to maintain its focus and promising form in Rome ahead of the most important part of its season.
“It’s true that this game doesn’t decide anything as far as standings in our group, since the first and second place teams have already been determined, but I can promise you that we are taking this game very seriously,” Blatt said.
“We want to win every game, especially every game in such a respected setting as the Euroleague, and I am sure it will be a competitive and commendable evening. We need to stay game-ready before the next, crucial round of the playoffs, so we won’t be taking our foot off the gas.”
One aspect of the game Blatt will be desperate to see an improvement in will be his team’s free-throw shooting.
Maccabi is ranked last in the Euroleague this season in freethrow percentage (66.6 percent) and the fact that it only hit 15 of 25 shots from the line against Barca played a crucial role in its defeat.
Roma lost by 41 points (99- 58) when it played Maccabi at Nokia Arena and only finally claimed its first victory in the Top 16 last week, defeating Olimpija Ljubljana to improve to a 1-4 record.
Nevertheless, Maccabi forward Richard Hendrix, who could see extra playing time on Thursday, is not expecting an easy game in Italy.
“Lottomatica is playing well now. They beat Olimpija last week, and they’re coming into this game with a lot of confidence,” Hendrix said. “We’ll play our usual, good game and the goal, like always, is to win. We won’t worry about what we can’t control. We’ll focus on the game against Roma and try our best.
“As far as the next round is concerned, we have no control over that, and we’ll worry about that when it happens. Once we know who we’ll be facing, we’ll study them and we’ll deal with them. What’s important now is just to win every game.”
On TV: Lottomatica Roma vs Maccabi Tel Aviv (live on Channel 10 at 9:45 p.m.)