The Maccabi Tel Aviv players and coaches were in high spirits following their dramatic 105-103 victory over the NBA's Toronto Raptors on Sunday afternoon. The Euroleague champs earned their celebration, but the team will face a tougher opponent in the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
The pre-season exhibition will be a homecoming for both Derrick Sharp, who was born in Orlando, and for Anthony Parker, a member of the Magic in 1999-00.
"It's always one of those games you really get excited about," said Parker. "It's a great opportunity for us, it's a good challenge.
"It's also a chance for some of us who played in the States to play in front of [our] families and friends. We don't get that opportunity much."
Parker's father was his only family member in attendance against Toronto, and couldn't have been disappointed to see his son hit the game-winning shot. His brother and sister-in-law will watch him play in Orlando.
Parker stressed that Maccabi as a whole is playing in the exhibitions, and the focus should not be on him, the individual, playing on the same floor as NBA players again.
The Magic's top players are Dwight Howard, Steve Francis and Grant Hill. Howard, the top overall pick in the 2004 draft, averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds during his solid rookie campaign. This pre-season, he's leading the team with 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, while averaging only 23.7 minutes.
As for Francis, most Maccabi players have never played against a point guard as athletic as he, who, at 1.91 meters, can throw down spectacular dunks with ease. He has averaged 10.7 points and six assists in leading the Magic to a 2-1 pre-season record.
The oft-injured Hill, a smooth swingman, returned to all-star form in 2004/05 after only playing 57 total games in the previous three seasons. He averaged 19.7 points in 67 games, and has continued his solid play this pre-season with 9.5 points per game.
Orlando finished last season with a 36-46 record, three games better than the Raptors.
For Maccabi to win, the players need to do a better job on the glass, where the Raptors out-rebounded the European champs 47-38. Toronto punished Maccabi for not boxing out by pulling down 15 offensive rebounds.
They also should not expect the same amount of fan support as in Toronto: The game is not on the weekend, but more importantly, Toronto is the third largest Jewish community in the world behind Israel and the New York City area. Orlando is Disney World.
Maccabi will have the edge with experience, and although it's also its pre-season, many of its players have been together for several years.
Expect the Magic to use their athleticism and speed against Maccabi, which will need a stronger, foul-free performance from big man Maceo Baston if it expects to jump and run with Orlando.
Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic should have his way again in the paint, where he can expect to be guarded by Tony Battie and Reuben Boumtje-Boumtje, both of whom have been small factors in the Magic's pre-season games.