Mac Tel Aviv to battle for first

Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to knock off rival Efes Pilsen on Thursday at Nokia Arena for its fifth straight win.

maccabi 88 (photo credit: )
maccabi 88
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to knock off rival Efes Pilsen on Thursday at Nokia Arena for its fifth straight win, which would put the two-time defending Euroleague champs into first place in Group B. Heading into Matchday 10, Maccabi was tied with Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Efes for the group lead with 7-3 records. But after the Lithuanians fell Wednesday night to Olympiacos, the winner of the Maccabi game will climb ahead of the rest. Efes got the best of Maccabi when they met in Istanbul earlier this season, but much has changed with both teams since. Maccabi has hit its stride and has begun plowing through the competition, while Efes has suffered from injury problems and dropped a heated match to cross-town rival Ulker on Sunday. In November, Marko Popovic scored 21 to lead Efes to a 90-88 victory. Will Solomon, who played for Efes last season, had 28 while Maceo Baston turned in an awesome performance with 29 points on 12-of-17 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Reports from Istanbul have swingmen Henry Domercant and Antonio Granger both questionable for this game with injuries, but they both played against Ulker. Efes can ill-afford to be without one of its top players, since coach Oktay Mahmuti's rotation only goes seven deep. Five of those players average double-figures in scoring, while three of them haul in at least 5.5 rebounds per game. The biggest surprise this season has been big man Kaya Peker, who is averaging 13.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and one block in less than 24 minutes per game. Peker was named the Euroleague player of the month for November. After starting the season 4-0, Efes has stuttered and gone 3-3. However the team has been strong on the road so far, posting a 3-1 record. Maccabi arrives at the game injury-free and in good form, having scored 94 and 101 points in its last two Euroleague games. Coach Pini Gershon's charges lead the league with 89 points scored per game, but also allow a league-high 80 points to opponents. The yellow-and-blue also top the charts in three-point shooting (42.1%) and assists (17.6 apg). Among individual leaders, Solomon (16.5 ppg) is second in scoring, Vujcic (12.7 ppg, 4.9 apg) second in assists and Derrick Sharp's 20-of-40 three-pointers made rank him fourth in accuracy from beyond the arc.