Maccabi eyeing top spot

Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to give a first-class display against Ulker in Istanbul.

Mac TA 88 (photo credit: )
Mac TA 88
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to give a first-class display against Ulker in Istanbul while keeping an eye on events in Bologna as it chases down first place in Group E of the Euroleague Top 16 on Thursday. Maccabi has already clinched a spot in the Quarterfinal Playoffs and trails Real Madrid for first on a tiebreaker alone as they head into the final games in the Top 16. The Spanish champs visit Climamio Bologna with tip-off slated for the same time at both games. In order for the two-time defending champs to overtake Madrid for first place, Maccabi must either win and hope for a Real loss or in the case of both teams winning, record a margin of victory that is at least 18 points more than Real's winning margin. The difference between finishing first and second could have significant implications. The group winner will face Olympiacos Piraeus of Greece in the best-of-three quarterfinals, with the first and third games (if necessary) at home. By finishing second, Maccabi would need to face the much stronger Winterthur Barcelona, with the Spanish giants holding the home-court advantage. Worth noting is that Maccabi faced both Olympiacos and Barcelona twice in the regular season. The yellow-and-blue split their games with Olympiacos, while downing Barca twice. The first game will take place already on Tuesday. In Istanbul, Maccabi will face a team in disarray. Coach Ergin Ataman resigned this week for a non-basketball related issue and his assistant Murat Ozyer will be on the sidelines against Maccabi. Star power forward Marcus Haislip left the team to travel to America for personal reasons without permission of the club and may not return. Making matters worse, veteran scorer Ibrahim Kutluay, who drilled five threes and scored 19 when these teams last met, is questionable after sitting out Sunday's domestic contest with an injury. "I'm sure their new coach wants to prove himself," Maccabi coach Pini Gershon told the Euroleague Web site on Wednesday. "Murat's fingerprints are in Ulker's system for many years, and he's not unknown to us. We are a better team and need the win more, but it won't be easy. The fact that Haislip isn't in Ulker anymore doesn't necessarily mean anything. "In these situations, players come from the bench and try to prove themselves. We need to do our job and win the game, and whatever will be in Bologna will be." The player likely to see most of Haislip's minutes is rookie big man Oguz Savas. In the last meeting between the clubs, Maccabi came out flat and trailed by as many as 18 points in the second quarter before taking over down the stretch for an 84-74 victory. This is the fourth time in five seasons that Maccabi and Ulker have met in the Top 16. Thus far Maccabi has a 2-1 record in Istanbul, but the lone defeat in 2004 almost cost Maccabi a spot in that year's Final Four. On a personal note, Anthony Parker, the reigning Euroleague MVP, can make a run for the Top 16 award with another strong performance. So far, Parker ranks among the top 10 in five statistical categories: fifth in scoring with 16.4 ppg; ninth in rebounding with 7.2 rpg; fifth in assists with 4.8 apg; eighth in two-point field-goal shooting with 67.7% and ninth in fouls drawn with 5.2 per game.