Maccabi TA a step away from Prague

Defending Euroleague champs can clinch Final Four spot tonight.

Maccabi Tel Aviv could be just 40 minutes away from a trip to Prague for its sixth Final Four appearance in the last seven years, but the players' thoughts are still on a mission in another city that starts with a "P." The two-time defending Euroleague champs face Greek side Olympiacos at the Peace & Friendship Arena in Piraeus for Game 2 of a best-of-three Euroleague Quarterfinal Playoffs on Thursday with a chance to wrap up the series. Maccabi held on for an 87-78 win in the series opener Tuesday at Nokia Arena. With only 48 hours between the games, there isn't much time to change strategies. "It was physical and aggressive last night and it'll be more so over there," Anthony Parker said Wednesday at Ben-Gurion Airport before both teams jetted off to Greece. After Tuesday's game, Olympiacos players and coach Jonas Kazlauskas said that defense was their biggest problem, but Sofoklis Schortsanitis has a different view. The rather large player, affectionately known as "Baby Shaq," said: "We have to get serious. We weren't focused. We didn't play hard at all. We played hard for like five minutes." Schortsanitis was on the court for just 131⁄2 minutes due to foul trouble, during which he accounted for 10 points and five rebounds. "I feel frustrated," he said. "I'll try to work harder and be ready for the next game." The star of the first game for Maccabi was center Nikola Vujcic, who scored 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting to lead all scorers. Despite knowing what to expect in Piraeus, Vujcic remained optimistic. "They use lots of players and don't care about fouls. They are very aggressive," he said. "But if we play our game, we have the advantage." Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said Tuesday that he would need "players who played less [in Game 1] like Derrick Sharp and Jaime Arnold... to give us more on Thursday so that we can advance." Tal Burstein, who came off the bench to play 32 minutes, has his own key to victory. "We need to start strong and fight for every ball all game long." Maccabi has now won six straight in the Euroleague and 10 games in a row overall. The yellow-and-blue have also won three of their last four games in Greece, although the lone defeat came earlier this season at Olympiacos, 83-78. Last year, the first season that the Euroleague introduced the quarterfinals series in between the Top 16 and the Final Four, Maccabi swept Montepaschi Siena, winning the second game in Italy 103-100. Also working in Maccabi's favor is the fact that the top- seeded teams won three of the four series last season, including a pair of sweeps. This year, the home teams won all four games on Tuesday and will all be looking to close out the series on Thursday.