Maccabi's European season on the line

Tel Aviv faces Messian's Madrid at Nokia tonight in crucial Top 16 game.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 311 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv 311
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv may only be one game into the Euroleague’s Top 16, but it will already face its moment of truth on Thursday night.
A victory against Real Madrid at the Nokia Arena and Maccabi’s dreams of reaching the quarterfinals will remain alive, at least for the time being.
A loss, however, and Tel Aviv’s continental campaign will, in all likelihood, be over in just five weeks time.
Maccabi impressed in the 76-72 defeat at Montepaschi Siena last week, but the fact that it failed to win even in what was perhaps its best game of the season doesn’t bode well for the future.
“We lost last week but by a small margin and managed to take Montepaschi out of its routine, and that’s not an easy task against teams at this level,” Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said.
“We’ll need to do the same against Real if we want to win. We can’t allow ourselves not to be first to every loose ball. It cost Efes the game in Madrid last week and us the game in Siena. This is a perfect example of how every ball counts in the Top 16.”
Madrid beat Turkey’s Efes Pilsen 77-70 in its Top 16 opener last week after finishing the regular season with an 8-2 record.
Real spent heavily in the offseason to build a winning team, first and foremost bringing in top coach Ettore Messina from CSKA Moscow.
The eight-time European champion signed Darjus Lavrinovic (13.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Rimantas Kaukenas (13.1 ppg) and Jorge Garbajosa (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) among many others ahead of the season and continued to strengthen its roster in the past couple of months, adding NBA veteran Marko Jaric and promising youngster Ante Tomic.
With its last Euroleague triumph coming some 15 years ago, Real is not sparing any cost to return to the winner’s podium and Messina knows his team can take a significant step towards the last eight with a victory on Thursday.
“This is one of the so-called ‘classics’ of European basketball,” the Italian coach said. “This is a very important game, as are all the other games in the Top 16.”
Messina has a clear game plan for Thursday. “We will have to defend their pick and roll really well,” he said.
“In offense, we have to move the ball well and attack their adjusted defense wisely. These can be some of the keys of the game for us.”
The injured Felipe Reyes didn’t travel to Israel with the team and Madrid will likely also have to manage without Louis Bullock.
However, Messina’s extremely deep roster, which also includes Sergio Llull (8.7 ppg), Pablo Prigioni (7.5 ppg) and Novica Velickovic (8.3 ppg), is still far superior to that of Maccabi’s.
“Every game is very important and of course, the one in Tel aviv will be no exception,” said Jaric.
“Last week, against Efes Pilsen, we were under a lot of pressure because it was our first home game and hopefully Maccabi will feel this kind of pressure now. Everything can happen when two great teams face each other and I am sure it will be a tough game.”
One of Maccabi’s biggest problems this season has been the erratic play of Alan Anderson.
The American sharpshooter was on fire in Siena last week, scoring 26 points, including five three-pointers. Gershon will need him to be at his best once more on Thursday, but he’ll also need a significant contribution from at least one more of the team’s stars.
Chuck Eidson and Andrew Wisniewski were especially disappointing in Siena, combining for just nine points last week, and a similar performance in Tel Aviv will mean Maccabi will have little chance of winning on Thursday.
“It’s a big game, and we’ve got to play good team basketball if we want to win,” Wisniewski said.
“We’ll have to fight for 40 minutes and be tough. We lost the game last week, but I think the fact we were so close to win helps us to gain more confidence and I hope it will show on Thursday night.
“Everybody knows what kind of atmosphere we
have in Nokia Arena in front of our fans, and I hope it will be a factor too.”