Preview: With spot already secure, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts CSKA

Still awaiting punishment for BSL outburst, Sofo expected to play in yellow-and-blue’s final Top 16 contest.

Maccabi Tel Aviv center Sofoklis Schortsanitis (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv center Sofoklis Schortsanitis
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Three days after storming into the stands at Hadar Yosef Arena looking to assault a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan, Sofoklis Schortsanitis is set to receive a hero’s welcome when he returns to Nokia Arena on Thursday night for Maccabi Tel Aviv’s final Euroleague Top 16 encounter against CSKA Moscow.
Maccabi will be playing for pride on Thursday, with the yellow- and-blue already guaranteed to end Group F in third place and face Olimpia Milano in a best-of-five quarterfinal series which will begin in Italy next Wednesday.
CSKA requires a victory at Nokia in order to maintain a chance of winning the group, but Maccabi will be looking to avenge its 100-65 defeat in Moscow in February, its heaviest loss in European competition in 38 years.
The Israel Basketball Association’s legal advisor said on Tuesday that he will ask the disciplinary court to suspend Sofo for eight games after he lost his head and went in hunt of a Hapoel supporter following Maccabi’s win in the derby on Monday.
However, the eventual punishment will only affect Sofo’s availability in the BSL, meaning he will all the while be able to play in the Euroleague. The IBA announced on Wednesday that Sofo will only face the disciplinary committee on April 24, with Maccabi requesting to postpone his court date until after its Euroleague quarterfinal series.
Maccabi agreed to suspend Sofo from league action until his hearing, meaning he will miss the team’s showdown with Hapoel Jerusalem on Saturday.
However, he will be available to play against CSKA, and Maccabi fans have prepared a special show of support for the Greek center, whose popularity among the club’s fans has mushroomed since Monday’s incident.
Despite playing without Devin Smith and Alex Tyus in Moscow, Maccabi remained within striking distance of CSKA at halftime, trailing by seven points (47-40).
However, Tel Aviv completely capitulated in the second half, being outscored 53-25 on the way to its third heaviest defeat in club history and the biggest since it was trounced by 47 points by Real Madrid in January 1976.
Maccabi had lost four straight games over all competitions, including two in a row in the Euroleague, before edging Bayern Munich 94-92 in Germany last Thursday to improve to an 8-5 record and clinch third place.
Tel Aviv also returned to winning ways in the BSL with Monday’s 83-80 triumph over Hapoel in the derby and is hoping to continue and build momentum ahead of Saturday’s clash with Jerusalem in the BSL and the playoff series against Milano.
“Both teams will be more focused on their preparations for the playoffs than the game itself,” admitted CSKA coach Ettore Messina. “With Milos Teodosic out it will be important for us to boost the confidence of Aaron Jackson and Jeremy Pargo and let them direct the team and play big roles.”
Pargo will be returning to Nokia for the first time on Thursday since earning All-Euroleague honors with Maccabi in 2011 after leading the side to the Euroleague final.
“This game should be fun and exciting to watch. I think it is a good chance for us to try to win in front of a very loud crowd,” said Pargo. “I don’t know if the return to Tel Aviv will give me some special feelings. I have to go there and check. Whatever response I get there, if I will be booed or cheered, I’ll be OK with that and I’ll try hard to show my best game to the fans.”