Relaxed Maccabi TA visits Athens ahead of Top 16

Maccabi will be playing for pride, while Panathinaikos needs a win to ensure it finishes in third.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Devin Smith 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Devin Smith 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
With first place in Euroleague regular season Group D officially wrapped up, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt has already turned his focus to the Top 16 ahead of Thursday’s showdown against Panathinaikos in Greece.
Maccabi will be playing for pride in its final regular season game in Athens, while Panathinaikos needs a win to ensure it finishes in third place and perhaps even climbs up to the runners-up position.
The Greeks (5-4) lost 75-68 in Tel Aviv last month, but have since won three of four games to secure their progress.
The yellow-and-blue improved to a 7-2 record with last week’s 78-71 win over Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius at Nokia Arena and clinched first place after Red Star Belgrade defeated Laboral Vitoria and Panathinaikos beat Lokomotiv Kuban.
Maccabi already knows the identity of two of the teams it will face in the Top 16, with Real Madrid winning Group B and Galatasaray of Turkey securing second place in Group C. Tel Aviv’s five remaining opponents in the next round will be decided when the regular season comes to a close on Friday.
With so many possible scenarios, Blatt is doing his best to focus on what he controls.
“There are so many different options, but the Top 16 is a tough stage and any team we will meet will certainly be strong,” said the Maccabi coach.
“We are not thinking too much about our opponents. I don’t think that the teams we will see in the Top 16 will be significantly different to the teams we played in the regular season. There will, however, be more teams and more games and there are many aspects in which we need to improve. The most important thing for me is that we begin the Top 16 with healthy players.”
Maccabi’s roster has been battling lingering injuries since the summer, with Shawn James the latest casualty. The American center will miss Thursday’s contest to rest his ailing back in the hope of being fully fit for the start of the Top 16 on January 2.
“We haven’t had a fully fit roster since the start of the season,” said Blatt. “This is just part of the game and we will have to deal with it. We are not considering making any changes to the roster. We want to first of all have everyone back healthy before we make any decision about releasing or signing a player.”