Revenge on Mac’s mind as Barca visits

Run of blowouts in jeopardy as defending champs ready for 2nd meeting.

JEREMY PARGO 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
The Final Four may still be more than two months away, but the outcome of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s showdown with Barcelona at Nokia Arena on Thursday night will be nothing short of crucial to its hopes of returning to the Euroleague’s showcase event.
Maccabi, which has already booked its place in the quarterfinal playoffs, must defeat Barca by 11 points or more on Thursday to erase the 81-71 loss in its Top 16 opener and leapfrog the Catalans into first position in Group F ahead of its final group game at Lottomatica Roma next week.
Any other result will likely see Tel Aviv qualify for the next stage from second position, meaning it will not have home-court advantage in the best-offive quarterfinal series.
“There’s no doubt this is going to be a big game between two of the strongest teams in the Euroleague this season,” Maccabi coach David Blatt said.
“Barcelona is an exceptional team, and we have a lot of respect for them. In our first game against them we didn’t play well, and I hope we’ll improve in this game at home.
“We have to play at the highest level in order to beat Barcelona, especially to overcome the 10-point deficit from our first meeting. We’re going to do all we can to succeed. Both teams have already reached the quarterfinals, which shows how much strength and talent they have. That’s what makes this battle for first place all the more interesting.”
Barcelona relatively struggled at the start of the season, losing three games in the Euroleague regular season to finish only third in Group C, while also falling in three of its first 10 Spanish league encounters.
However, the reigning-Euroleague champion has found its form in recent weeks, winning all four of its Top 16 games, while also lifting the Spanish cup and claiming 11 straight league contests.
Despite having Pete Mickeal ruled out with injury until the end of the season, Barca still has one of the strongest rosters on the continent.
The star of the show is Juan Carlos Navarro, who had 24 points – including five three-pointers – in the victory over Maccabi, and leads the Top 16 with 20.8 points per game.
One of the players who will be charged with defending Navarro is Jeremy Pargo, who has also been on fire recently, leading all players in this stage in index rating, averaging 17.7 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in Maccabi’s last three continental games.
“After advancing to the playoffs, the goal is to secure the first place in the group,” Barcelona coach Xavier Pascual said. “This is an exciting and difficult challenge. We know Maccabi is playing at an extremely high level and that they are rolling at home. It is one of the two or three toughest arenas in the competition.
That’s why we are really pumped about achieving our goal. We know we have a cushion of 10 points, but if we think about any kind of point differential, we will lose the game.
Maccabi is a perfect 8-0 in continental play at Nokia this season, winning by an average 20.5 points per game. Since its defeat to Barcelona, Tel Aviv has won its last three encounters by an average 33 points, including an 83-62 victory at Olimpija Ljubljana last week despite an eight-point deficit at the break.
However, Maccabi’s players know that they will have to play better than ever to overcome Barcelona by the required margin on Thursday night.
“We are excited about this game and we are preparing ourselves for a difficult task,” Maccabi forward David Blu said.
“We are starting the game 10 points down and understand the importance of every possession. Barca is a very good team, but we believe in ourselves and will come with a lot of confidence and energy in front of our wonderful fans. Nokia arena should be noisier than ever.”