Stress-free yellow-and-blue takes on Charleroi

With Top 16 spot already clinched, Mac TA has opportunity for close-up audition of Mallet.

Demond Mallet 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demond Mallet 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After securing second place in Euroleague Group C last week, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s final regular season game at Belgacom Charleroi on Thursday night is all but meaningless, apart from the fact that it will allow the yellow-andblue to take one more long look at the player expected to be their new point guard very soon.
Maccabi’s 96-57 thrashing of Efes Istanbul last Thursday ensured David Blatt’s team will finish behind only Real Madrid in its group, meaning the game against the already-eliminated Charleroi is effectively irrelevant.
Blatt is hoping to end the regular season on a winning note ahead of the Top 16 draw, but for Maccabi fans, Thursday’s encounter will be all about Demond Mallet.
There has yet to be an official announcement, but the fact that Mallet is set to join Maccabi for the remainder of the season has been the worst-kept secret in Israeli sports over the past week.
The game against Tel Aviv is expected to be Mallet’s last for Charleroi, with the 33-year-old guard to team-up with Maccabi after the Christmas break.
Mallet will have plenty of doubters to prove wrong when he eventually signs as the replacement for Jordan Farmar, who returned to the New Jersey Nets following the end to the NBA lockout.
At 33, Maccabi has no long-term plans for the Louisiana native. But with Tel Aviv’s Top 16 opener just four weeks away, the yellow-and-blue wanted a player in midseason form rather than one who had just been cut from an NBA team without playing a game since last season.
Mallet spent the first six years of his professional career in Germany before playing two seasons for Joventut Badalona, helping the Spanish team to the ULEB Cup in 2007/08.
After one season at Turk Telekom, he joined Charleroi last year, and has become its undoubted leader.
Mallet, who is a cousin of Shaquille O’Neal, has averaged 19.6 points per game for the Belgians in the Euroleague so far, hitting 51.3 percent of his twopoint attempts and 38.2 percent from three-point range.
However, considering he will shoulder much of the responsibility for Maccabi’s ball handling, the yellow-and-blue will surely be hoping he can improve significantly on the 2.5 assists he is currently averaging in European basketball’s premier competition.
Blatt refused to comment on the expected signing of Mallet on Wednesday, only agreeing to say that he “hopes that Mallet has a good game and we win.”
Despite having little to play for, Maccabi’s coach refuses to take Thursday’s encounter lightly.
“We are approaching this game with a sense that it is important, especially from a momentum point of view,” Blatt said. “Our guys want to win and that is the most important thing. We would like to try and implement a few things we have been working on in recent days and try different lineups.
“We face many more challenges and we want to do all we can to be ready for them.”
Charleroi coach Giovanni Bozzi is hoping his team can take the game down to the wire, the way it did before losing 69-59 to Maccabi when the teams met at Nokia Arena earlier this season.
“I remember we put Maccabi in trouble in the first game but I think it will not be easy to control the rhythm this time,” Bozzi said. “Maccabi is stronger than us in the paint and I expect to be in trouble with the defensive aggressiveness. But we’ll play without any pressure in our last game.”
Maccabi will have to manage on Thursday without forward Lior Eliyahu, who remained in Israel to recover from a stomach virus that saw him spend Monday night in hospital.
“We’re going there with the goal of winning after a week of really good games,” said Devin Smith, who has become a significant piece in the Maccabi puzzle this season.
“It’s important for us to keep up the momentum. We can’t let ourselves play any differently from how we usually do.”