Yellow-and-blue tips off Top 16 at Siena

Despite suffering loss at Siena on November 23, Maccabi still managed 8-2 Group B record to advance to Euroleague Top 16.

Mac TA's Ricky Hickman 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Mac TA's Ricky Hickman 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Just one month after losing in Italy, Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Montepaschi Siena once more on Thursday night in a showdown which could set the tone for the yellow-and-blue’s entire Euroleague Top 16 campaign.
Despite suffering an 89-87 loss at Siena on November 23, Maccabi still managed to advance to the Top 16 from first place in regular season Group B with an 8-2 record.
However, with powerhouse Barcelona, European champion Olympiacos, the impressive BV Khimki Moscow, Caja Laboral Vitoria of Spain and Turkey’s Besiktas JK and Fenerbahce Ulker also all being part of Group F, Maccabi will have little room for error in the Top 16 if it has any intention of finishing in the top four and progressing to the quarterfinal playoffs.
Siena’s continental campaign to date has been erratic to say the least.
The Tuscans began the regular season with three straight defeats, including a 70-68 loss in Tel Aviv, but bounced back with five consecutive victories before suffering unexpected setbacks against the weak Chalon-Sur- Saone and Prokom Gdynia to end the group with a 5-5 record.
Nevertheless, Siena was the regular season leader in scoring (87.9 PPG), assists (17.9 APG), free throws made (170), free throw accuracy (79.8%), three-pointers made (129) and three-point accuracy (43.3%) and Maccabi coach David Blatt is certainly not taking the Italians lightly.
“It is easier for us to prepare for this game because we have already played Siena twice this season. There isn’t that much to do,” said Blatt. “This group is going to be tough and there will be many ups and downs. The dynamic of the Top 16 has changed with the expansion to 14 games this season. We need to be smart and cautious.”
Siena’s Bobby Brown leads the Euroleague in scoring (19.5 PPG), but coach Luca Banchi’s team has plenty of other weapons on offense, scoring at least 88 points in seven of its last eight Euroleague games.
One of the keys for Maccabi this season has been its three-point shooting, with the yellow-and-blue hitting 17- of-29 (58.6%) attempts in its past two continental wins.
On the other hand, Tel Aviv shot just 25 percent (7-of-28) from beyond the arc in its two Euroleague defeats this season, connecting on only five of 18 three-point shots the last time it visited Siena.
Maccabi will have a fresh face on its bench on Thursday, but new signing Darko Palninic, who took the place of Giorgi Shermadini on the roster, is unlikely to get any significant playing time against Siena.
One player who will play plenty of minutes is Ricky Hickman, who leads Maccabi with 27 minutes and 13 points per game, and scored Tel Aviv’s winning basket in the victory over Siena in Israel.
“Siena is an especially good team at home,” said Hickman, who is looking forward to what promises to be a testing Top 16. “We will need to do a very good job to win in Italy.
“Every Top 16 game will be a real war, but if we display our full ability and play with intensity I believe we will be fine. I’m excited ahead of the Top 16.
I’ve been waiting for the chance to play against the best teams in Europe and see how good we really are.”
On TV: Montepaschi Siena vs Maccabi Tel Aviv (live on Channel 10 at 9:45 p.m.)