Freshly crowned Group A champ Maccabi Electra will put its seven-game winning streak on the line when it hosts BC Khimki Moscow Region at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena on Thursday.
Maccabi enters Week 9 tied with Montepaschi Siena for the best record in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague (7-1), but unlike the Italian champs, Tel Aviv has already secured first place in the group and a No. 1 seed in next month’s Top 16 Draw. Meanwhil Khimki has lost four of its last five to drop to 3-5. Head coach Sergio Scariolo’s men could see their Top 16 hopes vanish this week with a loss coupled with other results. Maccabi edged Khimki when they met last month in Russia 76-78 on a David Blu last-second game-winning three-pointer. Center Sofoklis Schortsanitis had a big game with 16 points and 7 rebounds that night, but could miss this game after injuring his leg in the Israeli League on Sunday. His absence together with reserve big man Richard Hendrix likely being out due to illness leaves head coach David Blatt in a bind in his frontcourt. Yaniv Green is the team’s only other experienced center and that could force Lior Eliyahu into some minutes at center. Accordingly Khimki may try and use its size to pound the ball inside. Khimki boasts a trio of experienced pivot men in Ben Eze, Kresimir Loncar and Aleksey Savrasenko. The option to play twin towers could further complicate matters for Maccabi, which may call upon Guy Pnini to help Blu round out the minutes at power forward. Sergey Monya will still see most of the minutes at power forward for Khimki and he dominated on the defensive end when these teams last met with a career-high 4 blocks. Macabi’s strength is in its backcourt, where Doron Perkins, Jeremy Pargo and November MVP Chuck Eidson have become a strike force at both ends of the floor. Veteran Tal Burstein will be looked upon to provide a bulk of the minutes to rest that trio. Khimki features a pair of super scorers on the wings in Keith Langford and shooting ace Thomas Kelati plus Zoran Planinic, Vitaly Fridzon and Raul Lopez, who all offer different looks at point guard. Ultimately the game figures to be decided inside. If the boisterous Maccabi crowd can lift Green and Eliyahu to battle their bigger counterparts, the home team should be able to hold on. However if foul trouble or fatigue set in and the visitors take advantage, Khimki could find a way to avenge its tough loss to Maccabi that started its current down streak.
Game notes, Maccabi Electra
Chuck Eidson and teammate Doron Perkins are first and second, respectively, in steals per game this season with 3.4 and 2.5 per game.
Perkins has recorded at least 1 steal in each of his last 12 Euroleague performances.
Eidson has at least 2 steals in each of his last nine Euroleague performances.
David Blu sank the first – and to date only – game-winning shot of his professional career to beat BC Khimki in Russia last month. Blu’s last-second three-pointer gave Maccabi a 76-78 victory.
Head coach David Blatt coached BC Khimki players Aleksey Savrasenko and Sergey Monya on the Russian national team that won EuroBasket 2007.
Blatt coached Monya and fellow Khimki player Vitaly Fridzon last summer at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey.
Game notes, BC Khimki Moscow Region
Keith Langford leads the Euroleague with an average of 6.6 fouls drawn per game.
Ben Eze blocked the 100th shot of his Euroleague Basketball career last week and tied Maceo Baston for seventh place on the list of Euroleague shot blockers. He will take sole possession of seventh place with his next rejection and can then target Gregor Fucka (106 career blocks) for sixth place.
Vitaly Fridzon has made 10 consecutive free throws in Euroleague action.
Kresimir Loncar scored a season-high 15 points and also grabbed 8 rebounds in just 19 minutes played against Maccabi last month.
Aleksey Savrasenko set his Euroleague career high in rebounding with 13 against Maccabi Tel Aviv. He did so in just 20 minutes on the floor, helping his team at the time, Olympiacos Piraeus, beat Maccabi 94-91 in February 2002.
David Blatt, Maccabi Electra head coach:
— It’s a different kind of game for us, because we already clinched first place in the group, but Khimki is fighting for the Top 16. We need to be even more prepared in order to neutralize the extra passion they have. We have three main reasons to be motivated tomorrow. First, the arena will be full and fans will be watching on TV. So we have to give our best. The result also affects other teams, so we must be professional and try to win. And the third reason and most important is that we are a proud team with character. We want to play positive basketball just as we have so far. Khimki is one of the teams with the best rosters in the Euroleague. They have has ups and downs, but with Kelati back and Langford and some of the Russian national team players who I of course know well and respect, it will be a tough job.
Sergio Scariolo, BC Khimki head coach:
— Maccabi has deserved first place in the group. And our performances on the road haven’t been at the same level as at home so far. We understand that now it is time to do it. We should raise the concentration and the defensive level for all 40 minutes. And we must play our best game on the road to have chances to reach the Top 16.
Benjamin Eze, BC Khimki center:
— Everybody knows it is a chance for us to get on the right course. I think everyone knows what to do. We have talked too much about this game. It will be a tough game. Maccabi loves basketball. They never relax. So we have to be ready 100 percent for this game. We need to be a real team to beat them.