There’s a saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it.” I guess that can be attributed to Maccabi’s 94-64 loss to Olympiacos on the road in Greece. I don’t think that there was one positive that came out of the game. Nothing. Zilch. Zip. Zero.
The Yellow & Blue were dominated in every aspect of the game. Shooting percentage 50%-39%, 3-pointers 9-5, rebounding 48-39, offensive rebounds 15-14, turnovers 14-9 and free throws 21/26 to an abysmal 13/22. Did I miss anything? Once the score was 24-16 after ten minutes of play, it looked like Maccabi turned their attention to Thursday night’s critical home game against Crvena Zvezda AKA Red Star Belgrade.
With 12 games left, the remaining 5 home games will be crucial to win if the Yellow & Blue believe they can make it into the top 8 with a 16-14 record as they currently sit at 9-9. Belgrade, Barcelona, Khimki, Panathinaikos and CSKA will all be coming to Yad Eliyahu over the next two months and Maccabi will have to go at least 4-1 in those contests which means they’ll need to win 3 road games. With trips to Milano, Zalgiris, Malaga, EFES, Fenerbahce along with the two final game days in Spain at Baskonia and Valencia, it will be a tough to find those three wins.
If I have to circle those potential games that Maccabi could win I’d be looking at Milano, EFES, Malaga and Valencia, meaning that game number 30 may be the one that puts them over the hump. Zalgiris will be tough on the road in Kaunas and a raucous arena, Baskonia will probably be battling Maccabi for the final spot and Olympiacos lost by more than 30 points there last week while Fenerbahce is a Tuesday away game with Panathinaikos at home two days later; sounds like a loss in the making.
The Yellow & Blue are better than Milano even with an upgraded roster that now includes Mindaugus Kuzminskas and have revenge to exact on teams that beat them up at home in EFES and Malaga while Valencia is a beatable team. But if they could potentially make the playoffs at Valencia in the last game of the season and they are already out of contention, Maccabi may have a bit of an easier time.
Now, I’m not discounting any of Maccabi’s home opponents and going 4-1 will be tough, very tough but doable. However, should they lose to both Panathinaikos and CSKA (while I’m not discounting Khimki) they’ll need to go 4-3 on the road and that’s going to be even a more brutal test and one I’m not so sure that Maccabi will be able to get through. But right now, the only game that matters in Red Star and the host’s need a win to move to 10-9 and keep their hopes alive. They’ve got to play game by game and win one by one. Should they follow that formula I believe that we’ll be seeing quarterfinal action in Israel during the month of April.
1) Taylor Rochestie will be making his return to Yad Eliyahu and will look to keep up his fine play this season averaging 14.7 points and 5.1 assists per game. In fact, last game against Khimki the former Yellow & Blue guard scored a season high 27 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and dished out 7 assists, so look out. Add to that his stellar 22 point performance against Maccabi in Belgrade back in October, Neven Spahija’s team better be prepared to find a way to stop the Israeli citizen.
2) Maccabi will also have to concentrate on another pair of Red Star players in American guard James Feldeine and Serbian Milko Bjelica. The former is averaging 12.5 ppg and in knocked down 19 against Maccabi while the latter scored 16 points from the center position which has been an Achilles heel all season long for the Yellow & Blue to defend against. Again, Spahija will hopefully have his defense fine tuned to handle what Dusan Alimpijevic will throw at Maccabi.
3) Michael Roll said that defense will be a focus point for the team in the next game and that certainly MUST be the case. Maccabi has given up way to many points this season and the they need to be “more aggressive and control the defensive rebounds” as coach Spahija said prior to Thursday’s matchup. Over 18 games, Maccabi has given up 82.67 ppg while giving up a brutal 89.76 ppg the past 8 games alone. On the other side of the coin they have scored 81.38 ppg over the last 8 and 79.50 in 18; that’s just not good enough. Another interesting stat on the Red Star side is that they are the only team to have under 10 turnovers per game and sit with 9.94. Maccabi will need to be at their best and pressure the visitor’s at every opportunity.
The injury bug has hit Maccabi over the last few weeks and the latest players who have been nicked up are Jonah Bolden who didn’t make the trip to Greece, John DiBartolomeo and DeAndre Kane. With Norris Cole making his return against Olympiacos and Deshaun Thomas who also came back from being on the shelf for a couple of weeks, Maccabi’s beginning to nurse some injuries that they had been fortunate enough to avoid during the early portion of the season. If the Yellow & Blue want to make that run to the playoffs, they’ll need all hands on deck and healthy ones to be able to make that difference down the stretch run.