Maccabi Tel Aviv have a chance to take down the mighty Real Madrid Thursday night at Yad Eliyahu as the Spanish squad come to Israel without a number of their key players who are injured in Anthony Randolph, Sergio Llull and Rudy Fernandez. Plus Facundo Campazzo is now with the Denver Nuggets in the NBA. Los Blancos did bring in former Maccabi center Alex Tyus to take a bit off of big man Walter Tavares and there are still plenty of quality players who can pick up the slack in Gabriel Deck, Jaycee Carroll, Trey Thompkins and Jeffery Taylor.
So of course, their absence doesn’t mean that the Yellow & Blue will be a shoe in to win but their chances certainly are better than they were back at the start of the season when Maccabi was whitewashed 79-63 in Madrid. The four players who are not playing from the list above contributed 39 points, 13 rebounds, 18 assists and 5 steals and those stats will be difficult to replace.
If there was ever a time that Ioannis Sfairopoulos needed to find a victory to “stay in the game” in order to advance to the playoffs, it’s now. At 9-11, a record that really had to be 10-10 going into this game after a brutal overtime loss to Olympiacos last week which could have put the, at .500, Maccabi has only sitting together two wins in a row twice and have yet to win three straight.
With a win the Yellow & Blue will go to 10-11 with two games next week against two surging Turkish teams at Fenerbahce and home versus EFES. The following week Maccabi will welcome Khimki which should be a gimme game.
To clinch a postseason berth Maccabi must win 9 of their last 14 games which would give them a record of 18-16, 17-17 just won’t do it with so much parity in this season’s Euroleague.
However, as we saw earlier the club hasn’t had winning streaks like they did last year when they ran off a 6 game, two 5 game and one 3 game for a 19-9 record when the season was halted due to the coronavirus. But we also have to realize that this year’s team isn’t the same as last year’s.
If Maccabi is serious about moving on this year in the competition they’ve got to take care of business against a wounded Real Madrid. With the next two games at Fenerbahce who are playing terrific ball and have upgraded their roster with Marko Guduric and new big man Kyle O’Quinn along with EFES who have seen the resurrection of Shane Larkin plus the signing of Dzanan Musa from the Brooklyn Nets will be very, very difficult.
TJ Cline is reportedly on his way back to the Holy Land, but chairman Shimon Mizrahi said that he is going to upgrade the squad in the domestic league and it seems from that statement he is not going to see time in continental competition. So while other teams with records around the same as Maccabi’s are strengthening themselves for the stretch run, the Yellow & Blue will have to do with the current roster as is. That’s unfortunately not going to be good enough.
Let’s take a quick look back to the 2017-18 season when Maccabi desperately needed to upgrade in January/February as their record stood at 12-10 following a win over Barcelona. The club didn’t bring in anyone until Jeremy Pargo landed in Israel for the stretch run of the Israeli season as they saw their Euroleague season blowup with a 1-7 record over the final 8 games of the campaign. If Neven Spahija’s team would have gotten Pargo in January the results could have been wildly different and perhaps Maccabi would have made the playoffs. Of course hind sight is 20/20 but something came be learnt from that campaign and possibly be implemented into this current one.
We also saw Maccabi fine tune their roster last season with the additions of Aaron Jackson, Jalen Reynolds, Amare Stoudemire and Angelo Caloiaro who wasn’t registered at the start of the season but who all came in for injured players in Nate Wolters, Tarik Black, John DiBartolomeo and Omri Casspi.
Certainly, the Maccabi of this season now has a full roster, but it’s one that is flawed and clearly needs a bit of a facelift.
Casspi has been inconsistent and not the same player he once was since returning, there is no one who can provide the toughness that Quincy Acy did last season and face off against the opposition’s strong men, there is no forward like Jake Cohen who so perfectly fit the system along with a growing Deni Avdija who began sprouting his wings in January of 2020 when he grabbed the opportunity to play significant minutes and a role for the club.
If this is the Maccabi roster going forward for these final 14 Euroleague games, then it will be quite a challenge for Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos starting tonight against a team that he has never beaten.
An impossible challenge? By no means that’s the case. But if they have any designs of moving in the right direction a win against Real Madrid is a must.