Backcourt battle highlights Maccabi Tel Aviv – Red Star Euroleague clash

Feb 9, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv (12-11, equal 7th place) hosts Crvena Zvezda/Red Star Belgrade (10-13, 13th place) Thursday (21:05 IST / 14:05 EST) in their round 24 EuroLegaue clash at Yad Eliyahu. Maccabi returns home with one win from three consecutive games on the road, with the W coming from a thrilling 94-93 victory over Valencia (12-11, equal 7th place) on Thursday night, giving them the edge over the Spaniards in the event of a tie-breaker scenario at the end of the regular season.

Just ahead of the game, Yellow & Blue guard Lorenzo Brown inked a 3-year extension with the club that will keep him in Israel until 2026.

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Maccabi will be looking to build on its league-best home record, as the Yellow & Blue fans look forward to seeing their stars play live in EuroLeague action for the first time in three weeks when they beat ALBA Berlin (6-18, 18th place) 87-74 at Yad Eliyahu.

“Every game is important,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash explained. “We’re really excited to come back to play the EuroLeague at home. We need that energy – after the tough week and missing some players, we need that energy, and it’s going to be tough against a high-intensity team on both sides.”

“The statistics show how difficult it is play here – a very large reason for that is our fans and the energy that they give to us,” Roman Sorkin said yesterday of his excitement of returning to Tel Aviv and playing in front of the fans.

Red Star, on the other hand, are coming into the game on the back of four consecutive EuroLeague losses, and a loss to Maccabi tonight would put the playoffs even farther out of reach for the Serbians. However, Katash was cautious about underestimating what the visitors are able to do: “Red Star, after a great run in the first round of games then a run of losses – but they were very close games, it’s not as if they are playing very different or worse than before. Therefore, it would be a mistake for us to underestimate them.

Wade Baldwin and Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Protecting home court like we did in the first round of games is not a given. It’s nice to say that we need to protect home court, but we’re going to have games here against good, dominant teams – it definitely won’t be simple. Therefore every game is critical, every game is a pressure game.”

Red Star can take confidence from the previous fixture between the teams in round 10, when they beat Maccabi 69-68 after taking control of the game with a dominant 27-18 first quarter.

“It was painful to watch and difficult, because we really missed out on the game with a lot of small things which today we are doing a lot better,” Katash reflected. “It was a game with a low score, we had a few good defensive minutes, especially when looking at our situation at the start of the season, but that’s the style. Of course it’s important to start the game well. If we allow other teams to feel comfortable, it’s a lot more difficult for us to control the game.”

Lorenzo Brown – who missed all three recent road games after injuring his ankle against ALBA – starred in the previous game against Red Star, with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. It’s still uncertain whether he will play, while Jarell Martin – who had 5 points and 5 rebounds against Red Star – is also questionable, having fallen ill over the last few days.

“We’re not coming in at our peak, we’re coming in without all players – we’ll soon see how Lorenzo is going in training, we don’t know how much we’ll be able to get from him,” Katash told the press. “I’m in the hope that he plays, he’s definitely not at peak fitness and we need to manage his minutes. Let’s say that a few days ago we were hoping to be in a better place with respect to certainty of his game, we need to see today’s training session to get a final decision. It’s early to say, it’s not the ideal situation, but we’ll manage.”

Lorenzo Brown – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The guards will have their hands full tonight, facing Red Star’s star duo in Luca Vildoza and Nemanja Nedovic. While Vildoza was relatively quiet in the game against Maccabi earlier this season, he has averaged 19 points over Red Star’s last three games and ranks sixth in the EuroLeague this season in 3-pointers made, average 2.3 per game. For his part, Nedovic had 12 points and 1 assist against Maccabi in Belgrade, but boasts career-highs in points (39), 3-pointers made (7) and performance index rating (45) against Maccabi in december 2020 while playing for Panathinaikos.

Katash spoke of the test ahead for his backcourt in tonight’s game: “It’s going to be physical, challenging with the top two guards that create big for them. We have to come out focused and aggressive.”

One player looking forward to having Brown back in the side is Jalen Adams, who has taken a larger role in the floor general’s absence: “It’s a long season – and it’s kind of like a next man up mentality. I’m hoping Lorenzo comes back as soon as possible, we definitely need him. I just step up and do whatever the team asks for – some days it may be scoring, some days it has to be defense or just creating for other guys. So whatever the team needs from me, I’m willing to do.”

There’s also some additional excitement around the club this week, with Sorkin – who’s tied for 5th in blocks in the EuroLeague this season, averaging 1.0 block per game – extending his contract with the club until the 2025.

Roman Sorkin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“It shows that he’s bought in all the way – he’s willing to stay here, he’s all about Maccabi,” Adams said of his teammate’s commitment to the club. “I think it start with your core players, your Israeli players, and then it bounces around to the foreign players. So it definitely shows that he’s bought in and the team has invested in him and the locker room for sure.”

“It’s really an honor to continue at a club like this,” Sorkin said. “Not a lot of players – especially Israelis – continue here and it’s something that I really wanted to do.

“I really wanted to focus on each day. It’s a club with a lot of pressure on it, in terms of competitiveness – in a good way. We want to win everything and always be on top, so obviously there’s pressure. But I tried to focus more on the day-to-day, every game come and play the best that I can and help my team win.”

Of course, the Yellow & Blue fans will be hoping that he can continue to play strongly and help the team win, starting with the game tonight against Red Star.

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