Commitment to win as Maccabi Tel Aviv’s season faces a huge test

Dec 14, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv heads to Turkey for a date with Fenerbache on Tuesday night at 7:45pm (Israel time) in Gameday 15 Euroleague action. The Yellow & Blue enter the clash with a 7-7 record but having lost 4 games in a row while the hosts sit at 5-9 after two straight wins. Following the game, Maccabi will return to Israel and will welcome Anadolu EFES in a “Turkish” Double Week as they will try to get back onto the winning track while they still find themselves in a playoff position in 8th place.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos knows full well that he must get the most out of his team and that the challenge will be a daunting one, not just because of the competition on the floor and the current losing streak but also the issues off of the court which have come to light over the past week. The commitment to win is critical at this juncture of the season and after 14 games with 20 to go in the season Maccabi is entering what is a crucial point in their campaign with plenty of noise surrounding the club that they could definitely do without.

James Nunnally – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

James Nunnally and Iftach Ziv were thrown out of practice last week which was reported to have happened on Saturday night by Arale Weisberg of WALLA! Sports and confirmed by coach Sfairopolous while the former is also looking for greener pastures with China being on his radar confirmed by The Sports Rabbi’s sources in that country.

Sfairopoulos has been under pressure with Maccabi and he almost hit his breaking point when booed by the fans during last week’s continental loss where he went on a minor rant about the fans and their basketball knowledge. However, he was back in control at Monday’s pregame presser and spoke about the incident that took place, throwing Nunnally under the proverbial bus while not outright denying the move to China claims as well.

“In every team it can happen that during practices something small or big something can happen. In our case it was something small and it happened and we forgot it already. It happened one week ago by words and I sent them to the lockerroom, they discussed and everything was fixed.”

“You have quarrels with your wife and after the quarrel you love her more. When you are four losses in a row it’s normal that there is bigger intensity in the practice and noise around the team and balagan, it’s normal that it’s not quiet. We have the experience and knowledge how to calm down the situation and focus on basketball and this is what we are doing.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Focus on basketball is definitely a must against a very dangerous club that features one of the best players in Euroleague play over the last number of years, Jan Vesely who has done damage to opponents large and small, time and time again.

“Pierria Henry and Nando De Colo are very productive and are experienced, plus they have players that can help coming from the bench. We need to be focused on Vesely who had his career high last game. Dyshawn Pierre has power and can go in the post with his strong body.”

That’s a tough group for any team to handle and Maccabi’s big men Ante Zizic and Jalen Reynolds will be tasked with that job inside.

“He’s a great player and been in the Euroleague for a while with a phenomenal CV. I’m looking forward to playing against him and we will see how it goes,” Zizic commented.

Reynolds also had his thoughts about the challenge that lies in the wait, “I think it’s a good matchup and we have good bigs as well. We got to show up and play and leave the other things off the court and just continue to keep working and fighting for this game.”

Jalen Reynolds – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

It’s clear there is a sense of urgency and the players and coach are aware that as the losses pile up, the chances for Maccabi to make the playoffs continues to plummet so winning right now is of the utmost importance. Should the Yellow & Blue not be able to at worst case split the games this week, who knows what changes may be on the way.

“After four losses it’s tough but we will step up and do our best and get back onto the winning track,” Zizic said. “It’s not the same feeling when you’re winning than when you’re losing. We’ve all got to be on the same page and try to win the game.”

Reynolds echoed his teammates thoughts, “It’s definitely a big game with tons of pressure and a lot of our fans are depending on us.”

“We are not in a good momentum and all the teams have these gaps in performances but we want to get better again and start to win games,” Sfairopoulos explained. “The willing of the players to come back to win. They are trying to get back to win and Madrid was one of our best games and that is why I had said that they deserved to win. Some teams now are in good momentum as we were last month. All the players are trying to do their best to win and overcome this bad period. If they aren’t committed to win it’s not easy to do so.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The question is, are all of the players committed to win? Perhaps not otherwise, why would Sfairopoulos have even mentioned it.

This week could be the turning point for Maccabi. Two wins and they are on their way feeling good and back on track. One and one and they stay in the game and can continue to build and see how they can improve.

Two losses would be devastating which could lead to major changes.

Which option will it be? We should know the answer by Thursday at 11pm.

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