Crucial Italian Double Week for Maccabi as playoffs on horizon

Mar 28, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Virtus Bolognia Tuesday in an early start at 19:00 IDT (12:00 EDT) in a round 31 EuroLegaue clash, the first in an Italian double-week that could bring Maccabi one step closer to securing a playoff spot. With four games remaining, Maccabi is sitting in 6th spot with 17 wins and 13 losses (one game behind Fenerbahçe), while Virtus is in 13th spot on 13 wins and 17 losses.

“The further we get along, the more these weeks become, because we’re putting ourselves in a position where we’re fighting for the season,” Maccabi captain DiBartolomeo said at the team’s press conference yesterday.

Similarly, Maccabi coach Oded Katash said of the next two games: “A double EuroLeague week is always challenging, especially in the situation at the end of the season when every win is decisive. We really want to have a good week and to continue to fight for a playoff spot.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We’re in good form, we need to use the energy. For us, a lot begins with defense. We need to be consistent for the whole game. Offensively, we need to implement our game, we want to run the floor – our running game is very important and it begins with our defense.”

These teams last met in Italy in December, when Virtus beat Maccabi 78-73. The loss was particularly painful for the Yellow & Blue, as they were leading 66-59 with under 5 minutes remaining in the game. However, Virtus finished the game strongly through pressure defense and quick offense, including a four minute period during which the Italians went on a 13-0 run.

“There are things that we’ve taken from the previous game – but today we’re in a different position than we were then,” Katash said of the previous game against the visitors. “We know what we want in different situations, both offensively and defensively. It’s a little different today, because also with them, there are players that were with them then and won’t play tomorrow – Milos Teodosic, by the looks of it – and for us, Wade [Baldwin IV] did not play, so only Lorenzo [Brown] as the dominant guard made it much easier for them to neutralize a large part of our offense. I think it’s more difficult when we have two guards like that.”

Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Of course, Baldwin was injured for the December clash. He has starred for Maccabi over the last few weeks, being particularly influential over the past three EuroLeague games, averaging 23.3 points, 6.3 assists to 1.67 turnovers and a performance index rating of 24.67. Together with Brown, DiBartolomeo and Darrun Hilliard, Maccabi debatably boasts the best and most in-form backcourt in Europe.

“They have great backcourt with Brown and Baldwin acting like superstars but also DiBartolomeo and Hilliard coming off the bench with great efficiency. Also one of the best small forwards in the league with [Bonzie] Colson and a group of energetic big guys starting with [Josh] Nebo, who is really dominant physically. We better be prepared for the atmosphere that I know really well, but several of my players don’t.”

Maccabi’s backcourt, led by Nebo, has really helped Maccabi in its current four-game winning streak. While Maccabi is currently averaging 35.0 rebounds a game (compared to Virtus’s 31.2), during this stretch of four games, the team has averaged 39 total rebounds and Nebo himself has averaged 9.25 rebounds (including two games with double-doubles).

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“That’s a big part of our gameplan every night, not necessarily just for Virtus,” Maccabi’s veteran forward Jake Cohen said of the team’s rebounding efforts. “We want to especially attack the offensive glass. Defensive rebounding is something we’ve worked really hard to improve this season because it was one of our problems areas. So it’s not something specific to this next game, it’s what we want to be part of our DNA – to be a very good rebounding team. Those are habits that we’ve tried to build and get better at throughout the season. Hopefully we can continue to do that in an upward trend and have a good rebounding game against them, because it will of course help get the win.”

As the first game of a crucial week, the home crowd will be eager to see their team end the month of March strongly in its push towards the playoffs, but the team is taking it one game at a time.

“We’re not thinking too far ahead,” Katash said. “We are coming to play this game, I assume that the atmosphere here will be like it always is – that gives us a boost.”

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