Throughout a very inconsistent Euroleague season there has been but one thing that has been consistent, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s inconsistency. That inconsistency has led the Yellow & Blue to a 10-15 record with nine games left in the season with any chance for the postseason on the verge of disappearing with one more defeat.
Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team welcomes Valencia to Yad Eliyahu on Thursday at 21:05 as their continental campaign hangs in the balance. Sitting in 14th place, Maccabi will go up against a tough Spanish squad with both teams coming off of disappointing losses, as the Yellow & Blue fell to CSKA and 10th place Valencia who sport a 14-13 record to Anadolu EFES.
For the Maccabi bench boss, the goal is quite clear going into this game, make sure the team is ready to go from a psychological aspect, “The most important thing is pushing the players to the psychological part of the game and fight. Valencia can score very well and have the second best offense. We have be mentally ready to fight hard, which is most important right now to do.”
Can Maccabi actually make the postseason? As crazy as it sounds even if they ran the table and went 9-0 to end the season with a 19-15 record it’s a huge question if that would even be enough as the standings are so close with teams like Valencia who are over .500 find themselves on the outside looking in. That would not have happened in years past.
But as guard Sandy Cohen said each game is like a final at this point with little wiggle room, “Every game is very important and they are all do or die, we can let anymore slip away and we are consistent and pull out the W.”
“We have to connect wins and we have 3-4 losses in a row but I see every game separately,” explained Sfairopoulos. “We have to come back to positive results and we play for a big club like Maccabi. We have to fight to get back to winning days.”
Getting back to winning days won’t be easy and the last time the Yellow & Blue was victorious in continental play was January 21st(!) when Maccabi defeated Real Madrid 86-84 who meanwhile see their play slipping after falling to Khimki, yes you read right, Khimki who picked up their 3rd win of the season as Real dropped down to 7th place with a 16-11 record. So it just goes to show you that any team can win on any given night.
But Maccabi has got to put this four game losing streak behind them very quickly and get back on the winning track, playoffs or no playoffs. The one thing the club does have going for them right now is that they are still fighting but with another loss or two, who knows what will happen.
“In my life I fight for everything and I am ready to fight all the time,” the coach said. “That’s what I have done my entire life. I will always fight and against CSKA we fought until the end.”
The mental aspect could really be a major issue once Maccabi is officially eliminated from postseason play as the players could say, why bother pushing ourselves? These games are meaningless, why risk ourselves? “It could be mentally draining when you lose games by just a point here or there,” Cohen stated. “But we will come out against Valencia ready to play. The game of basketball is decided by small details. So many things can decide a game with the margin of error so small.”
Chris Jones feels that one of the keys for Maccabi will be to focus on defense which will lead the teams offense instead of vice-versa, “We can’t think about the past game and we have to focus on ourselves and the details, the small things on defense which will lead to our offense. Against CSKA we let our offense dictate the game and we have to start off great on defense.”
The saying “The best defense is a good offense” can certainly apply to what Maccabi needs to do and let their defense dictate how their offense plays which for the Yellow & Blue could be their fastbreak which is lethal when unleashed. Unfortunately teams like Milano have figured that out and stopped Maccabi in their tracks by not going after offensive rebounds and heading back to defend and cause Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team all kinds of problems.
Against CSKA it was that when Scottie Wilbekin was on the court Dimitrios Itoudis had one idea in mind; ISO. Isolate Wilbekin and that’s what they did time and time again in the second and third quarters as the Greek’s voice was heard distinguishably throughout the faculty. Every time down the floor it was ISO, ISO, ISO. That in mind, Wilbekin scored 5 points in the first quarter, 3 points late in the second quarter and then the good ole goose egg in frames three and four.
However, it wasn’t just the star guards inconsistency that was inconsistent, it was the entire team. As Sandy Cohen said, “I hope we can be more consistent for all four quarters.” That has been what has been missing all season long, consistency.