PREVIEW: “They can kill you in just a few minutes” Coach Sfairopoulos and Maccabi Tel Aviv look to tame ASVEL

Maccabi Tel Aviv visits ASVEL Villeurbanne in Euroleage Game day 14 action in France at 21:45 Israel time on Wednesday night. The Yellow & Blue come into the contest after having won two games in a row and with a record of 5-8 as they look to continue their winning ways and taking advantage of the positive momentum in continental play.

However, ASVEL won’t be an easy out for Maccabi as they will face one of their former stars in Norris Cole who was with the squad in the 2017/18 campaign. The French team enters the game with a 3-9 record after having earlier issues with COVID-19 and have one game to make up later on in the season.

Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos knows full well that ASVEL won’t be a walk in the park after they came up short against Real Madrid recently, “ASVEL is a very long and athletic squad who shoots really well from outside ranking second from spot-on shooting. We’ll need to contest their shooters, fight for every possession, and be ready to play a physical game. We’ll need to be very concentrated on following our game plan because they’re a dangerous team and a very good one as I believe their record doesn’t show their real quality.”

“We need to play very good defense,” Sfairopoulos continued. “If we let them play their game we will make our lives more difficult. Defense and offense are connected. We need to play well on both ends of the court.”

Maccabi has been playing better ball of late and that is primarily due to the return of many players who had been out injured. Omri Casspi, John Dibartolomeo and Yovel Zoosman have returned to the court and that’s good news for the Maccabi faithful.

“With all of the players it’s completely different and I have more solutions,” explained Sfairopoulos. “When you plan in the summer you try and build the chemistry but now finally in December we are in our best condition, however, we can still play much better as we have only had them back for two weeks. But it still takes time and we need to play even better. We can start to build and improve our game.”

One of the players who will benefit by the return of the injured players will be star guard Scottie Wilbekin who had been shouldering much of the offensive burden this season. But last game with a fun complement of players, the Florida product didn’t have to overexert himself on the attack and in fact only scored 5 points but also saw his shot attempts plummet against Baskonia from 14 per game to just 8.

“We definitely didn’t have the start we wanted, but I feel like now we’re starting the season from the standpoint of having all of our weapons. There’s excitement and confidence within the team, not that we didn’t have it before, but now we know what we’ve had available for us, and we’re just excited to move forward. This is the team we want to be, a team in which anybody can have a big night and lead our scorers because we have a lot of guys that can easily score 15 – 20 points in one night.”

Wilbekin knows exactly what both guard Zoosman and Dibartolomeo bring to the table and that’s are than welcome, “Zoos and John bring toughness and defensive grit probably in a different way than anyone else on the team. So having them back really helps us pressure the defense and they are high IQ players.”

“All of the teams in the Euroleague are high level teams,” said Elijah Bryant. “We can’t underestimate any one of them. As coach says we respect every team.”

However, if the Maccabi defense doesn’t respect the opponent and isn’t focussed even for a short period of time, ASVEL will make the Yellow & Blue pay and pay dearly according to Sfairopoulos as a victory in France will pull the club to within only two games of .500, “They can kill you in just a few minutes and they will fight for every ball.”

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