On Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv flew out for its first of two trips to Belgrade in eight days, where it will face Partizan Belgrade in its Round 8 Euroleague matchup. Both teams come into this game after an eight-day break following disappointing losses last week: Barcelona executed a well-crafted game plan to beat Maccabi in Tel Aviv 86-79 in Tel Aviv, to be sitting in 9th spot in the Euroleague standings with 4 wins and 3 losses after 7 rounds; while Partizan was humiliated by Olympiacos in Greece destroyed 87-58 – a game in which the Serbian side only scored 4 points in the last frame – to find themselves in 11th place on the table with 3 wins and 4 losses.
Friday night will be a game of reunions. Maccabi will not only face Yam Madar (averaging 5.9 points, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals) for the first time since his days with Hapoel Tel Aviv, but they will also face former players James Nunnally (averaging 11 points at 65.2% from two) and Mathias Lessort (averaging 12.7 points and 8.6 rebounds), who both played for Maccabi last year. The Sports Rabbi had an extensive chat with Tremaine Dalton from The Process Basketball earlier this week, and they had a chance to talk about what the Maccabi big men will have to face tomorrow night. “Right now he’s ranked number 6, as one of the best players in Europe,” Dalton said of Lessort. “I emphasize not only efficiency on the court, but mentally off the court, with making players feel like they’re the best in the world – Matthias, that’s how he feels.”
It’s also the first time that Maccabi coach Oded Katash go head-to-head against his former coach, Partizan coach Zeljko Obradovic – who coached Katash as a player at Panathinaikos when they beat Maccabi in the 2000 Euroleague final. “He really is a special coach and a special person,” Katash told the media earlier today at Ben Gurion Airport. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with him in a long time, but it’s very exciting.”
Katash is under no illusions how difficult it will be to come up against one of the greatest European coaches of all time, “Partizan is also a team which has been built with a lot of new players. You see that they found it difficult at the start, but they’re starting to develop a rhythm. And they’re really implementing the things that they want to do just like Obradovic knows how to do in an exceptional manner. We need to be focused and aggressive. We need to make sure that all five players are involved in the defense.”
While Partizan is coming into the game on the back of a poor performance, make no mistake – this is going to be a difficult assignment for the yellow and blue, as the home crowd will make things as uncomfortable as they can for the visitors in the stands while their team will be trying to do the same thing on the court. And while Yad Eliyahu is known as one of the more difficult places for visiting teams, Maccabi will find that same hostility when they step into Partizan’s Stark Arena – a venue which boasts the highest Euroleague crowd so far this season with 16,723 (more than 6,000 more than Maccabi’s highest home attendance to date).
“They’re a very good offensive team,” Maccabi captain, John DiBartolomeo, said of Partizan. They’re definitely giving effort on defense, especially on their home court. We need to try to control them and control the pace, especially with their home crowd. Like I said, it’ll be a challenge, but we’ll be ready for it.”