Stopping Baskonia’s Howard will be key: Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to punch ticket to Euroleague quarterfinals

Apr 16, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv is readying in earnest for their Play In game against Baskonia which tips off on Tuesday (8pm Israel time) at the Stark Arena in Belgrade as the yellow-and-blue will look to punch their ticket to the playoffs with a 7th place finish. After ending the regular season in 7th, Oded Katash’s squad will need to defeat Baskonia or record a victory over the winner of the second Play in game that features Anadolu EFES and Bologna.

Baskonia ended up in eighth place after it slipped by Bologna, and should Maccabi defeat the Spaniards, the Israeli squad will play Panathinaikos, which ended the regular season campaign in second place, in a best-of-5 quarterfinal series.

However, if the yellow-and-blue falls to Baskonia, then it will have one last chance to qualify for the postseason with a victory over the winner of the 9-vs-10 Play In game between Anadolu EFES and Bologna in a matchup that would be slated for Friday. Should Maccabi win that game they will the play Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.

Maccabi split the two games that it played against Baskonia this season, with a yellow-and-blue 89-81 victory in Belgrade and a 92-82 defeat in Spain. Dusko Ivanovic’s team features a number of extremely dangerous players including Markus Howard, who is one of the league’s most lethal scorers in Europe averaging 19.4 points per game this season, while Cody Miller-McIntyre became one of only a handful of players to ever record a triple-double in Euroleague history.

Add into the mix Chima Moneke, Matt Costello, Vanja Marinkovic and Taras Sedekeris and Baskonia finds itself fifth overall in points scored per game at 84.2. Maccabi is in second in the category with 87.7 points a contest, while both teams are neck-and-neck in rebounds with the yellow-and-blue pulling down an average 36 and Baskonia collecting 35.2 boards per game.
Baskonia does hold an advantage from beyond the arc with 10.4 triples to Maccabi’s 8.7, which should concern Oded Katash and his perimeter defense, but from 2-point range Maccabi averages 23 per game while Baskonia checks in with 19.5.

Maccabi will also need to be wary of Maik Kotsar who could be an X-Factor for Baskonia, however, with the return of Roman Sorkin for the yellow-and-blue, the Israeli big man may play that same part for the hosts.

With the Iranian attack on the Jewish State on Saturday night into Sunday morning, Maccabi’s preparations needed to be adjusted with their flight having been moved from Sunday afternoon to the evening while their practice schedule also had to be changed up a bit. In addition, Wade Baldwin was not on the team’s flight due to a bureaucratic issue with his son’s passport which forced the star guard to fly to Belgrade on Monday and join up with the team a day late in Serbia.

“The preparations are not optimal,” Maccabi Head Coach Oded Katash said. “What happened two days ago happened and that messed with things, but there is no team who has trained better than us for the book we need to continue to write about this season. We can’t feel like we are the favorites as we are not playing in Tel Aviv but we did have a good season and we deserve to be in the playoffs.”

Lorenzo Brown also reflected on what has been a difficult season but one that is hitting its peak with an opportunity to do something very special, “The plans are to keep it the same. It has been an exhausting long season but we all have same mentality for every game which is win or go home. So that has been important to us and sticking together and listening to what the coaches tell us.”

“We know what we need to do and we will treat it like any other game, we know what is at stake, we have a plan and we will execute it,” Antonius Cleveland added.

It’s clear that in order to take the win over Baskonia and move onto the playoffs, Maccabi will need to shut down Markus Howard and also pay attention to the other players who can do damage that are at Dusko Ivanovic’s disposal.

“[Markus Howard] is perhaps the best scorer who will play against us in the upcoming game and we need to make a team effort in order to stop him. There are other things we cannot control, but we need to control the rebounds, as whoever can pick up easy points off of rebounds will have an advantage. To stop Howard we will need a team effort of all five players on the floor. It will be hard for just one player to guard him for the full game and we will need to rotate and surprise them. There will need to be duel tactics and we will need to know how to use our fouls as well.”

Cleveland, who has been one of Maccabi’s lockdown defenders this season knows that he will have to play a factor is stopping the star scorer, I want to defend without fouling but it’s a team effort as we need to make Markus take tough shots. If he scores a lot of points we want it to be on a lot of shots. I think our defense has improved over the last month, we know what we got to do. We have a playoff team here and we need to just be Maccabi and do it.”

“The keys for that team is to slow down their scorers,” Brown concurred. “Howard, if we slow him down that will be key to our success as he is one of the best scorers in the Euroleague currently.
Keeping Cody Miller-McIntyre out of the paint, he gets them going. We need to keep them off the glass. Defense is for sure key point, film comes into play at this time of the year, so locking in and doing your film studying is the most important thing.”

The bottom line is that Maccabi will need to stop Baskonia and hold their potent offense in order to advance to the quarterfinals with a trip to Athens being much more preferable than one to Madrid explained Katash, “Defense is crucial. If we focus defensively it will help us run. That will be key.”

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