Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Saski Baskonia Thursday at 21:05 ESST (15:05 EST) in a round 29 EuroLegaue clash. The two teams find themselves equal at 6th spot in the standings, each with 15 wins and 13 losses. However, if there is a tie-breaker situation at the end of the season between the teams, Baskonia have a huge advantage from their game earlier this season, when Maccabi had their worst loss for the season, an 87-116 disaster. However, not only was it in Vitoria, but the game was also four and a half months ago.
“This is going to be a very difficult game,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said yesterday. “Baskonia is a team in great form that is also fighting with us for a spot in the standings. We remember the first game against them in Vitoria. They’re a team that plays offense at an exceptional pace. I don’t want to say they play wildly, because I really do give credit to their excellent coach and they do it systematically. But they took difficult shots, also from a shooting perspective they have one of the best guards in the EuroLeague and one of the best passers. It won’t be simple at all – we need to be focused.
“That last game against them was so terrible that it was personal, it hurt us a little. I hope that every player will take that and use that energy.”
“We all took the game personally,” Maccabi forward Bonzie Colson said, concurring with Katash’s feelings of November’s game. “What they did to us, it wasn’t right. They had our number and they beat us bad. They definitely hurt us, but we learned from that. We’re definitely taking it personally.”
In the last game between these teams in Victoria, Darius Thompson had a game-high performance index rating of 24, with 15 points (3/5 from behind the arch), 3 rebounds and 8 assists. He hasn’t shown signs of slowing down this season – especially over the last three games, a period during which he’s averaged 18 points on 3/5 for 3, 12.3 rebounds and a PIR of 28.3 – and alongside Colson, he is one of the top rookie EuroLeague players this season.
“The pick-and-roll between [Maik] Kotsar and Thompson is one of the most efficient in the EuroLeague,” Katash said of one of the challenges that Thompson presents on the court. “Thompson is one of the best passers in the EuroLeague. He is in great form, a true point guard.”
Josh Nebo was Maccabi’s best player in the game against Baskonia in November, where he put up 16 points and 5 rebounds for a PIR of 21. While some have thought that he’s underperformed in recent weeks, he had a big game in Maccabi’s 86-64 win in Turkey against Anadolu Efes on Friday night with a 10 point-11 rebound double-double.
Nebo will be supported in the front court by Jake Cohen. While a look merely at his numbers may not look impressive – he’s averaging 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 11 minutes a game this season – a deep dive by The Sports Rabbi last week shows just how important Cohen is to the team. He also impressed in Maccabi’s 91-84 away victory at Nes Ziona in local league action on Monday night, with 23 points and 8 rebounds in a man-of-the-match performance. He will be looking to contribute to give to the team as they head into action tonight.
“Just to keep the same mindset that I’ve had. I just try to say level headed through all the ups and downs of the season. We’re in a good period right now, but we need to remember that we haven’t really accomplished anything yet. There’s still a long way to go, there are a lot of goals still to come – we need to stay focused.”
“Jake comes to practice and games ready to play every time,” Colson said yesterday of Cohen. “I think how he approaches the game is great. What I learn from Jake is how to be a pro. He’s one of those guys who pushes his teammates off the court and always works hard, you can see that his work is paying off.”
Will Maccabi be able to get another W and continue their push to solidify a spot in the playoffs, or will Baskonia steal a victory away from home?
“There’s a really tough schedule ahead of us,” Cohen said. “Yes, this is a big game on Thursday, but we’ve played in a lot of big games this year. We’ve won big games so far .We know how to do it. Baskonia is a really good team, it’s going to be a big challenge, but I think we’ll be ready for it.”