Maccabi Tel Aviv host Olympiacos on Thursday night (21:05 Israel time) at Yad Eliyahu as the Yellow & Blue return home after a pair of road wins in Euroleague action. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad enter the contest with a 17-8 record with their sights set on not only locking up a playoff spot but also home court advantage as they sit in 5th place. Georgios Bartzokas’s team enter the clash with a record of 11-14, just one place out of the Top 8.
Coach Sfairopoulos is happy to be back home in front of the Maccabi loyalists as the Yellow & Blue head into the stretch run, “After a long period on the road, we are back playing at home, and we are really excited to play in front of our fans. It’s an important game for both teams, we want to stay in positive form, and on the other end, Olympiacos are fighting to qualify for the playoffs, so I expect an exciting game tomorrow.”
Veteran guard Aaron Jackson who joined the team almost two months ago doesn’t want to look to far ahead but just the task at hand, “We don’t want to say we are in (the playoffs) for sure because it can be a quick turnaround in any given moment, but our goal is to have home-court advantage, we will take it one game at a time. We have to be aggressive first, we can’t let Olympiacos come here and use their tempo, size, and athleticism to push us around, we need to show them this is our house, and we will protect it.”
Olympiacos will have a pair of new players in their lineup in Shaquielle McKissic and Dwight Buycks who will certainly make a difference while 17-year old Alexandros Nikolaidis who starred last week may play an important part as well as veterans Kostas Papanikolaou and Georgios Printezis.
“We have fewer absences, but still have problems,” explained Printezis. “We will miss Milutinov and we are not sure if Rubit will be able to play. It is a different game and we must be focused from the begging to the end. Maccabi is a traditional strong team. Everybody knows that Coach Sfairopoulos’s teams focus on defense. So, in order to take the win, we have to take the rebounds and play even better defense than our opponent, because they are a team with great talent.”
Coach Bartzokas also looked ahead to the matchup, “It is going to be a difficult game. Maccabi is a strong team. The good news for us is that we have more players than the previous games, so we can make a better preparation. Τhe problem is that they are not all in the same good shape. Some were injured, some were sick and Dwight Buycks and Shaquielle McKissic haven’t played a game for more than one month. I believe that the key to the game will be possessions. We have to protect the ball, avoid mistakes, take rebounds and make the best choices even if we miss shots.”