Is Maccabi Tel Aviv facing a “must-win” game in only its fourth Euroleague clash of the season when they visit Olympiacos, tonight, Friday at 21:00 in Greece? It very may well be.
“We need to improve our game a lot,” said Yellow & Blue coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos ahead of his return to Piraeus and his former team. That’s certainly true, Maccabi has got to improve and improve quickly. While the continental season is slated to be long (of course who knows what may happen due to COVID-19), should Maccabi fall against Georgios Bartzokas’s that would be three defeats in a row. That’s definitely the start that the Maccabi brass thought they would see four games into the campaign.
Sfairopoulos continued, “I can’t say we are in a good or bad momentum because we won the first contest but lost the other two in the closing minute.” Once again, the coach is correct in analyzing the situation, but the fact is that anther loss will put plenty of pressure on the Yellow & Blue before a stretch of games that include trips to Khimki, EFES, Madrid and Valencia and home matches versus Fenerbahce and Zalgiris to round out the first ten games of the season.
The bench boss knows that his club can do much more on the court and it begins with the little things and of course hustle, something that Bayern Munich dominated Maccabi in the game that took place on Wednesday. “Sometimes you need to take care of the small details, so we need to change the chip in our minds and go with a different approach to fight harder and jump for every ball, not letting the game go into the last minute. However, if it does go there, we need to be more ready to win this game.” The last thing Sfairopoulos will want to see is his team fall once again with the chips on the table and to be left at the alter.
However, Bartzokas is well aware of the challenge ahead of his team, ”We expect a tough game against Maccabi. They are coming from two straight losses and I am sure that they will react. Maccabi is a quality team, that’s why we have to be focused for 40 minutes and follow our plan.”
Maccabi will need to be very careful against Olympiacos who are coming off of a pair of victories over Panathinaikos and Milano after falling in their first game against Zalgiris. Kostas Sloukas caught fire this week in their victory over Ettore Messina’s squad and seemed to collaborate well with his backcourt partner Aaron Harrison who spoke to The Sports Rabbi ahead of the game.
This evening’s game will be the backend of a Euroleague Double Week and Maccabi will certainly look to grab a W in Greece, but veteran Olympiacos forward Kostas Papanikolau knows that this game will be a challenge squads, “Double weeks are always difficult, especially when you have to face two great teams as Milan and Maccabi. We must be ready to leave the win over Milan behind us and to look ahead to the opportunity we have to make one more good game and take one more important win.”
Ante Zizic, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s center who scored 19 points against Bayern Munich, but did not play at all in the 4th quarter of that game, understands that his team is still trying to come together as one unit and that it’s a process, “It’s pretty tough to adjust in between games of a double week, but some things come up in these contests. So the more games we play together, the more familiar we will get with each other.”
But Zizic and friends will need to adjust quickly, “It will take some time but not too much. Game by game we will get into better shape and better game rhythm. The more games you play the more familiar you’ll get and I am sure we will figure it out as soon as possible.”
For Maccabi’s sake they will need to figure it out as soon as possible or else the Euroleague season will begin to slip away and that’s the last thing that the club wants to see.