Kristine L Ming

Mac TA looks to get back on track against Kaunas

While there seem to be few similarities between the way Maccabi Tel Aviv started this season and the last, there is one place where 2016/17 and 2017/18 are completely identical.

Nine Euroleague games into last season’s disastrous campaign, and after already replacing the first of three coaches, Maccabi held a 5-4 record.

This season has seemingly gotten off to such an encouraging start, but Maccabi’s record through nine games is once more 5-4.

While the team’s results don’t tell the entire story, they will be what eventually determines if Maccabi finishes in the top eight and returns to the quarterfinal playoffs. And with just one game currently separating the seven teams ranked between fifth and 11th place in the standings, it seems very possible that the battle for a post-season berth could come down to the result of a single game.

Understanding this, Maccabi knows how costly it could be to suffer another slip-up at home when it hosts Zalgiris Kaunas at Yad Eliyahu Arena on Thursday.

Maccabi is coming off its heaviest defeat of the season to date, losing by 22 points (89-67) at Barcelona last week. Tel Aviv beat Khimki Moscow in Russia the previous week, but it also suffered a humbling loss in its most recent home game in continental competition, falling by 20 points to Efes Istanbul.

Zalgiris, guided by coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, who led Maccabi to Euroleague crowns in 2004 and 2005, also owns a 5-4 record. The Lithuanians have won three of their last four games, beating Efes last week.

“Zalgiris tries to play more like a team and not depend on one or two players,” said Maccabi coach Neven Spahija. “They share the ball and have a lot of passes to find the open people.”

Zalgiris possesses one of the league’s most potent offenses, averaging 82.2 points per game and 41.9 percent from threepoint range, which is second best in the competition. Maccabi is last in that category (29.3%).

“Maccabi has quite a new roster, so it is understandable that they have been up and down this season,” said Jasikevicius.

“They had some really great wins and some bad losses. I think it is not good for us that they lost in Barcelona last week, because now they are coming in with extra motivation.”

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