After capturing a win against Alba Berlin in their first European game of the season, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv will look to add on another W to the win column as they head out on the road to play CSKA Moscow as part of the second EuroLeague fixture of the early 2020/21 season (Thursday, 20:00 ISR time, live on Sport5 - channel 55). Thursday's fixture will be the first Yellow & Blue game outside Israel since matching up against Belgrade in March after the league's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the Russian restrictions, CSKA is permitted to 6,700 fans, one spectator per two seats. This means, for the first time since March 8th against Jerusalem, Giannis Sfairopoulos's squad will play in front of a crowded arena.
The still reigning EuroLeague champions come into the game in a challenging situation. After dropping their first game of the season to Barcelona, on Thursday, they will be shorthanded after 3 of Dimitris Itoudis's players (Semen Antonov, Nikola Milutinov, and Janis Strelnieks) tested positive for COVID-19.
However, the coach still has many weapons to play with newly acquired Tornike Shengelia, who joined the club from Baskonia to strengthen its frontcourt. Mike James, Daniel Hackett, Darrun Hilliard, Will Clyburn, Johannes Voigtmann, Nikita Kurbanov, and Joel Bolomboy round up a well balanced Russian squad.
"Like every season, CSKA is a big candidate for the final four, and they've made good transfers", Said Sfairopoulos, who served as the reds assistant coach in the 2011/12 season. "We know they have three unavailable players who won't play due to the virus, but they are still a dangerous team, and they have a good roster with excellent players. We had time to prepare not only for this game but in general. We need to be focused, play our game, and fight for our chances".
"Our concern is to stay healthy, we know that CSKA and all EuroLeague teams will do their best for the safety of the opponents as we do here to guaranty the health of our opponents", The greek coach stated. "Playing around the pandemic is going to play a role this season, and we must stay cautious and understand there is a possibility of getting affected. But at the end of the day, when you go out to play, we only think about the game".
"We are flying on our plane, we will be there only for one night, and we will leave after the game", Answered Tyler Dorsey about the question if any of the players have concerns before the flight. "I'm not too worried, but we are taking the precautionary to stay safe and healthy. We have only one game a week, so we do a lot more in practice than usual during the season, helping us get the new guys gelling and getting our chemistry right. Obviously, the games help that more, but we continue to grow together and get better on both ends of the court".
"We decided to come out and play during Corona when we got on the flight go back to Israel, so now that we're here, we are focused on basketball", Said Elijah Bryant. "If CSKA has it our not, we're focusing on basketball, and that's what our primary focus is. We will prepare for their best team. They put their pants on the same way we put ours on, so whoever is ready to play will play them".
"We felt really connected out there on the court, obviously we didn't have a preseason, so we're still getting adjusted to each other, but with time it will come", Added Bryant, who expressed his feelings towards playing in front of a crowded arena in Moscow. "I'm just excited to be able to play the game for a living, regardless of fans or not. It will be a bonus for sure, it has been a while since we played an away EuroLeague game, so we're excited about that".
Throughout the years, the matchup between the teams is filled with historical memories. This century, the Reds maintain an 18:8 record against Maccabi. However, under head coach Giannis Sfairopoulos, the Yellow & Blue holds the better hand, winning their last two head to head games.