Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv headed to Russia to face Khimki Moscow as part of the fifth EuroLeague fixture of the 2020/21 season (20:00 ISR, live on Sport5 - Channel 55). The opponent's 0-4 record doesn't reflect their overall potential after missing 5-6 significant pieces in their first four European matchdays.
After dropping three tight contests to CSKA Moscow, Bayern Munich, and Olympiacos, Giannis Sfairopoulos's coaching staff took advantage of the weekly workout for closing the gap after starting the preseason in early September. Once again, Yovel Zoosman, Omri Casspi, and John DiBartolomeo won't be available for the coaching staff.
On the other end, Khimki comes in after suffering four straight defeats to strong EuroLeague opponents - Panathinaikos, Zalgiris Kaunas, Real Madrid, and Saski Baskonia. Rimas Kurtinaitis's squad is excited to welcome back Jordan Mickey, Janis Timma, Evgeny Voronov, who missed the last three fixtures after testing positive for Corona. The most notable return will be Khimki's top player, Alexey Shved, who's recovered from a lingering injury and will make his season debut.
"For us, it's very important to show a different character on the court, to be more concentrated, and to play better in more parts of the game", Said head coach Giannis Sfairopoulos in the pre-game press conference. "In the past games, we had good moments, but we lost in the final minutes, so it is very important to get the result and execute better the little things we've missed in the previous games. Khimki gets most of their players back after their Corona issues, maybe they won't be in the best shape, but they're still a very talented and dangerous team.
The Greek coach added what the keys to the game are: "We need to be concentrated defensively to stop them because we are scoring well, but our opponents are scoring many points. We need to play better defense, especially on the road. We're going determined to fight for the best result".
"It's too early to judge the season, we have a lot of games left, and it's a marathon. Everything can happen, the way we lost three games, we could have won them and be now with a 4-0 record. This is a part of the game. It will turn around, I'm very optimistic", Told Sfairopoulos to the reporters about the situation. "There's no pressure because of the latest results, there's pressure because I'm Maccabi Tel Aviv's coach. That is a different type of stress because I put it on myself and on the team by working every day. I trust my players, we are fighters, and we will fight as a team".
Angelo Caloiaro: "A lot of it is work on ourselves, on getting better tactically at what we can control and things we want to do better. Part of it is also looking at their roster, they've got many guys coming back, so we don't really know the style they're going to play with a full roster. You just go off with what you have and prepare the best you can".
"Well, we did start 0-2 last year, and versus Red Star, Billy Barron had an open shot at the top of the key to make us 0-3, but luckily he missed it. So, it's small things that can turn seasons around, so we are still early in the season, it's only four games in a 30 game season. We've lost a lot of them very close down the stretch, so it's just little details that we've got to work on, and we do, and we will be better".
Scottie Wilbekin: "There's a sense of urgency to prove something to ourselves because we know we're a good team and can be a good team. The sense of urgency is to prove that. Each game is an opportunity for that, and right now, it is a great opportunity".
In EuroLeague play, the clubs met ten times as Maccabi holds a 7:3 advantage against Khimki and 3:2 in the Russian capital. Last season, the teams split home wins. Khimki came away with an 89:83 win over the Yellow & Blue in the first European fixture of the 2019/20 season, while the Tel Avivian's beat the Russians at home 80:77.
Elijah Bryant had a career night, scoring 21 points while adding six rebounds and four assists. Deni Avdija added 11 points, nine rebounds, and four assists as Othello Hunter tallied 10 points and eight rebounds. Alexey Shved's double-double (18 points, ten rebounds) and Jonas Jerebko's 17 points weren't enough against Giannis Sfairopoulos's squad.