Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv, who won their last two games this week in the Israeli League opener and in the State Cup, returns to EuroLeague action hosting Zalgiris Kaunas in Menora Mivtachim Arena (Thursday, 21:00, live on Sport5 - channel 55). Once again, the Yellow & Blue awaits a challenging task against the top-scoring team and the competition's second-ranked team.
Both teams enter this game with reversed records as Zalgiris comes in a good spot with a 5:2 record while Maccabi ranks 15th with two wins through the first seven season games. Martin Schiller's club overcame Olympiacos, Khimki Moscow, Red Star Belgrade, Anadolu Efes, and Villeurbanne while falling to Valencia and Real Madrid (Maccabi's next opponents).
Dragan Bender returns to the Yellow & Blue roster after missing the last two domestic contests as Omri Casspi, John DiBartolomeo, and Yovel Zoosman won't be available for coach Giannis Sfairopoulos.
These teams have a rich history facing one another 17 times since 2000, as Maccabi holds a 16:9 edge over the Lithuanian squad while in Tel Aviv, the Yellow & Blue won 9 of the 13 head to head matchups. In recent seasons, Zalgiris has had the upper hand with four straight wins over Maccabi.
"Tomorrow we have a very important game against Zalgiris, the best offense in the league who've won all of their four road games", Said head coach Giannis Sfairopoulos on his upcoming opponent. "These stats show the quality of their team, and it isn't surprising they're one of the top teams in the standings because they've been playing really well, and at the moment, they are in the best shape out of all of the teams in the EuroLeague".
Keys for victory: "We need to play well defensively, cut down their points, and defend them smartly by reading what they want to do on offense and disorganize their game. Offensively, we need to play smart, attacking their weak spots according to our plan. I expect a very tough game, we'll fight for this win with all our power".
Scottie Wilbekin, who still hasn't beaten Zalgiris under the Yellow & Blue jersey, told in the pregame press conference: "We have to come out aggressive from the beginning and try to maintain that aggressivity for the whole game. We want to be the more aggressive team. We've had this roster for seven games now, so there's nothing new or different, we just have to find a way to win the games we're capable of winning, and we've been capable of winning every game we've played so far. Just a couple of lapses defensively and offensively, so we got to turn those into good spots for us to end up with the W".
"We're going to continue to fight. We're not looking at the standings right now and not paying attention to the wins and losses", Said Chris Jones about the mentally coming into the matchup. "We just got to get better as a team, continue to push ourselves, and work harder every day. I wouldn't say we need this win, but it'll be good for us, especially with them being one of the top teams right now".