It seems like a lifetime ago that Maccabi Tel Aviv faced Olimpia Milano in this season’s Euroleague opener.
Five months, three coaches and 16 defeats later, Maccabi meets the Italians again on Thursday, with both teams wishing their regular season campaigns were already over.
Maccabi maintains a mathematical chance of finishing in the top eight and advancing to the quarterfinal playoffs, needing to erase a five-game gap with six games to play. However, the yellow-andblue has lost any real hope of reaching the post-season long ago, with last week’s home defeat to Olympiacos leaving it with an 8-16 record, losing 12 of its past 15 contests.
A Maccabi loss on Thursday combined with wins for Baskonia Vitoria at Fenerbahce and Efes Istanbul against Brose Bamberg on Friday, will officially eliminate the yellow-and-blue.
Maccabi began its campaign in Milano brimming with confidence and excitement, but suffered the first of numerous blows this season with a tight 99-97 defeat. Erez Edelstein lasted only one more Euroleague game at the helm before being replaced by his assistant Rami Hadar.
After 10 continental contests, Hadar handed in his resignation, leaving assistant Lior Lubin to guide the team in two games before Ainars Bagatskis was hired.
Maccabi still believed in its chances when the Latvian was brought in, but seven defeats from 10 games have deflated even the team’s most optimistic fans.
Milano has fared even worse than Maccabi since their last meeting, sitting in last place in the standings with a 7-17 record.
Bagatskis had to manage with just eight fit senior players over the past week, and the short-handed roster dropped to its fourth defeat from the past five games over all competitions on Saturday, losing 80-77 to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil at Gan Ner.
“The team does not respect the club, does not respect their own job has no shame,” said a furious Bagatskis. “They come to play as if they think the other team will give up.”
Top scorer Andrew Goudelock, who will miss at least the next month after undergoing surgery on his ankle, and Quincy Miller are all still out, but veteran forward Devin Smith is expected to be ready to face Milano.
Also, new signing Diamon Simpson is set to make his debut and give Maccabi slightly more depth as it tries to at least avoid the ignominy of ending the regular season with the worst record in the competition.
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