|A crucial Top 16 battle between two age-old rivals will take place in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Thursday when Maccabi Electra welcomes Real Madrid to a fully-packed Nokia Arena. Madrid enters the game as one of only two teams yet to lose in the Top 16 and will punch its ticket to the Quarterfinal Playoffs if it beats Maccabi in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, Maccabi is 1-2 in Group F and cannot afford a home loss, especially if Regal FC Barcelona downs Alba in Berlin. Maccabi would dramatically increase its playoff chances if it overcomes its Week 3, 19-point loss against Madrid. Maccabi has been in good form domestically as of late and is expected to have its full roster in uniform, although reserve center Yaniv Green has been suffering back pain and star point guard Carlos Arroyo was suspended for one night last week due to "inappropriate behavior." Arroyo is back as one of Maccabi's top weapons, with Dee Brown backing him up. They’ll take on Madrid’s point guard trio of pass-first veteran Pepe Sanchez, explosive playmaker Sergio Llull and Raul Lopez, who offers clutch and creativity. Moreover, two of best scorers in Euroleague Basketball history are ready for a big battle. Marcus Brown was limited to just 2 points in Madrid, so he must be looking forward for the rematch against scoring machine Louis Bullock. Brown leads a solid backcourt that also includes experienced veteran Tal Burstein, swingman Tre Simmons and team captain Derrick Sharp and small forward Omri Casspi. Madrid signed Kennedy Winston earlier this week, but he is not expected to see extended playing time in Tel Aviv. Winston replaced Quinton Hosley, who was released on Tuesday afternoon. As such, expect Alex Mumbru and Marko Tomas to see extended playing time in Tel Aviv at the wings. Maccabi will increase its chances to win the game by stopping power forward Felipe Reyes, who is at the prime of his career. Reyes offers rebounding skills and can take the mid-range shot or work his way in the low post with deadly results. He leads a deep frontcourt that also includes defensive center Tomas Van den Spiegel, athletic power forward Jeremiah Massey and versatile big man Axel Hervelle. Reyes has a tough matchup against Lior Eliyahu, one of the best transition big men in the competition. Meanwhile, Van den Spiegel and Hervelle are ready to battle against D'or Fischer, a blue-collar center with outstanding defensive skills. Charles Gaines comes off Maccabi's bench to offer intensity and rebounding skills. Maccabi must control the game tempo and play its fast-paced basketball, getting Brown, Eliyahu and Arroyo involved, as well as stopping the Whites' frontcourt. Madrid must try to stay active in defense, just like in its Week 3 win at home, as well as get Bullock some good looks at the basket. This will be a classic European basketball game with both teams looking for big goals, so expect an outstanding atmosphere at Nokia Arena for this incredible showdown.
- Center D’Or Fischer has blocked multiple shots in five straight games. He is tied for the Top 16 lead with 3 blocks per game and is second for the full season with 1.8 blocks per game.
- Guard Tal Burstein is closing in on 1,000 points for his Euroleague Basketball career. He enters this week’s game against Real Madrid with 991 points in 137 career games. He also needs just 2 more three-pointers to reach 100 for his Euroleague career.
- Guard Marcus Brown needs 33 more points to become the first player in Euroleague Basketball history to reach the 2,500-point mark for his career.
- Guard Carlos Arroyo scored a season-high 21 points in his team’s loss at Madrid two weeks ago.
- Guard Derrick Sharp hit 3 three-pointers and scored a season-high 9 points in the loss at Madrid two weeks ago. He came into the game shooting 2 for 14 in his previous 11 Euroleague appearances.
- This will be the 19th time Maccabi hosts Real Madrid. The Yellow-and-Blue have lost just five of those encounters.
- Maccabi is still looking for its first victory against a Spanish team in this Euroleague season. Maccabi lost twice to Unicaja in the regular season and then at Regal FC Barcelona and Madrid in the Top 16.
- Guard Louis Bullock scored a season-high 24 points in the win two weeks against Maccabi. It was the second week in a row that he has improved his season high and Bullock is now the Top 16’s top scorer with 20.3 points per game.
- Bullock has made at least 1 three-pointer in six straight games and is shooting 46.9% from downtown over that span.
- Center Tomas Van den Spiegel has twice won the Euroleague. His team beat Maccabi in the final both times.
- Forward Axel Hervelle recorded the only double-double of his Euroleague career against Maccabi last season in Madrid. Hervelle had 20 points and 11 rebounds in his team’s 100-103 overtime loss. Hervelle also had a career-best 32 index that night.
- Real Madrid leads the all-time series against Maccabi 22-16.
- Newly signed small forward Kennedy Winston could make his Madrid debut on Thursday against Maccabi.
- The last time Madrid beat Maccabi in Tel Aviv was January 11, 1996 when Joe Arlauckas scored 35 in a tough 75-77 victory. That year was also the last time Real Madrid reached the Final Four.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009