Two teams in great spirits meet on Thursday when Maccabi hosts Barcelona. Both sides swept their games in the two-round week. Maccabi ended a 15-year drought in Moscow by routing CSKA, while Barcelona bested AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens to take its winning streak to five in a row. Their recent successes have Maccabi one victory outside of the playoff zone and Barcelona back in the hunt for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Seven of the last eight games between these historic clubs have been won by the home team.
Barcelona playmaker Thomas Heurtel has been downright brilliant over his past few games, averaging 20.7 points on 55.6% three-point shooting, and4.3 assists per a performance index rating of 25.0. His Maccabi counterpart, Scottie Wilbekin, knows a thing or two about hot streaks; he had many runs like that last season when he earned the 7DAYS EuroCup MVP. What's more, Wilbekin will soon get an experienced backcourt mate to feed off of when Jeremy Pargo makes his return from injury. Heurtel already has a fellow point guard to team up with in All-EuroLeague selection Kevin Pangos. It will be an exciting clash in the backcourt that will play a big role in this game.
Earlier this season
Victor Claver led a balanced Barcelona attack with 14 points and Kyle Kuric fired in 3 three-pointers en route to 13 points as Barcelona put on a defensive masterpiece to beat Maccabi 74-58 in Round 5. The winners dominated the glass 46-27. It was one of the five worst scoring nights Maccabi has had in the competition.
Keys to victory: Barcelona
Barcelona has held its opponents to 70 points or less in six of its last eight games. In that same period, Barcelona has scored more than 80 only twice and lost in one of those. Accordingly, setting a more-measured pace that gets the team's deep frontcourt involved and thus creates space for outside shooters like Heurtel and Kyle Kuric would put Barcelona in a stronger position.
Keys to victory: Maccabi
Maccabi has found many different ways to win recently by playing smart. Against CSKA, that included finding the best shots available even if the shooter was not a go-to scorer and happily going away from three-pointers when the shots weren't falling and instead setting a team record with 35 two-pointers. Against Barcelona, Maccabi must add avoiding foul trouble to give Coach Sfairopoulos a full roster down the stretch for what promises to be a close game. .