Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv has many reasons for optimism heading into the 2018-19 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, but as one of the true giants of the sport, it also knows the road to success is long and hard. Maccabi will play many tough games – home and away – that it must find ways to triumph in to break its playoff drought. Here are some key dates along the way for Maccabi.
Round 1: An Athens opener
There is a long-standing rivalry between these two greats of European basketball, but it has gone all Panathinaikos's way in recent seasons; The Greens have swept their head-to-head clashes over the past two years. To summarize their rivalry, since the turn of the century, these teams have met in three continental championship games, two more semifinals and a thrilling five-game playoff tilt in 2012. Panathinaikos also features two former Maccabi players, Keith Langford and Stephane Lasme, on its roster this season. If Maccabi is to reverse its fortunes this season, what better way than starting with a road win against a rival?
Round 6: Los Blancos in the White City
Every team knows it will be tested when it faces the defending champs, but this game could mean much more for Maccabi. After playing three straight road games, Maccabi returns to Tel Aviv. In fact, Maccabi plays six of its first eight games on the road. The flip side of that is a run of home games later on, but to stay high in the standings, Coach Neven Spahija's men must protect their home floor, even against the mighty Madrilenians, who were on the losing side of the championship game in 2014 when Maccabi last won the EuroLeague.
Round 11: Wilbekin's Darussafaka duel
One of Maccabi's marquee summers signing was guard Scottie Wilbekin, who led Darussafaka Istanbul to the 7DAYS EuroCup title last season. Moreover, Wilbekin torched Maccabi for 23 points on 5-of-9 three-point shooting and 5 assists in an 86-84 victory the last time Maccabi visited Volkswagen Arena. On December 6, Wilbekin leads Maccabi to his former stomping grounds for a crucial clash for both sides. How Wilbekin performs in what will surely be an emotional game could be a key as his team targets a vital road win.
Round 22: Welcoming home a champion
There may not be a more beloved person by the Maccabi faithful outside of Tel Aviv than Olympiacos Piraeus head coach David Blatt. Though this won't be the first return home for Blatt, who among his many feats is leading Maccabi to its most-recent Turkish Airlines EuroLeague crown in 2014, but every time he finds himself on the hardwood at Menora Mivtachim Arena it's a new opportunity for the grateful Maccabi management and fans to show their appreciation. Add to that the prestige that Olympiacos has and you get a big night in Tel Aviv.
Round 29: A prodigal son returns home
Not since Yotam Halperin played for Olympiacos has a homegrown Maccabi star played his former team in the EuroLeague. In the penultimate round of the regular season, Herbalife Gran Canaria comes to Tel Aviv for the first time led by two-time Israeli League MVP Gal Mekel, who came up through the Maccabi juniors and played for the pro team on two separate occasions. This is a game that could have a great impact on the playoff hunt – KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz eliminated Maccabi from the playoffs in the very same round last season – and playing against Mekel is a source of pride for Maccabi, too.