AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan did not clinch a playoff berth with its tough victory over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, but it sure gave its fans plenty of reasons to believe that the Italian champs' five-season playoff drought is about to end. Mike James was his usual explosive self with 19 points, 5 assists and key, timely plays down the stretch. But otherwise, very little about the win was common for the Milanese.
Starting in the paint, where the season-ending injury to Arturas Gudaitis threatened to leave a hole that could not be filled, Kaleb Traczewski returned from a hand injury and together with Alen Omic created a forceful duo. They combined for 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks. More importantly, they slowed Maccabi's interior attack; Milan won the battle on the glass 40-37 and held its opponents to 44.2% shooting on two-pointers.
On the perimeter, things are looking even better. Curtis Jerrells scored 16 points off the bench – for the second straight game! James Nunnally had his third game with double figures in points and multiple three-pointers – in his third game with the team! Nemanja Nedovic, who was second in the EuroLeague in scoring last season, made his first appearance for Milan of the calendar year. If Jerrells is getting hot, Nunnally is finding his role and Nedovic is getting healthy, Milan's backcourt could be among the strongest in the league.
After beating Maccabi by 4, Milan improved to 12-11 and – at least for 24 hours – into sixth place in the standings. It also captured the potential head-to-head tiebreaker from the Israeli champs. The remaining road to the playoffs will not be an easy one for Milan; five of its remaining seven games are against teams currently in the playoff zone. However, if the Tarczewski-Omic duo can meet Coach Pianigiani's needs in the paint and the returnees can blossom alongside James and Jerrells in the backcourt, Milan may be right where it needs to be.