Almost 15 years to the day when Derrick Sharp hit a historic three against Zalgiris that would send Maccabi to the 2004 Final Four, these two teams meet again in the same city, Tel Aviv, Israel. This time, however, Sarunas Jasikevicius is on the other side and a berth for the playoffs is on the line for both the hosts and the visitors, who are trying to make a final push in such a close race as this year's. Maccabi suffered a painful loss at home last week that could become a major setback to its playoffs aspirations. Zalgiris has won three of its last four games and is hoping that this push will continue and that it has not arrived too late in the season.
Earlier this season
This will be the 24th time ever that these two teams meet in the EuroLeague since the turn of the century. Maccabi holds a 16-7 edge in their head-to-head record, but the last two wins have fallen on Zalgiris's side, including in Round 14, 80-73. That night, Arturas Milaknis led the way with 16 points and Brandon Davies and Edgaras Ulanovas added 13 apiece for the winners. For Maccabi, Scottie Wilbekin shined with 20 points. Zalgiris's 11-of-20 shooting from behind the arc plus 17-of-20 from the free throw line secured the win for the hosts, who also kept Maccabi at a season-low 26 rebounds.
Tarik Black and Brandon Davies will be the main stars of a duel in the paint on Wednesday night. Black is having a solid debut season in the EuroLeague with 10.6 points and 5.4 rebounds as a starter in 20 of his 22 appearances for Maccabi. Davies has confirmed this season the potential he showed last year with 14.2 points, 5.5 boards and 2.2 assists as a starter in 25 of his 26 appearances this season. The two big men will have to give it their best effort once more in this duel for a playoff berth.
Keys to victory: Maccabi
The numbers between the sides are pretty similar on all fronts, so at this point in the season, heart could play a big role in the outcome of the game. Zalgiris has won four road games this season and the hosts will have to try to keep them at that number. Coming into the game, the defense of Maccabi seems to be more aggressive based on the numbers in steals and blocks, so the hosts will have to try to capitalize on that to be able to run and find easy opportunities to score.
Keys to victory: Zalgiris
Zalgiris arrives in Tel Aviv in good form, but faces an opponent playing for the same goal. Zalgiris averages a couple of assists more per game than the hosts, but will have to watch out for Maccabi's aggressive defense looking for steals. One thing is for sure, Maccabi is the only team in the league to average less than 70% from the foul line, so maybe that's a way to scratch a few points for the visitors. Looking at the numbers, it seems that the game will be decided by details, so focus, especially in such a noisy atmosphere as Tel Aviv's, will be paramount.