Two teams representing basketball-crazy countries meet at Menora Mivtachim Arena. Maccabi looks for its first win in its home opener, which adds more anticipation to this showdown. Scottie Wilbekin (15.5 ppg.), Omri Casspi (13.0) and Elijah Bryant (12.5) have led Maccabi so far. James Gist (16.5) is Zvezda's top scorer, followed by Stratos Perperoglou (13.0) and Billy Baron (9.0).
Two of the best shooters in the competition are testing their scoring skills against each other. Wilbekin comes off an outstanding performance – 22 points, 11 in the final 5 minutes – against Real Madrid. He hit one shot after another, including a would-be game-winner that was bettered seconds later by Jaycee Carroll. Baron is also a great scorer, both off the dribble and coming off screens, and can change any game with his accuracy from downtown. Both players can catch fire easily, so expect a big shootout.
These teams faced each other for the first time back in 1973. Maccabi leads the all-time series 8-4 but Zvezda is 4-1 in the last five games between them. Zvezda has only beaten Maccabi once in Tel Aviv – 67-71 on January 19, 2017. Stefan Jovic led Zvezda that day with 14 points and 7 assists. Andrew Goudelock had 19 points for Maccabi.
Zvezda ranks 16th in two-point shooting percentage (44.3%) and Maccabi leads the standings (62.3%), taking many more attempts per game than its opponent (24.0 to 19.5). Zvezda, however, excels at offensive rebounds, ranking second overall at 15.0 per game to Maccabi's 9.0. The Israeli powerhouse has to improve their three-point accuracy (28.6%), much lower than Zvezda's (39.5%).
Keys to victory: Maccabi
The battle in the paint will be critical in this game, as both teams have deep, strong frontcourts. Tarik Black and Othello Hunter need to stay out of foul trouble and power the boards, while Quincy Acy will have use his quickness against Gist, one of the most experienced power forwards in the competition. With Casspi back in action, Maccabi has another good option at both forward spots.
Keys to victory: Zvezda
Zvezda needs to keep powering the offensive glass, looking for second-chance opportunities to raise its two-point shooting percentage. Gist is ranked second with 6 offensive rebounds per game, but needs more help from Mouhammad Faye and Michael Ojo. The guests look to Dejan Davidovac, Derrick Brown and Perperoglou to provide versatility, especially if Maccabi opts to switch on defense. Baron and Ognjen Dobric will be counted on provide the fireworks from downtown.