Maccabi Tel Aviv will ride a two-game winning streak into Russia tonight when it visits Euroleague rival Khimki Moscow, which beat Caja Laboral at home last week. The team did less well in the local league, losing to Saint Petersburg, coached by Zvi Sherf. The winner this evening will join Lithuanian club Zalgiris Kaunus, which beat Caja Laboral 92-88, at the top of the Group A standings.
"We're expecting a tough away game," said David Blatt at yesterday's press conference. "Khimki is a very good team; although they qualified by way of the preliminary round, they're a team that was in the Euroleague last year as well and had a fairly successful season. From a staff and budget standpoint, they're a team that should be very significant in the Euroleague again this season."
Lior Eliyahu also voiced concern. "Nobody respects Khimki enough, both as a team and the difficulty of playing them there," he said. But he added that winning a second road game after downing Partizan Belgrade last week would give Maccabi "a huge boost."
Khimki's biggest threats are its backcourt in American Keith Langford and Croatian Zoran Planinic. Waiting in the paint to challenge Maccabi will be Benjamin Eze, who scored 14 points and pulled down seven rebounds last week against Laboral.
"The Israeli league is strong," said Eze, who is originally from Nigeria. "We must concentrate more than in previous games. We should play well on defense - it will be the key for a successful outcome. I can especially point out Sofoklis Schortsanitis - he's a talented player and his teammates will search him out under the basket at the first opportunity."
Khimki coach Sergio Scariolo said last week's 64-60 win was big but bruising. "We still need to recover the physical conditions of some of our players," he said.
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