Sofoklis Schortsanitis
Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Photo by Seffi Magriso
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Taking Sofoklis Schortsanitis as a factor out of the game will be the primary goal tonight of coach Dusko Ivanovic as his Caja Laboral Vitoria hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv in Game 1 of their best-of-five Euroleague series. Ivanovic says he doesn't believe that Maccabi has a realistic alternative to the Greek giant, and that forcing Schortsanitis into early foul trouble will be the key to winning the opener, to which the Montenegrin coach ascribes a lot of importance.

Schortsanitis played less than 12 minutes in Spain in October when Vitoria beat Maccabi in their Euroleague opener 94-78, though the big man was still adjusting to Tel Aviv's system back then and the team has come a long way since.

Besides getting the ball into the paint, local commentators expect Vitoria will try to push Maccabi into a fast-paced game and play a zone defense in light of Maccabi's relatively weak perimeter game. Vitoria is shooting 42.7 percent from beyond the arc, while Maccabi has only hit 33.6 percent of its three-point shots in Euroleague play.

Perhaps the most critical matchup in this series will be between two very different players that were teammates last season, Mirza Teletovic of Laboral - the Euroleague's leader in three-pointers made and attempted - and Maccabi's Lior Eliyahu. The latter can take advantage of his transition game and speed, but lacks Teletovic>s unlimited shooting range and strength.

Forward Nemanja Bjelica missed yesterday's practice because of leg pains but is listed as probable to play tonight.

"I feel we're ready and in good shape, and I hope we'll know how to start the game well," Maccabi coach David Blatt said yesterday about tonight's matchup. "Caja Laboral knows how to open very strong and many times they put their opponent into situations that they can't come back from. This week we were able to practice hard and well; we need to be calm and relaxed. They have the home court advantage, but on the other hand this is a team we know well, a team we know how to play against."

Maccabi fans have obtained some 150 tickets for the sellout crowd of 9,300 spectators.

In other Euroleague games tonight, Olympiacos hosts Siena, Panathinaikos visits Barcelona and Teal Madrid takes on Valencia.