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Former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach and current Dynamo St. Petersburg coach David Blatt is expecting a exciting final between CSKA and Maccabi in the Euroleague championship. "I expect close games, but it'll be a bit disappointing for many basketball lovers if we don't wind up with a classic final between CSKA and Maccabi," Blatt told the Russian newspaper Sport Express over the weekend.

Blatt said that the semifinals to be played in Moscow on May 6 between CSKA Moscow and Tau Vitoria and between Maccabi and Panathinaikos will be very difficult for the favorites, especially for Maccabi.

Blatt doesn't think CSKA will have trouble handling the tension. "The big pressure is already behind them. They didn't play that well during the second group stage, but once you qualify for the Final Four you can relax. Clearly, there's pressure on them to win the title, but they proved their quality during the season and they've been pretty sure of themselves in the big games," he said.

Blatt said the freak injury to Maccabi big-man Deon Thomas is liable to be much more of a problem for Tel Aviv if it faces CSKA in the final on May 8 than during the semifinal against Panathinaikos.

"Thomas' absence on defense will be less meaningful against the Greeks, who have a relatively short lineup. On the other hand, Maccabi will miss Thomas against CSKA, unless the [Gur] Shelef-[Nestoras] Kommatos-[Yaniv] Green trio succeed in picking up their game in the next two weeks.

"The Russian champions have answers and lineups for everything Maccabi can throw at them, and they have a nearly endless bench. I hope very much to see both in the final, they're the two best teams in Europe. Maccabi is the champ of Europe and one of the most brilliant teams that Europe has had in the last decade; CSKA is full of confidence after losing only one game all season. It has a tremendous amount of talent and experience ..."