Basketball / Euroleague / Ex-Maccabi Player Returns With Vitoria More Polished

Lodz native Lampe will try to make Tel Aviv regret letting him go.

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Caja Laboral Vitoria renew their basketball rivalry tonight at the Nokia Arena, with the visitors looking to avenge being ousted from the 2011 playoffs in their last meeting. Former Maccabi player Maciej Lampe, who netted a career-high 25 points against defending champion Olympiacos in Vitoria's Top 16 opener, will be in the hosts' sights.

The Polish center is averaging 12.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in Euroleague play, not much different from the 8.0 points and 3.8 rebounds he averaged at Maccabi during the 2009-10 season, considering he played 17 minutes a game then and 25 minutes per contest now.

He is shooting at nearly the same rate from two-point range (48.4 percent at Vitoria versus 47.2 percent at Maccabi ), though his 38.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc with Maccabi was quite better than his current rate of 30.4 percent. His free-throw shooting has declined significantly from 90 percent to 69.4 percent.

Still, Maccabi coach David Blatt says things didn't go well for Lampe at Maccabi, to say the least, under then-coach Pini Gershon. Lampe ended up leaving in January 2010, first joining Unics Kazan. Vitoria this season found the way to use him better and utilize his advantages, says Blatt, who calls Lampe "excellent" as well as experienced.

As a member of Maccabi, Lampe did some damage to Vitoria. He scored 18 points in their first meeting of the 2009-10 season including four treys, and pulled down seven boards. However, in the second meeting he scored only nine points.

One gets the feeling that slightly less than three years after his departure, he is back in Nokia to show the hosts what they missed out on.

Blatt says he has a feeling that every player who ever was on Maccabi returns to play a good game against it. He says Lampe could cause Maccabi a lot of pain, and it's his team's job to stop him.

Lampe finds himself once again opposite Lior Eliyahu, who was playing for Vitoria during that 2009-10 season. Eliyahu says that a few years have passed and he no longer thinks about Caja Laboral.

"I know some of the players, but they play differently since the coach was replaced," says Eliyahu. "When you change a coach it can go two ways, and with Caja Laboral it went in the direction of a lot of wins. They play very organized and very disciplined."

The following season, David Logan joined Vitoria. Logan, the Indianapolis native who came to Maccabi this season after a stint with Panathinaikos, says some of the players he was with are still at Vitoria, but they changed their style of play, mostly by improving their defense under new coach Zan Tabak.

Maccabi's situation with its big men doesn't help matters in containing Lampe. Shawn James, who is suffering from a shoulder injury, will play, but according to Blatt he is not 100 percent. Malcolm Thomas, meanwhile, was disappointing in Maccabi's loss last week at Siena. Blatt says that as the season goes on the importance of experience becomes more apparent, and Thomas, after all, is a rookie. Blatt points out that while Thomas, who he says is on a learning curve, did poorly against Siena he had a good game against Alba Berlin.

The next option is its new Croatian player, Darko Planinic, Maccabi's tallest player at 2.11 meters. Planinic played five minutes against Siena, and scored 17 points in 17 minutes while shooting perfect from the field against Bnei Herzliya this week. Blatt says Planinic has almost no experience at this level in Europe but quickly got down to business. The coach added says he is the kind of player who does the fundamentals and uses his advantages to be effective, adding the Croatian will get more playing time tonight.

Laboral is traditionally a tough matchup for Maccabi. While Maccabi is 29-2 against non-Spanish opponents at home over the past five seasons, it is just 5-4 against Vitoria. Maccabi has managed to win in crunch time when it came to advancing to the Final Four, but Vitoria holds an advantage in Top 16 games.

Blatt says he considers Vitora to be one of Maccabi's sworn rivals of the 21st century. He says there have been a lot of big games between the teams, adding that Vitoria is one of the hottest teams in Europe recently and a tough game awaits Maccabi.

AFP