Milan, Italy – Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv invaded the Mediolanum Forum, riding a six-game win streak, to face off against the hosts, AX Armani Exchange Milano. The teams were tied for first place and entered play trying to build on their respective strong starts. On this night, it was the Italian side, getting a tough, much needed win in what was an extremely competitive game from the get-go. AX Armani Exchange Milano took this one by a 92-88 score line.
In Milano’s victory, former NBA guard Sergio Rodriguez came out to play. He was outstanding in the pick n’ roll game and constantly had his defenders on their heels. He repeatedly deceived his defenders with dribbles and unexpected moves. His strong ball handling skills and court vision allowed him to pull up for jumpers, hit open teammates on rolls and pops, and create his own scoring chances at the rim. He finished the night with 18 points and 11 assists.
Maccabi leaned heavily on former Florida Gator standout, guard Scottie Wilbekin, who finished a strong game with 25 points and six made triples. His effectiveness in small spaces was special. Multiple times, Milano defenders forced him to the sideline with double teams, but he showed great poise and patience en route to making tough shots look easy, with the use of great footwork. Very rarely did he give in and fade away on a jumper. His competitive mindset was on display all night as he made clutch shots and did his best to match Rodriguez’s great play with great shooting. On multiple occasions, his outside shooting made double digit deficits more manageable for Maccabi and twice got them within two possessions in the fourth quarter. Wilbekin also had some struggles though. One of those was his execution after entering the lane. He seemed off balance a lot and indecisive by the way he was defended in the paint. Often, he got caught in the air without an initial idea of what he was trying to execute. Sometimes it worked out as he picked up multiple assists, but on other occasions he gave away the possession.
Maccabi’s NBA prospect, Deni Avdija played more minutes than his normal averages, and was effective in short stints. The 18-year-old small forward showed impressive defensive instincts and played well in half-court sets. His instincts were on display when he rotated from the weak side to block a shot at the rim and on his attack of the passing lane following an offensive rebound by the hosts. Despite that, he needs to work on his on-ball defense of quicker players if he is to become an elite defender at the professional level. On offense, he showed a promising soft touch on his shot, yet still struggled to make shots consistently. Also, he must demand the ball more in order to put himself in effective situations within the half court offense and not just be a corner threat. He finished the night with two points and two rebounds.
Up Next: AX Armani Exchange Milano (7-2) will face off Anadolu Efes (7-2) Istanbul with the hopes of continuing its strong start. Maccabi (6-3) will continue its road trip in Barcelona (6-2, with a game in hand) and try to get back to winning ways.
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