Johannes Voigtmann tries to stop Barcelona guard Cory Higgins's drive to the basket in the Feb. 27 game in Moscow's Megasport Arena , Photo: EuroLeague Basketball

Following Thursday’s defeat against Barcelona, CSKA Moscow’s chances of snatching the third spot from the Catalan team now look quite dim as the defending EuroLeague champion has fallen three wins behind Svetislav Pešić’s squad. CSKA was close to sending the game into overtime after Mike James’ three-pointer tied the score with 5.4 seconds remaining, but couldn’t contain Nikola Mirotić on Barcelona’s last possession, and the visitors got the win.

“In a game like this, little details always decide the outcome. Like giving up an easy layup or a turnover. We had a couple too much today, and we’re trying to work on that. In the last games, we kind of struggled with turnovers a little bit, but we have to take care of that in order to win those games. You look at the game, and you think ‘Maybe we didn’t play that bad’, but at the end you lose, and we need to win those games,” CSKA forward Johannes Voigtmann told after the game.

In late November, CSKA crushed Barcelona in Spain by a 29-point margin in an amazing display of team effort. A month earlier, the Russian powerhouse had lost one of its best players, Will Clyburn, indefinitely to injury, and the victory in Barcelona was somewhat unexpected as it came at the end of a three-game road trip to Spain that began badly with back-to-back defeats in Vitoria and Madrid. Meanwhile, the Catalan giant had apparently learned its lesson after allowing CSKA to score 96 points in Palau Blaugrana and tweaked its defense appropriately.

“They were playing defense a little bit differently, focusing on Mike [James] a lot, so he had to move the ball, pass more, and we got a lot of great shots. They played tigther, more aggressive defense, it was tough to move the ball, and I think that was the main reason why they won. But we expected them not to play like they did in Barcelona, and they didn’t,” explained Voigtmann.

Maccabi Tel Aviv (18-8) took advantage of CSKA’s loss and leapfrogged the seven-time European champs (17-9) in the standings after edging Olympiacos at home on Thursday by a single point. “The Pride of Israel” now sits in the coveted fourth place, which provides homecourt advantage in the playoffs. In the remaining eight games of the regular season, the old rivals will fight for that fourth spot, and are highly likely to face each other in the best-of-five quarterfinal series.

Last December, Maccabi won the home tie against CSKA by a 10-point margin, and the “Army Men” will now have to win by a larger point difference in Moscow on March 24 to secure a better head-to-head record. It might play a role as the key tiebreaker in case the two teams are tied at the end of the regular season.

“It’s not in our hands anymore, we can’t decide on our own. We are going to take care of our part, we will try to win all the remaining games and see what happens. We can’t get this one back, obviously, a win against Barcelona would have been great for us, but it is what it is, we have to live with the results. The first goal is to climb back into fourth place, we play Maccabi at home, and we have a big chance to get the homecourt advantage. As for the third spot, it also depends on what Barcelona does [in the remainder of the season], we can’t impact that,” said Voigtmann.