With the start of the European Championships just two weeks away, Israel finds itself in a tense position after yet another disappointing warm-up tournament.

The blue-and-white flew out to Georgia on Monday ahead of a friendly against the local national team on Tuesday, hoping for an improvement on its performance over the weekend in Almere, Holland.

Israel suffered an 80-70 defeat to the Netherlands on Sunday night, its second setback in three days following a 94-92 loss to US college outfit Villanova on Friday and a 77-72 win over Georgia on Saturday.

Israel played on Sunday without star forward Lior Eliyahu, who was rested, with the injured Omri Casspi remaining at home to nurse a slight tear in his left knee ligaments. However, coach Arik Shivek will still have expected the rest of his roster to do far better against a Dutch team which plays in Europe’s Division B.

“It is a shame we lost this game,” said Shivek after seeing his team squander a six-point halftime lead to the Dutch, who are guided by Israeli Gadi Kedar.

“We had some good minutes in the first half and some good minutes in the second, but we couldn’t push on and win the game. We will correct our mistakes and continue our preparations as planned.”

Israel, which also went 1-2 in its first warm-up event in Cyprus, will return home from Tbilisi on Wednesday before hosting Poland and David Blatt’s Russia in Rishon Lezion from August 21-24 in its final tune-up tournament ahead of the start of the European Championships.

Israel will face Germany in its EuroBasket Group B opener on August 31 before playing Latvia the following day. It will then play Serbia on September 2 and France two days later before wrapping up its group games against Italy on September 5.

Only the top three teams in each group will advance to the last 12.

Besides finding a way to overcome the many weaknesses revealed in the warmup games, Shivek will also be praying for some positive news on Casspi’s injury.

However, the current signs are anything but encouraging.

“Time isn’t on our side,” Casspi said.

“I’m a professional player and I need to take care of my knees. With the ankles you can take a risk, but not with the knees. That is very dangerous.”

Casspi is expected to officially join Maccabi Tel Aviv in the coming days until the NBA lockout ends, but one player he will likely not be teaming up with in the yellow-and-blue is Jeremy Pargo.

Despite signing a new lucrative contract with Maccabi in May following a sensational first season at the club, Pargo has notified the team that he is opting-out of the two-year deal as he would like to play in the NBA.

“Maccabi Tel Aviv has conveyed to the player that in light of the NBA lockout and the fact that he does not, and will not, have a guaranteed contract with any NBA team for the coming season, the announcement by his agent is a violation of the contract between Pargo and Maccabi Tel Aviv,” a club press release read.

“In spite of that, Pargo has expressed his intention of remaining in the US and waiting until the strike ends.”

According to Maccabi, Pargo had an opt-out clause in his contract, but it could only be activated by August 1, with the player having to present a signed contract offer from an NBA franchise.

Maccabi approached basketball’s governing body FIBA on Monday asking it to check the legality of Pargo’s decision and it plans to take action against the playmaker who led it to the Euroleague final last season.

“Maccabi’s management has conveyed to Pargo and his agent that it takes exception to his behavior and views the player as responsible for any damage caused to Maccabi by his breach of contract,” the club said. “Maccabi intends to take all appropriate action to protect its rights in the matter.

“Following the player’s announcement, Maccabi Tel Aviv took the needed steps to strengthen its roster for the coming season.”

Maccabi signed Greek playmaker Theodoros Papaloukas to a one-year deal on Saturday, adding the 34-year-old guard to a back court which even without Pargo includes Devin Smith, Yogev Ohayon, Tal Burstein, Jon Scheyer and Jordon Farmer, who will return to the New Jersey Nets once the NBA lockout ends.

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