(photo credit: ODELIA MATARI/MACCABI RISHON LEZION)
After getting off to its best start to a season in 20 years, Maccabi Rishon Lezion faces its biggest test to date when it hosts the unbeaten Hapoel Jerusalem on Sunday night.
Rishon improved to 6-1 last week with a 76-65 victory over Ironi Nahariya, its best record to begin a campaign since going 9-0 in 1994/95.
Sharon Drucker’s men started the season with two victories by a combined four points before losing to Ironi Ness Ziona by three points. They have since won four games in a row by at least eight points.
However, five of Rishon’s six victories to date have come against teams with losing records currently placed in the bottom half of the standings.
Jerusalem is by far the toughest rival Rishon has played in the BSL this season, improving to a club record 7-0 last week with a 93-71 thrashing of Maccabi Ashdod.
Hapoel has thoroughly dominated its BSL rivals, triumphing by an average margin of 22.3 points per game, with only one of its wins coming by fewer than 18 points.
While it continues to struggle to find its way in the Eurocup, falling to 1-5 last week with a third home defeat, Jerusalem will be confident of continuing its rampant BSL form on Sunday.
Hapoel strengthened its roster last Thursday, finally finding the big man it was looking for in center Pops Mensah-Bonsu. The 31-year-old Brit, who played 61 games in the NBA for five different teams between 2006 and 2011, was acquired by Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer of 2012, only to be waived a month later after failing his medical.
Mensah-Bonsu’s move to Olympiacos during the summer was also called off due to injury concerns, but he showed he can still play at the Euroleague level last season, averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game at Galatasaray of Turkey.
Also Sunday, a re-energized Maccabi Tel Aviv (5-2) visits Maccabi Haifa (3-4) in a repeat of the BSL final from the last two seasons.
Tel Aviv beat Limoges in France 79-73 last Thursday for its third win in a week after previously losing three games in a row over a nightmarish eight days. The yellow-andblue is still not displaying the form coach Guy Goodes is hoping for, but Maccabi will nevertheless be optimistic of extending its winning streak on Sunday.
Haifa has lost three of its past four games and coach Rami Hadar is desperately waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
On Monday, Hapoel Holon (4-3) hosts Hapoel Eilat (2-5), Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil (2-5) visits Bnei Herzliya (3-4), Ironi Ness Ziona (5-2) welcomes Ironi Nahariya (1-6) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (3-4) goes to Maccabi Ashdod (1-6).