Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Devin Smith.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv at Yad Eliyahu Arena on Sunday night in the final Tel Aviv derby of the BSL regular season.
The yellow-and-blue will be desperate to gain a measure of revenge against Hapoel after the Reds recorded their largest-ever win against Maccabi on the road in November, claiming a 78-58 victory at Yad Eliyahu.
However, as important as the derby is for both clubs, Maccabi will already have one eye on a far more significant game it faces later this week. Maccabi visits Alba Berlin in a direct showdown for a place in the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs on Thursday, with a defeat combined with a Panathinaikos win at Red Star Belgrade to already end the yellow-and-blue’s title defense in the Top 16. A Maccabi win will secure its progress from third place in the group, while a defeat combined with a Panathinaikos loss will see it advance from fourth.
Maccabi improved to 8-5 in Group E with an 81-72 win over Galatasaray last Thursday, but Berlin’s 68-66 victory at Panathinaikos seriously complicated Tel Aviv’s situation entering its final Top 16 game.
“If the game against Galatasaray was like a cup final than the game against Alba is like a Euroleague final,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes. “We have some injury concerns and our situation is worrying, but we will put everything aside and fight for our lives for 40 minutes.”
Maccabi is hopeful Sylven Landesberg will be able to take part in Thursday’s game, but he won’t be available for Sunday’s derby.
“We will overcome the fatigue and the injuries,” insisted Maccabi guard Jeremy Pargo. “At this stage of the season everyone needs to raise their game and fight. We have a derby coming up first and we are all focused on that mission.”
Hapoel is still coming to terms with the shock and untimely passing of team manager Uri Shelef last week. The Reds beat Maccabi Ashdod 95-86 on Thursday in their first game since Shelef passed away last Sunday from a cardiac arrest at the age of 43.
Hapoel improved to 14-11, moving tied with Hapoel Holon in third place in the BSL standings.
Hapoel will be without star guard Durand Scott once more, but will hope to at least counter Maccabi’s deep front-court with the likes of Yancy Gates, Dijon Thompson and Jeronne Maymon.
“The derby is always a different story, but considering our current situation everything takes on different proportions,” said Hapoel coach Oded Katash. “I had no idea how we would get through our first game without Uri and I’m very proud of the players who managed to claim such an important and symbolic win.
In a normal situation you begin to think of the game against Maccabi two weeks in advance, but in our current situation I’m just thinking about getting through the next day.”