After suffering a dejecting setback at Partizan Belgrade in the Euroleague on Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv turns its focus back to local league action when it hosts Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL at Nokia Arena on Sunday night.
Maccabi dropped to a 7-4 record in Euroleague Top 16 Group F following a 72-70 loss in Belgrade, but remains on track to advance to the quarterfinals.
Galatasaray’s 76-69 victory over Bayern Munich on Friday means third-place Maccabi still holds a two-game lead over Lokomotiv Kuban in fourth place, with three games remaining in the Top 16. The top four teams will progress to the quarterfinals, with the top two to also secure home-court advantage.
Maccabi trails Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow by two games, with Real to visit Nokia Arena on Thursday.
However, before Tel Aviv sets its sights on the Spanish powerhouse it will want to edge closer to clinching the No. 1 seed in the BSL playoffs by opening a two-game cushion over Hapoel Jerusalem.
Maccabi (19-4) will be targeting its 15th consecutive league win on Sunday, with the yellowand- blue’s last defeat coming against Jerusalem (18-5) at Malha Arena almost four months ago.
Maccabi thrashed Hapoel 93-71 last month and coach David Blatt is confident his team will extend its local winning streak on Sunday.
“We have recorded 14 wins in a row in the league and I believe in our capabilities,” said Blatt.
“The defeat to Partizan was very painful because we dominated for the first three quarters. The loss is part of a process we are undergoing and we will deal with it and move forward. We have plenty to look forward to because we are in an excellent position in the Euroleague.”
Sofoklis Schortsanitis is expected to be fit for Sunday’s showdown after limping off court with an ankle injury in the third quarter on Thursday.
Jerusalem coach Brad Greenberg should have a full roster at his disposal and will have to use it astutely to keep his players fresh ahead of Wednesday’s Eurocup quarterfinal second leg at Nizhny Novgorod.
“We are facing a crucial week with two extremely difficult road games,” said forward Lior Eliyahu, who will be looking to improve on his recent form after averaging a mere 6.3 points in his past four games in all competitions.
“We didn’t play well the last time we were at Nokia and we want to win on Sunday. The battle for first place isn’t over yet and we will not give up on it.”
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