With its Eurocup campaign coming to an end last week, Hapoel Jerusalem has turned its full focus to the final stretch of the BSL regular season, starting with Sunday’s game against Hapoel Tel Aviv at Malha Arena.
Jerusalem leapfrogged Maccabi Tel Aviv into first place in the standings with a momentous 93-65 victory over the yellow-and-blue last week, its biggest win ever against its bitter rival.
Hapoel improved to a 19-5 record with its 16th league victory from the past 18 games and four wins in its remaining regular season encounters will secure it the No. 1 seed in the postseason, meaning it will have home-court advantage in the best-of-five quarterfinal and semifinal series’, as well as the benefit of hosting the second game of the two-legged final.
Jerusalem, which was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Eurocup at the hands of Nizhny Novgorod, beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 92-81 at Malha last month.
However, Erez Edelstein’s side will enter Sunday’s showdown brimming with confidence, winning four of five games since, with its only defeat coming against Maccabi in the derby at Nokia Arena.
Hapoel Tel Aviv (15-9), which is battling Maccabi Haifa (15-9) for third place, is still without injured captain Matan Naor, but guards Carlon Brown and Raviv Limonad have carried the team on their shoulders in recent weeks. Brown has exceeded all expectations this season, averaging 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists, scoring a season- high 31 points in the defeat at Malha last month.
Hapoel lost four of five games while Limonad was out nursing a shoulder injury, but it has won four of five contests since his return, with the Israeli guard scoring at least 15 points in all 19 of his BSL games this season, averaging 18.8 points, 4.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
After dropping to a dejecting defeat to Real Madrid on Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv (19-5) looks to avoid its fourth straight setback in all competitions when it visits Maccabi Haifa on Monday night, with the Greens losing three of their past four games.
Maccabi Ashdod (5-19) can climb out of the relegation zone for the first time in 2014 should it beat Maccabi Rishon Lezion (7-17) on Sunday and Bnei Herzliya (6-18) loses for the 13th time in its last 14 contests when it visits Hapoel Gilboa/Galil (11-13).
Also Sunday, Ironi Ness Ziona (13-11) hosts Barak Netanya (7-17), with Hapoel Eilat (15-9) visiting Hapoel Holon (12-12) on Monday.
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