Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Brian Randle in action.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be hoping there are no lingering effects to the five nightmare minutes which saw it drop to a shock Euroleague defeat at Red Star Belgrade on Thursday night when it hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion in BSL action on Sunday.
Maccabi has won 15 straight BSL games to move to 19-2 and is closing on the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, holding a four-game lead over Hapoel Jerusalem.
However, matters have been unsurprisingly far less straight-forward for Maccabi in the Euroleague Top 16. Tel Aviv stormed to a 5-1 start, beating the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid at home, only to suffer unexpected setbacks against Alba Berlin and Belgrade in two of its past three games to complicate its situation.
Maccabi is still tied with Barcelona in second place in Group E with a 6-3 record, with Panathinaikos a further game back. Tel Aviv visits Barcelona next week in an extremely difficult game, with the Catalans 9-1 at home this season, including 5-0 in the Top 16, winning by an average 11.6 points per contest.
After three tight quarters in Belgrade, Maccabi looked to be on course for a comfortable win following Yogev Ohayon’s three-pointer with seven minutes to play which opened a 68-63 lead.
However, the yellow-and-blue completely lost its head in the five subsequent minutes, allowing Red Star to go on a 20-0 run.
“Fatigue is no excuse,” said coach Guy Goodes. “We simply couldn’t cope with their physicality and made terrible decisions.”
Even though it hasn’t lost a BSL game in four months, Maccabi has survived some close calls in recent weeks.
Four of its past five victories have come by four points or less and Rishon, which has won two straight encounters, will hope to make the most of a tired Maccabi roster, with the yellow-and-blue to play its fifth game in 11 days on Sunday.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Jerusalem targets its sixth straight win when it visits Hapoel Eilat.
Jerusalem will be without star guard Bracey Wright, who was suspended by the club after failing to show up for the team’s visit to Shaare Zedek Medical Center to visit sick children before Purim.
Elsewhere, Maccabi Ashdod hosts Bnei Herzliya. On Monday, Ironi Ness Ziona, which has lost six straight, welcomes Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil, which has dropped eight consecutive contests. Ironi Nahariya visits Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Holon faces Hapoel Tel Aviv.