Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
It is crucial for Hapoel Jerusalem to overcome its recent woes on the road in Eurocup action on Wednesday night to avoid finding itself once more in a dangerous hole early in a continental campaign.
After beginning its Eurocup campaign with a humbling 21-point thrashing at the hands of Nizhny Novgorod, Jerusalem bounced back with a home win over Lithuania’s Neptunas Klaipeda before dropping to an 87-79 defeat at Galatasaray last week.
Jerusalem’s tough schedule to begin the regular season continues with a trip to Greece to face AEK Athens on Wednesday.
Hapoel has opened the BSL campaign with four straight wins, and despite its record, has shown some promising form in continental action as well.
But it can scarcely afford another slip-up in Greece as falling to 1-3 would seriously complicate its position, even with four of the team’s final six group games to be held at the Jerusalem Arena.
Jerusalem has lost 10 of its last 11 Eurocup road games dating back to the 2013/14 campaign and vividly remembers how it went 1-6 to start last season’s regular season on the way to an untimely exit from the competition.
Complicating matters further for Hapoel will be the absence of Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu, who was ruled out for four weeks on Monday with a broken finger.
“We suffered a big blow and I don’t really see how we can overcome his absence in the space of a few days,” said Jerusalem coach Danny Franco. “He’s a special player and he’s our leading shot taker. He’s a leading player and we will need to make some adjustments to compensate.”
Franco is expecting an aggressive showdown with AEK, which is also at 1-2 after beating Nizhny 87-70 last week. AEK is led by big man Loukas Mavrokefalidis, who is averaging 27.0 points and 10.7 rebounds through three Eurocup games, leading the competition in index rating (35.7).
“We will be facing a team which plays at a level of physicality we have yet to encounter this season,” explained Franco. “We will need to know how to handle that from the start and make sure we are tough enough to cope with the conditions there.”
Eliyahu averaged 13.7 points in Jerusalem’s first three Eurocup games and one of the players who will be counted upon to make up for his absence will be Tony Gaffney. The American is averaging 7.7 points in 23 minutes per game in the competition and can expect to see more action on Wednesday.
“It is tough to replace Lior and what he brings to the team, but everyone will have to step up,” said Gaffney. “We will have to find a way to make up for his absence.”