Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu (left) will play against D.J. Seeley (right) Maccabi Tel Aviv on Saturday night after being suspended from one training session this week following a clash with the coaching staff..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
On the back of their longest losing streaks in the BSL this season, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv enter Saturday’s showdown at the Jerusalem Arena hoping to turn a corner ahead of the final month of the regular season.
Both Jerusalem and Maccabi have lost three straight league games and are in desperate need of a win for different reasons.
Jerusalem dropped to ninth place in the standings on Thursday following Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s 71-70 win at Ironi Nahariya.
Only the top eight qualify for the playoffs, and Jerusalem is in danger of falling into a four-way tie for the final three spots in the post-season should it lose to Maccabi.
The atmosphere at Hapoel ahead of the clash with its arch-rival has been far from calm. Lior Eliyahu was suspended from Tuesday’s training session after walking out of practice a day earlier. Eliyahu, who has been frustrated with the credit he’s received this season, was unhappy at the coaching staff’s refereeing during a 5-on-5 workout.
The Israeli forward looks set to face even sterner competition for minutes in the remainder of the season, with Italian Alessandro Gentile available to make his debut on Saturday and Richard Howell completing his move from Hapoel Tel Aviv on Thursday. Jerusalem reached a deal with Hapoel and Howell a couple of weeks ago, but Tel Aviv claimed that the contract is invalid and it seemed that the issue would only be resolved by an Israel Basketball Association arbitrator.
The two parties never stopped trying to reach a compromise though, and Tel Aviv is expected to receive in return either Shawn Jones or Isaac Rosefelt, who have struggled to earn playing time in Jerusalem, as well as a compensation fee in the region of NIS 60,000.
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Howell, who is averaging 13.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game this season, became an especially hot commodity last week after receiving Israeli citizenship due to his marriage to an Israeli last summer.
The 26-year-old is set to play for the Israel national team at this summer’s EuroBasket tournament.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which considered signing Howell last summer, has lost six straight games over all competitions – a club record – three in a row to finish the Euroleague regular season and three in the BSL.
Nevertheless, it can return to first place with a win on Saturday after Hapoel Holon lost to Hapoel Eilat on Wednesday.
Rishon moved tied with Hapoel Tel Aviv and Ironi Nahariya at 13-14 after a nail-biting finish on Thursday.
After missing two free throws and with his team ahead by three points, Rishon guard Avi Ben-Shimol committed a foolish foul on Stu Douglass while he was attempting a desperation shot from midcourt with 0.8 seconds remaining on the clock. Douglass hit his first two shots from the line, but missed the third to the relief of Ben-Shimol and Rishon.
Charles Thomas led Rishon with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Jonathan Skjoldebrand had 18 points for Nahariya.
Also Thursday, Maccabi Ashdod secured its BSL survival, improving to 11-16, 6½ games ahead of last place Kiryat Gat, after beating Maccabi Haifa 82-77.
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