Hapoel Jerusalem forward Donta Smith.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
First place and plenty of pride will be on the line when Hapoel Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv in a showdown between Israeli basketball’s two powerhouses at the Jerusalem Arena on Sunday night.
Jerusalem and Maccabi are tied at 11-3 at the top of the BSL standings entering the encounter, with both coming off comfortable victories on Thursday.
Hapoel thrashed Ironi Ness Ziona 109-77, while Tel Aviv beat Hapoel Holon 93-75.
Maccabi still holds a 90-18 alltime lead over Jerusalem, but the latter has won six of their last nine meetings, including their most recent at Yad Eliyahu Arena in October. Hapoel outplayed the hosts in the first half on the way to a 24-point lead (53-29) before holding on for an 89-82 win. Jerusalem has also handed Maccabi two of its three heaviest defeats ever in league action in the past two years, winning by 28 points (93-65) at Yad Eliyahu in March 2014 and by 30 points at the Jerusalem Arena in November of that year.
After losing to Maccabi Ashdod in league action and suffering a shock State Cup exit at the hands of Maccabi Haifa, Jerusalem has steadied the ship with two wins over four days and can truly get back on course with another triumph over the yellow-and-blue.
“The game against Maccabi will not decide if we will finish in first place, win the championship or get knocked out in the final. This is just another league game,” said Jerusalem guard Yotam Halperin, trying to downplay the importance of the contest.
“Clearly this is an interesting game as Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv are the two best teams in Israel, but still, there is a long way to go in the season.”
Jerusalem will be without center D’or Fischer on Sunday, while Maccabi will be missing Yogev Ohayon and Brian Randle.
“This is a significant league game as we want to finish in first place,” said Maccabi captain Guy Pnini. “There will be a good atmosphere and plenty of interest around the encounter, but we need to focus on playing our game. We need to play the game and not the occasion.”
Maccabi has won nine straight games over all competitions, including its past six in local action by an average 22.2 points per contest since losing to Ironi Nahariya at the end of November.
Also Sunday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion (9-4) visits Maccabi Kiryat Gat (3-10).
Under-fire Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Sharon Avrahami breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday after his team snapped a three-game losing streak with a 71-63 win at Ironi Nahariya.
Robert Rothbart finished with 15 points and eight boards for Hapoel, which improved to 5-9, with Michael Umeh scoring 18 points for Nahariya (7-7).