Hapoel Jerusalem forward Donta Smith.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem needs just two wins from its final five regular season games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, opening a two-and-a-half-game lead over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday night following its 97-65 win over Maccabi Kiryat Gat and the yellow-and-blue’s dramatic 86-85 loss at Ironi Nahariya.
Jerusalem improved to 22-6 with its seventh straight victory, while Maccabi lost for the first time in five games after Kwame Vaughn scored Nahariya’s winning basket with 0.5 seconds to play.
Michael Umeh had 29 points for Nahariya, which improved to 15-13 with its second win of the season over Maccabi at Ein Sara.
Sylven Landesberg had 26 points for Maccabi.
Jerusalem was never in danger of losing at Kiryat Gat, opening a double-digit gap (22-11) at the end of the first quarter and never looking back.
The margin reached 20 points (41-21) following Bar Timor’s basket midway through the second period in which Hapoel outscored the hosts 33-12 to open an unassailable 23-point cushion (55-32).
Timor led five Jerusalem players in double figures with 18 points and seven assists, with Lior Eliyahu scoring 15 points.
Hapoel was still playing without new Dominican guard Edgar Sosa, who joined the club over the weekend from Iranian team Petrochimi Bandar Imam Marco Killingsworth had 19 points for Kiryat Gat, which fell to 10-19.
Kiryat Gat is tied with Hapoel Holon and Ness Ziona for last place in the standings, with the latter dropping to a 77-67 loss to in-form Hapoel Eilat (16-13). The team in last place at the end of the regular season will be relegated to the National League.
Ness Ziona, which had won three straight games, trailed by 21 points (63-42) entering the final 10 minutes, but a 21-3 run to begin the fourth frame saw the deficit reduced to a mere three points.
However, after doing all the hard work, the visitors could not complete the comeback and Eilat held on for its seventh win in the past eight games.
Khalif Wyatt netted 21 points for Eilat, with Sundiata Gaines and Terrico White scoring 16 points each for Ness Ziona.
Holon suffered its third straight defeat, losing 90-85 at Hapoel Tel Aviv (13-16), which strengthened its hold on eighth place, the final spot that will lead to the playoffs.
Holon looked to be heading for an upset with just under three minutes to play, leading by five points (82-77). However, Tel Aviv responded with a 13-3 surge to end the night, recording its third win from the past four contests.
Raviv Limonad led the winners with 21 points and seven rebounds, with Robert Rothbart scoring 17 and Tre Simmons and Nate Robinson adding 16 points each. Scottie Reynolds had 20 points for Holon.
The heated encounter threatened to boil over at the break, with both sets of supporters taunting each other and clashing with police.
Robinson also played a part by treating the Holon fans to an obscene gesture with his middle finger as he walked off the floor.
On Tuesday, Arik Shivek will make his debut as Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s coach (13-15) when it hosts Maccabi Haifa (16-12).
Also Tuesday, Maccabi Ashdod (11-17), which has lost six straight games, visits Bnei Herzliya (15-13).