Gut-check time for Mac TA; J’lm, Haifa in Euro action

David Blatt’s position as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach remains safe, but the fact the question is even being raised just two weeks into the season testifies to the mounting pressure on the club following a dismal start to 2013/14.

By
October 29, 2013 22:43
2 minute read.
IRONI NESS ZIONA’S Preston Knowles (right) scores over Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Tyrese Rice.

IRONI NESS ZIONA’S Preston Knowles 370. (photo credit: BSL website)

David Blatt’s position as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach remains safe, but the fact the question is even being raised just two weeks into the season testifies to the mounting pressure on the club following a dismal start to 2013/14.

After being surprised by Hapoel Holon in its BSL opener and losing at Laboral Vitoria in its first Euroleague game, Maccabi hit a new low with Monday’s 72-71 defeat at newly-promoted Ironi Ness Ziona.

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Ness Ziona was playing just its third game ever in the top flight, but it outhustled and outsmarted Maccabi, which for the first time in club history has lost two of its first three local league games.

Blatt was quick to explain that the absence of Devin Smith, who was rested ahead of Friday’s Euroleague showdown at Lokomotiv Kuban, combined with Ricky Hickman’s lingering injury doomed his side’s chances.

However, even without two of last season’s best players, Maccabi should have easily overcome Ness Ziona, which struggled to even meet the BSL’s minimum budget after winning the National League championship last season.

Maccabi, which improved to 1-1 in the Euroleague with last week’s 96-82 win over Red Star Belgrade, already leaves for Kuban on Wednesday, with the Russians currently leading Group D with a 2-0 record.

Maccabi then visits Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in BSL action before facing Rytas Vilnius in another Euroleague road game.

“We are not playing the way we should,” said Sofoklis Schortsanitis, who was on court for just three minutes in Ness Ziona.

“We underestimated our opponent and paid the price for it. We need to play hard in every game and that is something which we aren’t doing right now. This isn’t a great way to be entering a road stretch, but we need to find the way to get back on track.”

Meanwhile, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa will look to continue their winning ways in the Eurocup on Wednesday.

Jerusalem hosts Russian powerhouse Khimki Moscow at Malha Arena, hoping to improve to 3-0 in Group E. Hapoel beat Bosnian champion Igokea Aleksandrovac on the road last week and finally got a BSL win on Monday, defeating Hapoel Eilat 91-75.

Khimki dropped to a surprise home defeat to Romania’s Asesoft Ploiesti in its group opener but rebounded with a road win at Lukoil Academic Sofia.

“Hapoel has made a good impression on me after its first two Eurocup games,” said Khimki coach Rimas Kurtinaitis. “The team uses a lot of defensive options like David Blatt’s system. This tactic often misleads the opponent, but we are ready for it.”

Haifa visits VEF Riga after moving to 1-1 in Eurocup Group G with last week’s win at MZT Skopje of Macedonia before picking up its first BSL victory on Sunday, beating Maccabi Ashdod 90-84.

“Every game in the Eurocup is a tough game, especially against a team which leads our group with a 2-0 record,” said Haifa coach Danny Franco. “It’s a big challenge for us, but we are ready to travel to Riga and compete at that level.”

On TV:
Eurocup group action: Hapoel Jerusalem vs Khimki Moscow (live on Sport 1 at 7 p.m.); VEF Riga vs Maccabi Haifa (live on Sport 2 at 7:25 p.m.)


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