Hapoel Jerusalem 298.88.
(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
The math is simple and straightforward. A win for Hapoel Jerusalem on Tuesday night against Alba Berlin at Malha Arena and the Israeli team will book its place in the elimination rounds of the ULEB Cup. A loss in the last game of the ULEB Cup group stage and Hapoel's European season ends prematurely.
Hapoel is tied on points with four other teams in Group C, with only three spots in the next round up for grabs. Alba is one of the sides looking to advance, however the Germans can possibly even qualify with a loss on Tuesday, a luxury Jerusalem cannot afford.
The hosts could have avoided the uncomfortable winner takes it all scenario had they won in Oostende last week. But Hapoel, which showed signs of improvement in its previous games, suffered a humiliating 82-66 loss to the Belgians.
All of Hapoel's early season problems resurfaced against Oostende, with the team playing poorly in all aspects of the game.
A similar showing by the hosts on Tuesday and they might as well not show up. However, Hapoel can encourage itself with the fact that when it last faced Berlin it pulled off a big win despite coming into the game at one of its lowest points of the season. Jerusalem beat Alba 92-77 in a crucial game in Germany at the end of November in what was one of its best games of the season.
"Any of five teams in the group can advance, but the fact that we're playing at home against Berlin gives us an advantage," Hapoel coach Dan Shamir said ahead of the game. "We will need to prepare ourselves for a physical and aggressive game. We all know the importance of this game and the players don't need reminding."
The game will see the return to Jerusalem of Alba guard William Avery, who spent a season with Hapoel two years ago. Avery (15.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.7 apg) is central in every aspect of his sides play and his Malha experience could prove vital for the Germans.
"It's going to be a fantastic game," Avery said on Monday upon his team's arrival in Israel. "The fans are going to be excited, especially with the magnitude of the game and it's going to be a great experience. I can't wait.
"This is what basketball is all about. You love to be in a game of this scale in an arena like that," Avery added. "What better atmosphere could you ask for. There's a lot of pressure on Jerusalem, but we've got to win as well."
Avery will be complemented in the backcourt by his fellow American Julios Jenkins (12.1 ppg) who will be a constant danger on defense (1.9 spg) as well as offense.
Despite its perimeter prowess, Berlin's chances of victory will likely rest with its play under the baskets. Chris Owens (15.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Sharrod Ford (10.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3 bpg) and Nigerian Koko Archibong (4.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg) make up a solid front court and will force Jerusalem's big men to fight for every basket and rebound.
Mario Austin (18.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg) will once again be key to anything good or bad that happens in the paint and together with Jurica Golemac (9.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and newcomer Terrence Morris will need to keep the German big men at bay.
Jerusalem will be hoping Ed Cota (7.1 ppg, 2.4 apg) finally comes up with the goods after only playing a total of 18 minutes in his sides last two ULEB Cup ties. Cota is long overdue a big game and Tuesday will be an ideal time for that game to come.
Timmy Bowers (15.9 ppg, 4.4 ppg) and Meir Tapiro (11.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg) will provide points for the hosts and together with Dror Hajaj (6.1. ppg, 2.1 spg) will need to also slow down Berlin's shooters on defense.
"I'm in excellent form, but as we saw in Oostende, my own play is unimportant if the entire team isn't playing well," Hajaj said.
"I hope that we will be focused and sharp on Tuesday and that we will fight for every ball. I believe that with our fans and with the atmosphere they create we can do it."
On TV: Hapoel Jerusalem vs Alba Berlin (live at 7p.m. on Channel 1)