(photo credit: )
Hapoel Jerusalem hosts Khimki Moscow Tuesday night in a crucial showdown that could go a long way to deciding the qualifiers for the elimination rounds of the ULEB Cup.
Jerusalem comes into the game with renewed confidence after defeating Alba Berlin 92-77 in the ULEB Cup last week and beating Maccabi Givat Shmuel in the BSL with a last-second score on Sunday night.
Hapoel has yet to play consistently well this season and will be looking to avenge its Week One 87-79 loss to Khimki in Russia.
Khimki was led in Moscow by former Jerusalem star Kelly McCarty, who scored 20 points and will play in front of his old fans for the first time.
Moscow lost 91-82 to Lukoil Academic Sofia last week and has yet to win away from home in the ULEB Cup this season.
"This is a very important game," McCarty said Monday at Ben-Gurion Airport. "I think we're a very good team and when we come to play we can beat anybody. Everybody knows how significant this game is and we will be ready."
Khimki, in fourth place in the Russian league with five wins in eight games, is the second-best scoring team in the ULEB Cup with 88.2 points per game and features a frightening squad of players.
Ten of Moscow's players average at least 15 minutes on court and will put Jerusalem coach Dan Shamir's short rotation under severe strain.
One of the keys for Hapoel will be the Russians' poor defense that allows 88.8 points per game and has lost every time its opponents scored more than 80 points.
Besides McCarty, who is Khimki's top scorer with 15 points per game, Moscow also gets big contributions from Vladimir Veremeenko (9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Melvin Booker (9.8 ppg, 3.8 apg). Veremeenko is supported under the baskets by Ademola Okulaja (5.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Polish giant Maciej Lampe (11.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg).
The Russians' depth in the paint will place extra pressure on Jerusalem's big men, Mario Austin (19.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Jurica Golemac (9.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg), who will need to avoid foul trouble.
Hapoel will once again be without swingman Matan Naor, who's shoulder injury is more serious than earlier thought and is now expected to miss the next three months.
Naor's absence means several Jerusalem players will have to lift their play. Tamar Slay has only averaged 4.4 ppg and 2.4 rpg in 13 minutes of play so far this season and Jerusalem will hope the young American finally breaks out of his long slump.
Ed Cota (8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg) scored Hapoel's winning basket on Sunday against Givat Shmuel, but has failed to play at the level expected from him and Jerusalem will be expecting an immediate improvement from its playmaker. Meir Tapiro (8.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and Timmy Bowers (18 ppg, 4 rpg) will support Cota in the backcourt and will pose a constant scoring threat for Khimki's guards.
"I hope Cota's buzzer-beater proves to be a turning point for him," Tapiro said of his teammate's last second basket against Givat Shmuel. "Any player has difficulty adapting to a new team no matter how much experience he has. It's important to overcome the early season difficulties and peak at the end of the year."
On TV: Hapoel Jerusalem vs Khimki Moscow (live at 7:00 p.m. on channel 1).
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>