hapoel jerusalem 88.
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Hapoel Jerusalem will host Russian power Dynamo Moscow on Tuesday night in Malha in the first leg of the ULEB Cup semifinals.
Jerusalem, hoping to become the first two-time finalist in the competition - the team took the title in 2004 - will play the second leg next Tuesday in the Russian capital.
The aggregate winner after two games will meet the winner of the other semifinal series between Aris Thessaloniki of Greece and Serbian side Hemofarm Vrsac on April 11 at Spiroudome in Charleroi, Belgium.
Hapoel and Dynamo have already faced one another twice this season, with each club winning on its home floor. Swingman Ruben Douglas was the hero in Dynamo's 86-68 in November, as he drilled five threes and finished with 19 points.
Horace Jenkins tallied 31 points as Hapoel won 87-83 in January. The Hapoel playmaker, who will square up against Moscow's Mire Chatman in one of the crucial matchups in the series, has his eyes on the prize.
"My main goal is to try and win," Jenkins said at Monday evening's practice. "We gotta go in there with the mindset to win, and that's our goal."
Jenkins relishes the fact that the first leg is at home. "All year here we lost one game, so I'm pretty confident in this building, [but] I don't think its gonna be easy because they're a pretty good team.
"They had the best record in the regular season. We beat them once, they beat us once," he said.
As for this game, Jenkins said: "I like our chances."
Jerusalem has yet to play a perfect game this season, but its flashes of brilliance have been enough to carry it to where it needs. Against Lottomatica Roma in the ULEB Cup quarterfinals, the reds came home after losing the first leg by eight points and trailed by three more at halftime in Malha, scoring just 25-first-half points, but erupted in the second half for a 74-56 victory and a spot in the semis.
A similar script took place in last week's State Cup final against Maccabi Tel Aviv, but despite cutting the deficit to three in the closing minutes, Hapoel came up short.
Coach Erez Edelstein's side has had plenty of time to recover from that game and to prepare for Dynamo, thanks to a scheduled bye-week in the team's BSL calender.
Dynamo was among the preseason favorites to win the title and is considered a legitimate contender to the Russian crown this year. It defeated Crvena Zvezda Belgrade in both semifinal games and has not lost in the ULEB Cup since its last visit to Israel.
The team is deep at every position, but it's biggest strength is its team play.
"It's a game of five-on-five," Finish big man Hanno Mottola told reporters shortly after the team landed on Monday at Ben-Gurion Airport. "None of us can beat them alone and they can't beat us."
Hapoel's frontline of regular season MVP Mario Austin, Ido Kozikaro, who's one of only two remaining players from the 2004 ULEB Cup champion side, and center Erez Marckovich will have its hands full with Antonios Fotsis, Lazaros Papadopoulos and Mottola.
Edelstein will likely try forward Tamar Slay against the bigger Fotsis and Mottola at times.
"We need to come out and play defense like we did against Rome, and our offense will feed off that," Slay said. "We feel good. We've had 10 days off, so we're well rested... We have the best fans in the world, and they give us an extra boost."
Dynamo coach Dusan Ivkovic has an advantage in that he coached Austin from a brief spell at CSKA Moscow when the Hapoel center first started his European career.
"Everyone knows we expect a tough game," Ivkovic said. "We're two teams from the same [regular season] group that know everything about each other."
Ivkovic was pretty open about what Moscow must do to win. "We need to control the pace. We have experienced players, but like Jerusalem we are a new team and that will be a test for both sides. I don't think Jerusalem's American players are the key. Meir Tapiro is their most important player."
Team captain Tapiro will likely start on the bench, with Edelstein rotating him with Jenkins and sharpshooter Roger Mason Jr. - and at time using a three-guard lineup with them all.
Jerusalem will need to keep an eye on Douglas, who can take over when he's hot. Matan Naor, Hapoel's top outside defender, may be called on for that mission.
A sell-out crowd is expected for the game, which - win or lose - will be the team's last European home game this season.
Burstein returns in Maccabi win
Tal Burstein scored nine points in 14 minutes in his first action in two weeks as Maccabi Tel Aviv cruised by Ramat Hasharon 90-77 in the final game of BSL Matchday 18.
Maceo Baston led Maccabi with 30 points as the champs improved to 16-1.
Jeremy Veal scored 24 for Ramat Hasharon, which fell to 4-12, one game behind Ironi Ramat Gan in the race against relegation.
Noam Kupchan contributed to this report.
On TV: Dynamo Moscow at Hapoel Jerusalem (live at 7 p.m. on Channel 1)