(photo credit: )
While Maccabi Tel Aviv has struggled at times this season, it is slowly re-establishing it's BSL dominance.
Neven Spahija's squad hosted struggling Hapoel Afula/Gilboa and had little trouble in its 105-81 win Sunday night at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi has cemented its place at the top of the standings, while the race for second place is still wide open.
Second-place Hapoel Jerusalem will be in action Monday night against Oded Katash's Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan and third-place Bnei Hasharon hosts fourth-place Ironi Nahariya in another evening game.
"I don't want to comment about next season," said Maccabi Tel Aviv chairman Shimon Mizrahi last night. "We are not planning any changes right now. All I want to do right now is win the [BSL] championship. No possible replacements have been contacted and the board will act only at the end of the current season."
At Nokia Arena, Tel Aviv coach Spahija decided to start Nicola Vujcic despite the forward's lack of conditioning and game-fitness. The All-Euroleague team pick had missed the team's practice sessions this past week, but was cleared by the team's physicians and was included in the team's starting lineup.
With 1,500 fans in attendance, Maccabi dominated the opening minutes of the encounter and made a quick 9-4 run. Afula/Gilboa was unable to disturb the hosts' rhythm and was completely outplayed in all departments. Maccabi led 31-20 after the first quarter, with the game looking as good as over.
Afula's Rich Melzer came out strong in the second period, playing clever percentage basketball and punishing Maccabi's defense. Spahija insisted on using a wide rotation, which hampered Maccabi's tempo and enabled Hapoel back into the game. Tel Aviv's lead was cut to 52-45 at the halftime break.
Afula/Gilboa's hopes of staging a comeback were ruined in the second half, when Maccabi stepped up their defense. Jamie Arnold was the go-to guy for Tel Aviv, displaying an array of his trademark post moves and effortless mid-range jumpers. It was all one-way traffic in the final period, as Maccabi breezed to victory.
Arnold was the star of the evening, finishing with 32 points and five rebounds. Will Bynum turned in a solid all-round performance with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists. Vujcic scored only two points in 19 minutes of play, but managed a team-high six assists.
Reserve Noel Felix came off the bench to contribute eight points and four rebounds.