Basketball: Hapoel Holon’s title challenge adds excitement

Hapoel Holon’s James Bell (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Hapoel Holon’s James Bell
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The battle for the BSL title was supposed to be a two-horse race.
Despite the increased likelihood of an upset due to the Final Four format, as seen last year with Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s triumph, it was difficult to see any team but Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem winning the championship this season, with both clubs posting record budgets.
The regular season was meant to be all about Israeli basketball’s powerhouses fighting for the No. 1 seed and the right to host the Final Four tournament at their home arena.
No one foresaw Hapoel Holon challenging for the best record in the regular season, least of all those at the club.
But as things stand with each team having nine more games to play in the regular season, Holon may end up being the team which decides if the Final Four will be held in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
Unfortunately for Holon, which is tied with leader Maccabi with a 17-7 record, trailing the yellow-and-blue on a headto- head tiebreaker, it will not be able to host the season-ending tournament at its own arena as only venues with a capacity of over 10,000 seats are applicable.
Holon’s season is even more impressive when considering all the blows it has had to overcome.
Holon lost its best player, and the BSL’s leading scorer at the time, Khalif Wyatt, to a season-ending knee injury in February, two months after Paul Delaney was also ruled out for the season following knee surgery.
Holon has also had to manage without Dagan Yivzori, but coach Dan Shamir has somehow kept his team on track.
American forward James Bell has stepped up in the past month, being named as the BSL’s MVP for the month of March, averaging 20.5 points after scoring 28 in last week’s win at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“It is a big honor to be named as the player of the month,” said Bell. “I feel great playing for an excellent coach and wonderful fans. We have to continue to improve and become the best team we can be by the end of the regular season.”
Holon hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday, while Maccabi visits third-place Bnei Herzliya. Also Sunday, Ironi Nahariya visits Maccabi Kiryat Gat.
On Monday, Hapoel Jerusalem aims to return to winning ways when it hosts Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil, with Hapoel Eilat welcoming Maccabi Ashdod and Rishon Lezion visiting Maccabi Haifa.