Blue-and-white falls to 0-3 in warm-up games ahead of next month’s European championships.
By ALLON SINAI
Israel coach Erez Edelstein admitted that the national team is still “searching for its identity” after the blue-and-white dropped on Tuesday its third straight defeat to start its preparations for EuroBasket 2015.Israel lost to Macedonia for the second time in five days, falling 69-64 in Skopje. Edelstein’s side was beaten 88-83 by Ukraine in Ohrid on Sunday after suffering a 75-58 defeat to Macedonia two days earlier.The national team found itself in a double-digit deficit early in the second period on Tuesday, and came no closer than five points until the final buzzer, struggling on both ends of the floor yet again.“We are a new team which is searching for its identity, both defensively and offensively,” said Edelstein. “We want to see a battling team that defense is part of its DNA . The good things will come from that. This isn’t an easy job and it doesn’t happen overnight.”Edelstein said he was given plenty to mull over in Macedonia.“We have ended the first third of our preparations. It is tough and intensive. We started right out of the summer holiday and have encountered a style of play that we will also meet in the European Championships. There are a lot of thoughts going through my head and many conclusions,” added the coach.Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel scored 18 points each for Israel, with Shawn Dowson adding 12 points and eight rebounds. The national team shot poorly from every distance yet again, hitting 20-of-44 two-point attempts, 2-of-10 from beyond the arc, and 18-of-32 from the free-throw line.Predrag Samardziski led Macedonia with 13 points.“This is a process,” said Casspi.“We will have to work hard and improve. We will slowly understand the system better. I’m pleased that we at least showed commitment. We stopped them on 69 points, but we must score more. We will work on it.”Israel scored eight of the first 10 points of the night and led by as many as seven points (14-7) following a Mekel basket midway through the first period.However, the hosts ended the quarter with a 17-3 run and scored the first four points of the second frame to open a double- digit gap (28-17). Macedonia never looked back, leading 46-33 at the break and not allowing Israel any closer than five points until the finish.The Israel roster, together with Yogev Ohayon and Lior Eliyahu who missed the trip to Macedonia, will return to training on Thursday, with its next warm-up games to be against World Cup finalist Serbia at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv on August 22 and 23. The national team will then travel to Zagreb, Croatia, where it will face the locals, as well as Estonia and Bosnia.Israel will play in Group A in September’s European Championships, being drawn with host and defending champion France, as well as Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Poland and Finland.The blue-and-white is aiming to advance past the first round for the first time since 2007 after winning just three games in total over the past three tournaments.The top four teams in the group will progress to the knockout rounds.Israel advanced to EuroBasket 2015 in impressive fashion last year, winning its qualifying group for the first time since 2001.The championships will take place on September 5-20, serving as a qualification tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.The two EuroBasket finalists will book a direct ticket to the Olympics, while the four teams finishing third to sixth will compete in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
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