Mac TA keeps pressure on Hapoel Jerusalem

Tight race for first place in BSL as yellow-and-blue’s winning streak reaches four with rout of Rishon.

Gal Mekel is set to make his Eurocup debut for Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight when it visits Unics Kazan in Last 32 action. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Gal Mekel is set to make his Eurocup debut for Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight when it visits Unics Kazan in Last 32 action.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Maccabi Tel Aviv made it four straight wins in the BSL on Wednesday night, beating Maccabi Rishon Lezion 82-69 at Yad Eliyahu Arena to remain in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
While leader Hapoel Jerusalem (21-6) is showing no signs of slipping up, winning its past six games, Maccabi hasn’t given up the chase, improving to 20-8 with Wednesday’s win, with five regular season games to play.
A tight first half ended tied 42-42, and the hosts were ahead by only four points (60- 56) with 10 minutes to play.
Rishon would come no closer though, with Guy Pnini’s three-pointer midway through the frame opening a nine-point cushion (71-62) which Tel Aviv comfortably maintained.
Gal Mekel led five Maccabi players in double figures with 15 points and six assists, with Dagan Yivzori being selected as the game’s MVP after scoring a season-high 11 points.
“It was nice to be on the court and I think I prove my worth every time I’m given a chance,” said Yivzori, who chose Maccabi over Hapoel Jerusalem last summer, but has rarely featured this season, scoring in double figures for the first time on Wednesday. “We knew Rishon likes to run and we didn’t really stop them in the first half. But we improved in the second half and that won us the game.”
Shawn Dawson had 19 points and seven rebounds for Rishon, which fell to 13-15 with its fifth defeat from the last six games.
“We tried to win and we were there but a few mistakes cost us,” said Rishon coach Sharon Drucker. “You can’t make those mistakes here and win.
It is a shame because we had a chance.”
On Thursday, Ironi Ness Ziona (9-18) looks to continue its revival when it hosts Maccabi Kiryat Gat (10-17) in a crucial showdown in the battle against relegation. Ness Ziona enters the game in last place, which will lead to demotion to the National League at the end of the regular season, but will be brimming with confidence after reviving its survival hopes with two straight wins, surprising the playoff-bound Rishon Lezion and Ironi Nahariya after losing its previous six games.
“We are playing for our lives,” said Ness Ziona coach Ofer Berkowitz.
Kiryat Gat beat Hapoel Holon 86-81 earlier this week, its third win from the past four games.
Holon (10-17), which is just one game above last place after losing two of three games, hosts Hapoel Eilat (14-13) on Thursday. Eilat is one of the league’s in-form teams, winning five of six contests to move tied with Bnei Herzliya and Nahariya for fourth place.
The battle for a place in the top eight and a playoff berth is set to go down to the wire, with six teams fighting for five places.
Only three games separate fourth and ninth positions in the standings.
Hapoel Tel Aviv visits Ashdod on Friday in a direct showdown for the eighth and final ticket to the postseason, with both teams owning an 11-16 record.
Ashdod enters the encounter on the back of a five-game losing streak, falling 91-72, 90-72 and 90-72 in its past three contests.
Hapoel hasn’t won a game outside of Tel Aviv since January 2. Guard Nate Robinson’s output has declined with every game, scoring 25 points on his debut before notching 17, 11 and nine points in his following three games.
On Saturday, Maccabi Haifa (16-11) hosts Bnei Herzliya (14- 13). The game between Hapoel Jerusalem (21-6) and Nahariya will be played on April 27.