Basketball: Hap J'lem aims to retain State Cup

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem face off in the State Cup final on Thursday night at the Nokia Arena.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Despite both being in the midst of one of their most tumultuous seasons in recent history, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem face off in the State Cup final yet again on Thursday night at the Nokia Arena. An erratic start to the season saw Maccabi suffer humbling defeats in the Euroleague and in the BSL, but the club replaced coach Oded Katash with Tzvika Sherf and has won all 10 of its games since. Jerusalem, which claimed the cup for the third time in its history last year, may not have sacked its coach but wasn't far from doing so when it was on the verge of failing to progress in the ULEB Cup after losing two straight games by a combined 81 points. Just like Maccabi, however, Hapoel has found its form in recent weeks, winning four straight games, and survived a late scare against Hapoel Holon in Monday's semis to set up a meeting with Tel Aviv in the State Cup final for the ninth time in the last 13 years. Despite its recent streak and the return to fitness of star center Jamie Arnold, Jerusalem will enter Thursday's encounter as a clear underdog. Tel Aviv, which defeated Hapoel Afula/Gilboa in the semifinals, had won nine straight cups until its shock defeat to Bnei Hasharon in last season's semifinals and Sherf knows the club can't afford to fail to claim the title for a second straight year. "We're happy to be in the final and we're raring to go," Sherf said. "There is a healthy tension around the club after what happened last season. "Maccabi began a changing-of-the- guard process last season and quite a few of our players haven't played in the cup final before. I'm excited ahead of every game, especially a cup final. The day I'm not excited ahead of a cup final I'll leave this profession." Of Thursday's opponent, Sherf said: "We know it's going to be a tough battle. We have a lot of respect for Jerusalem and we'll have to prove we're in good shape. "Each team has its advantages and disadvantages and a lot depends on which team will be more composed on the day." Hapoel coach Dan Shamir didn't turn-up at Wednesday's pre-game press conference after club chairman Danny Klein told him to remain in Jerusalem because of a dispute between the club and the Israel Basketball Association. Klein claims that the tickets for the final weren't allocated equally between Maccabi and Hapoel, but the IBA asserts that each team got the exact same amount of tickets for its fans. Speaking ahead of his team's final training session, Shamir said: "Maccabi is the better team, but its advantage is meaningless in a one-game final. Both sides have an equal chance of winning." Arnold, who joined Jerusalem from Maccabi in the summer, said on Wednesday that he's not used to entering a title game as an underdog. "I'm very excited. The feeling is slightly different as this time I'm part of the underdog team and not the favorite." Tel Aviv forward Marcus Fizer, who will battle Arnold in the paint, is looking to bring the cup back to what he believes is its righteous place. "We've been waiting for this game all week. We want to bring the cup back to where it belongs. Jerusalem played well on Monday and we will need to bring our best form to win."