Basketball: Plenty of intrigue and subplots in new season

Maccabi Tel Aviv remains the team to beat, but Hapoel Jerusalem leads a hungry pack chasing them for the title.

David Blatt 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
David Blatt 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
It has become a familiar storyline in recent seasons.
After suffering a shock loss in the BSL final, Maccabi Tel Aviv enters the following campaign seeking revenge, not just on the team that beat it, but on the entire league.
Maccabi dropped the league title for the third time in six years last season, losing to Maccabi Haifa in the one-game final at Romema Arena.
Unlike the last two times it was forced to settle for the runners-up position (2008 and 2010), Maccabi has not replaced its coach, with David Blatt starting his fourth straight season at the helm of the yellow-and-blue.
However, Tel Aviv will be hoping that just like in 2008/09 and 2010/11, it will steamroll the league throughout the season on its way to regaining the championship and what it perceives as its natural place atop Israeli basketball.
In 2009, Maccabi went 19-3 in the regular season and lost just one post-season game en route to the title. Two years later, in what was Blatt’s first season back at the club, Maccabi amassed a 26- 1 regular-season record and won its five post-season encounters by an average of 20 points per game.
The early signs are that Maccabi has built a team that is more than capable of replicating those campaigns, with the BSL’s shelving of the one-game final also playing into Tel Aviv’s hands.
Starting from this season, the championship will be decided in a head-to-head two-game home-and-away series, with basket differential to act as a tiebreaker should the finalists split the two encounters.
Maccabi begins its campaign at Hapoel Holon on Monday, with the hosts hoping to take advantage of the fact that the yellow- and-blue will surely already have one eye on its Euroleague opener at Laboral Vitoria on Thursday.
Holon, with new coach Lior Lubin on the sideline, impressed in a win over Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the Winner Cup quarterfinals last week and pushed Jerusalem for three quarters before succumbing in the pre-season tournament’s semis.
Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Ashdod in Sunday’s main game, hoping to build on its encouraging performance in the Winner Cup.
Jerusalem may have lost 88-77 to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final of the pre-season tournament on Thursday, but not before it gave the yellow-and-blue a real run for its money.
Hapoel also recorded convincing wins over Barak Netanya and Holon in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, and will be confident of making a return to the BSL final for the first time since 2007.
The new ownership group, headed by Ori Allon, has settled matters off court and new coach Brad Greenberg brings with him the fresh experience of overcoming Maccabi Tel Aviv with Maccabi Haifa in the final last season.
Ashdod, on the other hand, looks to be heading towards a difficult season, with a 23-point pre-season defeat to newly-promoted Ironi Ness Ziona ringing the alarm bells.
Ness Ziona hosts a Maccabi Rishon Lezion team in disarray in its first ever game in the top-flight on Sunday.
Matan Harush replaced Roni Bosani as Rishon coach last week, with the latter surprisingly resigning after being unhappy with the roster built at the club.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Eilat visits Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.
Eilat came within a win of the league final last season, eventually losing to champion Haifa in a fifth and decisive game in the semifinal playoffs.
Coach Oded Katash is back for another season with the southerners, but he will be working with an almost completely new roster.
Gilboa has handed the reins to experienced coach Sharon Drucker, but the veteran looks to have a tough job on his hands following his side’s dismal showing against Holon in the Winner Cup last week.
In the final game of the first weekend of action, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Bnei Herzliya on Monday.
The contest between Maccabi Haifa and Netanya will be played at a later date due to Haifa’s ongoing US tour. The Greens face the Memphis Grizzlies in their final game in America on Sunday.