BSL Note Book: Undefeated in March, Hap Holon rolls on

With only a .500 record at the end of February, defending BSL champion Hapoel Holon looked like it would just miss this season's Final Four despite winning the State Cup last month. But with Hapoel's recent three-game winning streak, coach Danny Franco's squad is in the thick of a competitive playoff race. Holon (10-7) is currently in a three-way tie with the Maccabi Haifa Heat and Bnei Hasharon for third place. To complicate matters even more, Galil/Gilboa and Nahariya remain less than three games behind third place with five games left in the regular season. Although Hapoel has quite a bit of work left to do before it can even think about celebrating its latest run, the Yellow and Purple have outscored their last three opponents, 261-233. Much of the team's scoring has come from its point guard, Luis Flores. The league leader in scoring (19.5 points per game) has risen above the occasion in this last stretch with a 23.3 ppg average. In Holon's 107-106 squeaker over Maccabi Rishon Lezion a week ago, Flores nearly matched his season-high with 31 points to give his team its first regular season win in a month. Hapoel proved again on Monday that its victory in the State Cup was no fluke after thrashing Hapoel Jerusalem by 21 points to avenge its November 30 loss. If Holon can continue riding its hot streak through the end of the regular season, playing Franco's team should make the game unpleasant for any opposing side. Early pace setters Haifa struggling without Perkins‚ leadership Early in the season, the Maccabi Haifa Heat looked like a strong favorite to compete for the BSL Championship. But after losing its scoring and assists leader Doron Perkins (15.7 points per game, 5.5 assists) to a groin and stomach injury last months, Maccabi has struggled to find anyone who can replace his production. The Heat (10-7) has gone 1-3 since its point guard has been unavailable, despite signing Cheyne Gadson and Malik Dixon. The tandem has put up 9.5 points per game as Haifa is currently on a three-game skid. In Perkins's last four games with Haifa, the team averaged 76.8 points but since then has averaged 72.3. The height of these struggles came on Sunday when a depleted Nahariya roster blew out the Heat by 18 points. While losing Perkins hasn't been the only reason for Haifa's recent woes, it certainly doesn't make things easy for Maccabi coach Avi Ashkenazi or his team when they're without their leader. However, Haifa isn't necessarily destined for disappointment. Its next three opponents are all below the top eight and have a combined 15-36 record. The Heat is also expecting Perkins to recover from his injury relatively soon. With three straight games against the league's worst, the Santa Clara graduate should have a relatively easy adjustment getting back into playing shape. If Haifa can finish the stretch with at least a couple of wins, it will be right back in the mix to compete for the Final Four.