Hap J’lem, Maccabi TA ready for Malha showdown

Tel Aviv seeks victory against its arch-rival ahead of crucial Euroleague game versus Fenerbahce Ulker.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Malcolm Thomas 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Malcolm Thomas 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After suffering a heartbreaking home defeat to Caja Laboral Vitoria in Euroleague action, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be desperate for a moral-boosting win when it visits Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL at Malha Arena on Sunday night.
Maccabi came back from 14 points down in the second half against Caja, only to fall to 0-2 in the Top 16 after the Spaniards clinched a 71-70 victory nine seconds from the final buzzer.
The defeat left Tel Aviv in a precarious position in Top 16 Group F and the yellow-and-blue could really use a sweet victory against its arch-rival from Jerusalem ahead of Thursday’s crucial Euroleague game versus Fenerbahce Ulker.
Maccabi comfortably leads the BSL standings with a 10-1 record thanks to an eight-game winning streak and hasn’t lost in Malha in four years.
Tel Aviv will welcome back Guy Pnini, who has finished serving a four-game suspension for calling Hapoel Tel Aviv player Jonathan Skjoldebrand a Nazi during the derby.
Jerusalem climbed back above .500 last week with an 85-79 home win over Hapoel Eilat, improving to 6-5.
Hapoel gave Maccabi a run for its money in the season opener before losing 88-82 at Nokia Arena, the first of three straight losses for Jerusalem to start the campaign.
It has won six of eight games since, but has nevertheless struggled for consistency.
Even on a night when it dominated a strong Eilat side, the team’s performance was overshadowed by an off-court incident.
Veteran guard Meir Tapiro clashed with coach Sharon Drucker as he was unhappy with his decision to bench him and whispered into his ear what he thought of him on his way off the court.
Tapiro, who is averaging just 3.9 points and 3.4 assists in 17.9 minutes per game, admitted on Thursday that he made a mistake by letting his frustration get the better of him.
“There is no tension between me and Drucker, we both have the same goal of leading Jerusalem back to the top,” said the 37-year-old Tapiro, who will not face disciplinary action after apologizing to the coach in front of the rest of the roster.
Tapiro is looking forward to Sunday’s showdown with Maccabi.
"It is always exciting to face Maccabi at Malha,” he said.
“We need to focus on our own play and less on Maccabi’s.
We have gelled since we last played them.”
Also Sunday, Ironi Ashkelon goes for its sixth win in seven games when it hosts Hapoel Eilat, which has dropped two straight games for its first losingstreak of the season.
Roni Bosani guides Maccabi Rishon Lezion for the first time since replacing the sacked Effi Birenboim when Rishon welcomes Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, while Hapoel Tel Aviv visits Bnei Herzliya.
On Monday, Hapoel Holon hosts Maccabi Haifa and Barak Netanya goes to Maccabi Ashdod.