Hapoel struggling ahead of Tel Aviv derby

Hapoel enters the derby two games ahead of rock-bottom Ironi Ashkelon, its offense scoring a league low 71.9 points a game.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's Demontez Stitt 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv's Demontez Stitt 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv in BSL action on Sunday night in a game the Red fans have been dreaming about since they began reconstructing the club from scratch almost six years ago.
However, Sunday’s derby at Rishon Lezion couldn’t have really come at a worse time for Hapoel, which is fighting for its survival in the top flight after a promising start to its first BSL campaign since 2005/06.
Hapoel won three of its first four BSL games, but its meager budget and lack of depth have seen it struggle ever since, with the Reds losing seven of their past nine games.
Hapoel enters the derby just two games ahead of rock-bottom Ironi Ashkelon, with its offense only scoring a league low 71.9 points per game.
It is no surprise that Maccabi is averaging a league-best 86.2 points, with the yellow-and blue winning its past 15 league games.
Maccabi has also claimed 12 consecutive derbies since losing 96-71 at Ussishkin Arena in the 2003/04 season, including the first derby in more than six years at Nokia Arena in December, easily winning 91-72.
Hapoel will be hosting a derby for the first time in nearly seven years on Sunday, but Maccabi will be entering the encounter exuding confidence after improving to 4-5 in Euroleague Top 16 Group F with Thursday’s dramatic 66- 62 win at Caja Laboral Vitoria.
Maccabi won for the third time in its past four continental games to keep alive its hopes of reaching the Euroleague quarterfinals and will want to waste as little energy as possible against Hapoel ahead of Thursday’s crucial game at Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey.
“We showed a lot of character in the win over Caja. Everyone gave their heart and soul,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “I’m happy that we are still alive, but matters aren’t going to get any easier from here out. Now we need to focus on the derby and after that give our all in Istanbul.”
Sunday’s showdown will see Maccabi’s Guy Pnini come up against Hapoel’s Jonathan Skjoldebrand for the first time since he called him a Nazi during the previous derby.
Pnini was stripped of the Maccabi captaincy, fined NIS 100,000 and suspended for four BSL games following the incident. Also Sunday, Hapoel Eilat visits Barak Netanya, Bnei Herzliya hosts Maccabi Haifa and Ashkelon welcomes Hapoel Holon.
Hapoel Jerusalem hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Monday.
On Saturday, Maccabi Ashdod beat Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 86-84, improving to 8-11.
Gilboa (7-12) had a one-point edge (59-58) entering the fourth frame, but Ashdod was the more composed team in the final minutes and snapped its two-game losing skid.
Mardy Collins led five Ashdod players in double figures with 18 points, while Rakim Sanders scored while Rakim Sanders scored 22 points for Gilboa.