Israeli Basketball: Tel Aviv, J'lem look to overcome opposite emotions in league

Maccabi is still hung-over from celebrating its progress to the Euroleague Final Four.

hapoel 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
hapoel 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem enter their BSL match-up on Sunday night in completely opposite moods. Maccabi is still hung-over from celebrating its progress to the Euroleague Final Four on Thursday night, while Jerusalem is still reeling from its third consecutive league defeat last week to Hapoel Afula/Gilboa. Despite being Israeli basketball's fiercest rivalry, Sunday's game at the Nokia Arena was the furthest thing from Tel Aviv coach Tzvika Sherf's mind after Thursday's emphatic victory over Barcelona. "We fought all season long to host the third game and Maccabi never loses these kinds of games at home," Sherf said. "When I took charge of the side on January 1, I told them in the first team meeting before the game in Istanbul against Efes Pilsen that we're going to be in the Final Four. We want to win the cup, and we really don't care how." Nikola Vujcic had a quiet game on Thursday (6 points and 5 rebounds), but will surely be crucial to any success Maccabi will achieve in the Final Four. "We've achieved something unbelievable," Vujcic said. "Nobody believed in us. It was a very shaky season, with lots of injuries and now we're going to the Final Four and are going to enjoy it." Waiting for Maccabi in Madrid on May 2 is Montepaschi Siena. Siena has dominated the Italian league this season, winning 28 of 30 games to date. Despite not having any standout stars, the Italians have four players who average more than 10 points a game, with Terrell McIntyre leading the team with 13.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. McIntyre underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle last week and is expected to be sidelined for three weeks, meaning he should recover just in time to be ready to face Maccabi. Everybody at Tel Aviv is already thinking about and preparing for the semifinal meeting against Siena. But the team has still got three important league games to play before it travels to Spain, starting this Sunday against Jerusalem. Everything has gone downhill for Hapoel since it defeated Maccabi in a remarkable State Cup final two months ago. The team has lost six of nine games and is currently on a three-game losing streak. Jerusalem hasn't been able to come anywhere near to recapturing its form from that famous night a couple of months ago and there seems to be no end in sight to its current crisis. Also Sunday, Ironi Ramat Gan, which has lost five straight games, hosts a resurgent Ashkelon side. Oded Katash's Hapoel Galil Elyon goes for its third straight victory at Hapoel Afula/Gilboa and Maccabi Rishon Lezion hosts Ironi Nahariya. On Monday, top of the table Bnei Hasharon hosts third-placed Hapoel Holon.