J’lem, Maccabi set for another showdown

Just when Hapoel Jerusalem seems to be getting back on track, it faces Maccabi Tel Aviv at Nokia Arena in BSL action on Sunday night.

hapoel jerusalem_311 (photo credit: Cajasol Sevilla website)
hapoel jerusalem_311
(photo credit: Cajasol Sevilla website)
Just when Hapoel Jerusalem seems to be finally getting back on track, it faces the daunting prospect of visiting Maccabi Tel Aviv at Nokia Arena in BSL action on Sunday night.
Jerusalem rebounded from two straight BSL defeats with successive league victories over the last couple of weeks, showing signs that it might still be able to salvage something from this season after early exits from the Eurocup and the State Cup.
Hapoel scored over 100 points in both of its recent victories – over Barak Netanya and Ironi Ashkelon – but perhaps the best news for coach Oded Katash was the play of new acquisition Jawad Williams.
The 28-year-old American forward played 25 games for the Cleveland Cavaliers before being waived by the NBA franchise in December and scored 23 points in 20 minutes in his debut for Jerusalem last week.
The addition of Williams gives Hapoel a big boost in the absence of the injured Brian Randle and Uri Kukia, and even though his expectations for the Maccabi game may be tampered, Katash is hopeful that his new big man will play an important role for the team later on this season.
“I like Jawad’s peace of mind, and he gives us an option to play with more forwards,” Katash said.
“We are still considering adding another player, but we will see how Randle progresses because he is doing much better than we expected.”
Maccabi will be looking to bounce back from Thursday’s 82- 69 Euroleague defeat at Lottomatica Roma.
Tel Aviv had nothing to play for in Italy after already guaranteeing itself second place in Group F last week, but coach David Blatt was still disappointed with his team’s performance.
“We entered this game after a very tough week,” said Blatt, whose team never really showed up, being outscored 18-6 in the third period after the first half ended in a 42-42 tie. “We were very tired and turned the ball over 21 times, many of them needlessly.
There is no excuse for our display.
Fortunately it wasn’t an important game.”
Maccabi’s next Euroleague encounter will be Game 1 of the best-of-five quarterfinal series against Caja Laboral Vitoria, which defeated Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius 77- 68 to finish top of Group E.
“We played Vitoria twice in the regular season and both games were tough,” said Blatt, whose team lost to Caja in Spain, but beat Dusko Ivanovic’s men at Nokia Arena. “Vitoria is a quality team with a lot of experience.
They will be very difficult to beat, but we know it is possible.”
Games 1 and 2 of the series will be played in Vitoria on March 22 and 24, respectively, with the next two contests to be played in Tel Aviv the following week (March 29 and 31) and a decisive Game 5, should it be needed, to take place in Spain.
Also Sunday in the BSL, Bnei Hasharon visits Ashkelon and Barak Netanya hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
Hapoel Holon welcomes Maccabi Haifa on Monday.
On Saturday, Maccabi Ashdod snapped a six-game BSL losing streak, beating Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 100-99 in overtime.
Gal Mekel gave Gilboa an 87-85 lead with 2.6 seconds to play in regulation, but Jan Martin was on hand to tip in the tying basket at the buzzer.
Josh Carter scored a clutch three-pointer to give Ashdod the lead in the final minute of overtime and the hosts clinched the win after a Mekel miss.
Josh Duncan had 28 points and 11 rebounds for Ashdod, with Tyler Wilkerson scoring 19 points for Gilboa.
In other Israeli basketball news, Elitzur Ramle advanced to the final of the women’s Eurocup on Thursday night.
Ramle lost 88-81 to Athinaikos on Thursday, but progressed to the final thanks to its 74-59 win in Israel the previous week.
Ramle faces French club Arras in the final, looking to become the first Israeli women’s team to win a European title.
The first leg will take place in Israel on March 17, with the decisive return leg to be played in France a week later.