Local hoops: Mac TA seeks revenge for cup humiliation

Israel's two top teams have gone in opposite directions since the remarkable State Cup final.

Mac TA 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Mac TA 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Just 10 days after one of their most memorable meetings Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv renew their rivalry at Malha Arena on Sunday night. Israel's two top teams have gone in opposite directions since the remarkable State Cup final. Jerusalem was humbled by 19 points in the BSL by Hapoel Holon in its only game since coming back from 22 points down to lift the cup for a second straight season. Meanwhile, Maccabi thrashed Ironi Ramat Gan by 46 points and recorded an important 75-67 road win against Olympiacos in the Euroleague on Thursday. Tel Aviv will be without Marcus Fizer and Nikola Vujcic on Sunday, after both big men injured themselves during the team's stay in Athens. Fizer could be out for the remainder of the season after falling awkwardly during the first quarter of Thursday's game and injuring his knee, while Vujcic will be missing for about two weeks after hurting himself in Maccabi's final training session on Wednesday night. "The most important thing is that the guys claimed a big victory despite Vujcic and I being out," a hobbling Fizer said on Friday upon the team's return to Israel. "There's no way possible I'll play on Sunday. I'm really disappointed that I won't be able to help my team." A tight first half in Greece ended in a 30-29 Olympiacos lead, but a 29-13 third quarter by Maccabi all but clinched the victory in its first game of the top-16 stage. Terence Morris scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the visitors, with Yotam Halperin adding 16 points and six assists. "The change in Olympiacos's coaching position made our scouting job hard, as we barely knew what to expect. It was really difficult for us to prepare for the game," Tel Aviv coach Tzvika Sherf said after the game. "Fizer's injury shocked us and that affected our play in the second period. We had the worst shooting percentage of the whole season during the second quarter and we decided at halftime to change our tactics. We chose to be quicker and run the floor and tried to hit Olympiacos in its weaknesses. This is an important win for us." Morris, who played nearly the entire 40 minutes of the encounter for the fourth time in six games under Sherf, said: "Both teams have changed coaches recently and both have changed their game orientation. "We executed well from the perimeter and had good ball movement, while our defense was very good during the whole game. "Olympiacos has a tough team and it's always very hard to win in Greece. We are very happy to start the second round with such a big road win." Hapoel will almost definitely also be without one of its star players on Sunday after Timmy Bowers, who scored 19 points in the cup final, flew to the US on Friday to be at the side of his wife, who is expecting a baby in the coming days. Also Sunday in the BSL, two coaches will be making their debuts at their new clubs. Ofer Berkowitz, who replaced Adi Azulai as Maccabi Rishon Lezion coach following Rishon's loss to Hapoel Galil Elyon last week, will visit Ramat Gan in his first game in charge. Azulai was only out of a job for 48 hours, with Ironi Ashkelon signing him in place of Arik Alfasi, who left the club last Monday just nine games after he replaced Berkowitz three games into the season. Azulai's first game as coach of Ashkelon will be in Ra'anana against Bnei Hasharon. Sunday will also see the northern derby contested at Kfar Blum, with Ironi Nahariya visiting Galil Elyon. On Monday, Hapoel Gilboa/Afula hosts Hapoel Holon.