Mac TA looks to begin crucial week with BSL win

Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to return to winning ways in the BSL when it hosts Barak Netanya at Zisman Arena in Ramat Gan.

CRAIG SMITH (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to return to winning ways in the BSL when it hosts Barak Netanya at Zisman Arena in Ramat Gan on Sunday night.
However, more importantly, it will be hoping to come through the encounter unscathed ahead of Thursday’s decisive Euroleague showdown against Khimki Moscow.
Maccabi suffered a shock derby defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv last week, but it bounced back with its third consecutive continental victory, beating Fenerbahce Ulker 94-85 in Istanbul on Thursday.
Tel Aviv improved to 5-5 in Top 16 Group F, one game back of Khimki, which beat Montepaschi Siena 78-71 on Friday, and Olympiacos, which dropped to a 90-77 defeat to Barcelona.
The yellow-and-blue lost 88- 67 to Khimki in Moscow two months ago and will need to triumph by 22 points at Nokia Arena on Thursday to leapfrog the Russians into the top four and significantly improve its chances of reaching the quarterfinals.
However, Maccabi will also happily settle for a win by even the slimmest of margins against the powerful Moscow, although it would then likely need to defeat Olympiacos in Athens next week or defeat Barcelona on the road in its final Top 16 game on April 4 to progress to the playoffs.
“The way I look at it, our fate is still in our hands,” said Maccabi swingman Guy Pnini. “If we win all our remaining games we will advance.”
Also Sunday, Hapoel Jerusalem visits Maccabi Haifa in a crucial showdown in the battle to end the regular season in the runners- up position.
Jerusalem (11-8) dropped one game behind Haifa (12-7) and Hapoel Eilat (12-7) last week after suffering a 91-83 defeat to Maccabi Rishon Lezion at Malha Arena and will be playing without forward Craig Smith on Sunday.
Chairman Danny Cohen and coach Sharon Drucker indicated on Friday that Smith will not play for the team again after he blasted the coach in an interview to Hebrew daily Ma’ariv last week.
The 29-year-old Smith, who joined Jerusalem after six years in the NBA, blamed Drucker for the team’s inconsistency this season and said he can understand the calls for the coach’s resignation.
The usually placid and calculated Drucker hit back on Friday.
“I have signed many foreign players in my 14 years as a coach, but signing Smith was my biggest mistake,” Drucker told Hebrew website Walla. “The interview he gave was a cowardly move by a weak person. What Smith did can be compared to a solider turning and firing at his fellow soldiers and commander in the middle of a war.”
With Smith set to be released following disciplinary action later this week, Drucker will have to manage with an especially depleted front-court on Sunday, with Uri Kukia already out for the season and Elishay Kadir set to miss around six weeks after injuring his knee last week.
Even with its big-men fit Jerusalem is one of the worst rebounding team’s in the league while Haifa leads the BSL with 40.3 boards per game.
Jerusalem will also be without Jacob Pullen for the first time on Sunday after releasing the disappointing guard and replacing him with Ron Steele.
Elsewhere Sunday, Eilat, which leads Haifa in the standings thanks to its superior headto- head record versus the Greens, visits Maccabi Ashdod and Maccabi Rishon Lezion welcomes Ironi Ashkelon.
On Monday, Hapoel Tel Aviv will look to build on last week’s stunning victory in the derby when it visits Hapoel Holon, while Hapoel Gilboa/Galil hosts Bnei Herzliya.