More than pride on the line

Hapoel Jerusalem desperate for victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv at Malha tonight.

Doron Perkins 311 (photo credit: Oded Kami)
Doron Perkins 311
(photo credit: Oded Kami)
Showdowns between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem are often about pride more than anything else. But there will be far more on the line for Hapoel when it hosts Maccabi at Malha Arena on Thursday night.
Tel Aviv wrapped up first position in the BSL standings long ago. Jerusalem, however, is in the midst of one of its worst runs of the season and has a battle on its hands just to secure a top-four finish and home court advantage in the quarterfinal playoffs.
Since the beginning of March, Guy Goodes’s Reds have lost three of five BSL games, including two of three at home, while also seeing their Eurocup campaign brought to a disappointing end by Alba Berlin in the quarterfinals.
Hapoel released Kevinn Pinkney earlier this week in an effort to shake up things ahead of the final stretch of the season and coach Goodes believes his team is more than capable of getting the better of Maccabi.
“Regardless of all the usual excitement which surrounds the games between the sides, this particular encounter is very significant in terms of  where we eventually finish in the standings,” he said. “We will have to execute our game plan in the best way possible, fight for every ball and win. We must win this game.”
Tel Aviv crushed Hapoel 103-78 when the teams met earlier this season at the Nokia Arena, but Jerusalem has already beaten Maccabi at Malha once this campaign, claiming an 86-80 victory in the final of the preseason Winner Cup in October.“The meetings between the teams have always been very tense and tough, especially at Malha, and I’m expecting much of the same on Thursday,” Goodes added.
“Maccabi will be entering the game with many emotions, but we have one clear target – to win.” Tel Aviv has cruised to a 19-1 record in the BSL so far this season so former Jerusalem star Guy Pnini was adamant the yellow-and-blue will be treating the showdown at Malha as no more than a warm-up game ahead of the playoffs.
“This is just another game for us,” Pnini said. “With all due respect to Jerusalem, we have already secured first position in the standings and that makes this game a preparation for the playoffs.”
Maccabi may be trying to downplay the importance of Tuesday’s encounter, but even Hapoel’s foreigners know the game with Tel Aviv has a special significance.
“We are facing a difficult mission against a very good team,” Jerusalem guard Pooh Jeter said. “But with the support of our fans and the special atmosphere they will create at Malha we certainly can claim this win.
“We understand the meaning of this game, but the most important thing for us is to win so we will enter the playoffs from the best possible position. We have proven this year that we can beat strong opponents in big games and I believe we will do so once more against Maccabi.”
Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa can move a step closer to locking up secondposition in the standings with a road win over Ironi Ashkelon onThursday.
Haifa has won four of its last five games while Ashkelon will bebrimming with confidence after its away win over Jerusalem last week.
Also Thursday, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil can’t afford to lose to Ironi RamatGan on the road if it intends to end the season in the top-four, HapoelAfula hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Ironi Nahariya welcomes HapoelHolon.