ULEB CUP: Hapoel Jerusalem's season on the line

Jerusalem is the only team that has beaten Siena this season, a superb 85-80 performance at Malha Arena on November 7.

hapoel J-m 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
hapoel J-m 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
On TV: Montepaschi Siena vs Hapoel Jerusalem (live at 9:35 p.m. on Channel 1) Hapoel Jerusalem is going through one its biggest slumps in recent years. With the management credit running low and the club's fans losing patience, Dan Shamir's team will try to salvage its ULEB Cup season in a tough away game against Group C leaders Montepaschi Siena Tuesday night in Italy. The reds are also dealing with persistent reports about their gloomy financial condition, which have sparked numerous rumors of an upcoming bankruptcy situation. Main sponsor Arkadi Gaydamak has voiced his dissatisfaction with the club's performance and it's possible that Chairman Danny Klein will have to sell some key players to balance the team's payroll. Shamir was signed by the Jerusalem powerhouse over the summer, after an impressive season as Pini Gershon's deputy at Maccabi Tel Aviv. But the move has been less than fruitful so far, with Jerusalem failing to dominate the opposition as expected. The latest setback came on Saturday, when the team was thrashed by Ironi Nahariya by a humiliating 66-101 score. "It was an unconventional loss," Coach Shamir said about his team's BSL League weekend performance. "This was a tough experience and it will be hard to recover from it. But I think the league and the ULEB Cup are separate things. We still have a good chance to qualify from our group. "Siena is an excellent team which is very hard to beat at home, but we'll give it our best shot. Our condition is very bad, as we have lost many games and are very vulnerable. The team needs to be realistic and try to focus on the European campaign mission. We really can bounce back." The Italian giant has made an impressive start to its European season, registering five wins which have given it pole position in Group C. Jerusalem is the only team that has beaten Siena this season, a superb 85-80 performance at Malha Arena on November 7. Siena's main weapon in attack is swingman Romain Lebel Guessagba Sato, who is averaging 15 points and 4.8 rebounds in this season's ULEB Cup campaign. The Central African Republic star also has a brief history in the NBA, after being picked by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2004 league draft. The Israelis will have to deal with a very potent team, which also knows how to shut down the best offenses in the continent. Siena is averaging a healthy 78 points at home this season, while frustrating the visiting teams and conceding a mere 63 points per contest. Jerusalem desperately needs a win to stay in contention for the fourth place in Group C, which guarantees qualification for the knockout rounds. The team shares a similar 2-4 negative record with Alba Berlin and Oostende, but currently has the edge due to a superior point tally. "It's a very important game for us," Jerusalem star Mario Austin told reporters ahead of the game. "We have to play as a team. We are professional and it's our duty go play the best we can. The things written in the paper should not interest us, as it's not my job to plan changes. As a basketball player, all I want to do is win games." "We'll try to get back on track," Austin's teammate Timmy Bowers commented. "We have to get our act together and try to win in Siena, although it's a tough task. I don't know anything about the changes the club is planning and I don't want to think about it. "The defense must be improved and we have to raise our level on the personal level." Also in Group C, Khimki Moscow hosts Oostende Tuesday, while Alba Berlin travels to Bulgaria to face Academic Sofia. Sofia visits Malha on 19 December, which could prove to be Jerusalem's last chance to survive in this year's ULEB Cup, the competition it won in 2004 and reached the semifinals in last season.