Hapoel Jerusalem will host Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israel Basketball Classico on Monday at 18:45 Israel time at the PAIS Arena. Both sides are coming off of being eliminated from European play this past week and will look to change their fortunes as they now ready for the final push before the playoffs.
Maccabi has already defeated Jerusalem twice this campaign, most recently just last month in the capitol city when the Yellow & Blue won in dominating fashion 89-78.
There are a number of storylines heading into the game including how each side will be able to get over the mental side of being knocked out of continental competition and the fact that now Amare Stoudemire will be registered as an Israeli and will play Maccabi for the first time this season.
Ioannis Sfairoplous spoke about hitting the restart button with Maccabi as their focus must now be on the domestic league and the desire to win the championship for the second year in a row. “We need to continue as hard in the Israeli league. I already told the players we have to restart and change the focus to the Israeli league and continue with our plan. Tomorrow is a different game as we can’t look at the last two games. That was in the past and this is in the future.”
Maccabi has already beaten Jerusalem twice but that won’t play a factor explained the coach, “We respect all of the Israeli teams and not just Jerusalem. We never know when we will play them again and even if we win the next game, we may play them later. We always have to give the best that we can. It’s my responsibility and job and I assure the fans that we will give the maximum to win the championship.”
Tarik Black also looked at refocusing now that the Euroleague is over, “Euroleague season is over and now we have to focus on what’s in front of us. This is a very important game for the standing and we want to move forward. We want to continue to push forward and maintain or even jump ahead of Holon.”
On the other side of the court Hapoel Jerusalem is still licking its wounds from being bounced from the Champions League against Tenerife as Head Coach Oded Katash explains, “We were very disappointed but we have to get back into things and recover as quickly as possible. It’s not easy but this is a test of our character.”
Tenerife had huge runs in both games that they played against the Spanish side, (17-0, 15-0) plus Maccabi ran wild at the start fo the game against Hapoel the last time they played. How will Jerusalem deal with a serious run this time around, “I can only try and control that. We have to prepare a couple of things to handle that because what happened was extraordinary and it occurred very quickly. It’s a combination of mental and tactical issues that have to be controlled.
Katash also admitted that Jerusalem hasn’t been able to play their best basketball of late and according to a Sport5 report Lior Eliyahu and J’Covan Brown are both in doubt to play for the Reds, “There have been times when we have played better basketball and we wanted to make a switch when we played Tenerife but we couldn’t. We have to get back to playing the basketball we know how to play.”
Amare Stoudemire and Tarik Black will tip off against each other for the first time this season in a matchup that has been highly anticipated all campaign long. Sfairpoulos knows that STAT may be a game changer for Jerusalem and is aware that his players will need to step up on defense, “The addition of Amare is a new era for Jerusalem. We have to do a great job defending him but also play well on team defense.”
Black will be a chance to play against a role model and idol growing up, “It’s an honor to be able to do so and after I have looked up to him and how he was an inspiration to me. I never expected to live here in Israel and to play him here.”
However, the two centers played a couple of forgettable games against each other in the NBA. The first time was on November 24, 2014 when Amare, playing with the NY Knicks scored 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds off of the bench and Black who was with James Harden’s Houston Rockets dropped 7 points and pulled down 5 boards. Black got the better of Amare that night winning 91-86 in Texas.
The second time the two tipped off was in Los Angeles where Black was wearing the Purple & Gold of the Lakers and STAT was plying his trade with the Dallas Mavericks. This time Amare took the W, 100-93 and scored 9 points to Black’s 6.
For Katash, the addition of Amare is a boost of aggressiveness for the much needed Reds squad, “Amare will add a lot as he is now Israeli and he can stand up to Maccabi’s aggressiveness.”
Tashawn Thomas also spoke about the need for his team to pick up the aggressiveness in order to counter Maccabi’s size, “We have to be more aggressive. They might be a little bigger but as a team we’ve played against bigger teams all season and we’ve responded. It’s just against them as they came out and played more aggressive than us. If we come out and play more aggressive we will be fine.”