There is no question that Hapoel Haifa has had a solid start to the season with victories in both domestic league play but also a number in the Europe Cup that have been surprising as well. Sharon Drucker put together a nice squad with some top notch imports, but there are only four. Anthony Hickey has been stellar thus far this season as well as Jalen Jones who can dominate any game in the paint while also offer a good stroke from the outside to go along with big man Devonte Upson and a holdover from last season’s squad in Kadeem Allen.
However, other than Amit Simhon, the Israeli contingent has offered just 9.3 points in just over 50 minutes per game and that is not going to be enough to beat may teams especially one that is playing with 5 foreigners which was the case in their 74-57 loss to Hapoel Jerusalem.
Aleksandar Dzikic came up with the perfect game plan to wipe out any thoughts of a Carmel Reds victory when he sent the dogs out to hound Hickey every time he touched the ball. Speedy Smith who played 28 minutes was on the guard like glue paper as he held Hickey to 0 points (0/8 from the field) after averaging 17 points in his first 3 games.
Every time Hickey had the ball Smith was there and when there was a chance to trap him, Zach Hankins moved up from the paint and right into his face.
Dzikic drew up a masterpiece.
“Everybody understands how important Hickey is for them,” the capital city bench boss said. “I know about Hickey more than other point guards and I have great respect to him and that type of player. We do understand how important he is and I am happy the players understood that as well.”
A modest Smith didn’t want to take credit for taking care of Hickey on this night, “I think it was a total team effort and we did a great job defensively tonight. The challenge for me is to get better every night. I try to be consistent and being one of the vocal leaders on the team. I need to make sure to bring at least energy to the team.”
With Hickey who grabbed 9 rebounds (not bad for the shortest guy on the court) and dished out 5 assists neutralized, Allen picked up the bulk of the scoring but only went 3/11 from two which is a recipe for disaster. Add to the fact that Jerusalem killed Haifa inside with 42 points in the paint to just 18 as Upson and Jones as well as Allen and Hickey had trouble finishing at the rim it was also clear that Drucker’s team needed an extra man or two.
Drucker felt that Jerusalem’s victory was a combination of both an exhausted squad which only scored 5 fourth quarter points and an excellent defensive showing from the visitors.
“Hickey couldn’t score which made it hard for us. The players work hard but when you are tired and make mistakes it’s hard to lift yourself back up. It did not work well and it was a combination of Hickey not playing well and Jerusalem defending well. Sometimes it doesn’t work for us but he will win us more games this season.”
As for bringing in another import, Drucker seemed to hint that this was a definite possibility and one that could very well become a reality should Haifa punch their ticket to the next Europe Cup round.
“We are always thinking as to how we can improve ourselves with the management. We want to win in Europe and we have a lot of games coming up but there is no decision on that yet.”
The bottom line is that Jerusalem very quietly has now won four straight games across all competitions and looked a lot better than they have over the past few weeks including in a road victory in Denmark against Bakken Bears and the even better news is that Noam Dovrat is starting to look like the player people had been expecting to see.
Playing next to Smith has definitely lifted a big weight off of Dovrat’s shoulders as he does not have to be a floor general and run the offense. Despite going 2/8 from deep, Dovrat went 3/5 from two good for 14 points and was a team high +23 in 29 minutes of action. If Dovrat has turned a corner and his abilities can be maximized by Dzikic then Jerusalem is not only in for a treat but they will also have yet another solid contributor.
“I think I really got into the game well at both ends of the floor,” Dovrat said. “My teammates were able to find me and we were able to take the correct shots. As for Smith, we feel good playing with one another and are able to really complement each other as we bring quality to the team.”
Jerusalem surely would have loved to have had a few more games coming up but now will have to break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying window. Nonetheless it’s certainly better to head into the break with a victory Dzikic said, “I am happy, we go into the break with a win and not a loss. It’s good to send my guys to a break with a win.”