Hapoel Jerusalem may not have played their best basketball game of the season, but as they say, a win is a win is a win. And that’s what Aleksabadr Dzikic’s squad did, they downed a feisty Bakken Bears team 89-80 to run their winning streak to 7 games across all competitions while also qualifying for at least a place in the Round of 16 Group Stage Play In Playoff. Has the capital city squad reached 7th heaven under the Israeli League’s November coach of the month?
It’s odd to say that the Reds didn’t play well as they dished out 27 assists, they grabbed 36 rebounds and shot 11/27 from deep for just under 41% while shooting for over 61% from two. But they had tons of problems putting the Bears away time and time again, so much so, the Danes were within striking distance all game long.
Could Dzikic’s side have played better defense?
Most certainly and that aspect was not lost on the coach who said that there was a lot of things that he wasn’t satisfied with from the game. But on the other hand the Reds did have a tough game earlier in the week against Maccabi Tel Aviv that they pulled out and have yet another league game on Saturday night versus a pecky Kiyat Ata team.
The bottom line is while the defense may not have been the greatest, Jerusalem made it up with their offense which may not be their modus operandi. But when a masked Zach Hankins is unstoppable in the paint and when Speedy Smith running the point like a pro despite being under the weather while Khadeen Carrington and Levi Randolph scored with ease.
“It wasn’t our best defensive game with Elijah Childs hitting all those shots,” Game MVP Zach Hankins said. “It mattered on offense how unselfish the guys are and we are learning to play with each other. My teammates were finding me with great passes and the guys were making plays off the drive and while we did well offensively, the defense has to be at the standard we set.”
The center has been a double-double machine all season long and is almost an automatic in the paint. Part of that has been Speedy Smith’s ability to find Hankins with ease and sometimes spectacular passes which is something the big man doesn’t take for granted.
“He’s top 2 that I have played with. He’s an amazing point guard and he sees passes that I don’t see sometimes like that back screen he called which is a play we maybe practiced three times. He’s a brilliant point guard.”
Bakken Bears did come into Jerusalem loosey-goosey as they say with nothing to lose due to the fact that at 0-3 they had very little chance of coming back to qualify for even a Play In playoff spot, but that is exactly what made them most dangerous forward Mareks Mejeris explained.
“This game was a little wild. Good thing that at the end we went up with more energy and took the win. We need to stick with the plan and today it kind of worked. The Bears are a talented and they all wanted to perform, play hard and beat us. So it’s tough in those situations.”
Dzikic also spoke about the risks and dangers of playing against a team that can go out and just play with no pressure on them, “When you play against a team without pressure, the result is that the players are trying everything and their shots are falling. I wish we played a bit closer to the ball like we usually do as Childs was making plays and Skyler Bowlin was making shots on one on one situations.”
In fact, Bowlin who spoke to The Sports Rabbi ahead of the game was a bit disappointed that his team didn’t find a way to win the game as they had been so close and what they could have done to put them over the top, “The offensive boards that they got. A few more of those that we could have gotten could have allowed us to go on transition which could have resulted in a few more buckets. We got stagnant on some of the final possessions as well.”
Interestingly enough, Dzikic used the Bowlin interview’s headline, “Everyone in the lockerroom believes that we can win” as motivation for his players and maybe that had a little part in the victory.
But putting the offense and defense aside, the biggest issue that may have come out of the game was the injury to Noam Dovrat who came limping off the court with the help of some of the Hapoel Jerusalem staff. The guard underwent an MRI which indicated that he suffered a complex knee injury that will need surgery and will be out for the season.
When Dovrat went down there was a collective groan from the crowd knowing how the youngster had worked his way back after a number of injuries in the recent past. It was heartbreaking to see him roll around on the court as it was clear to all that he was in severe pain.
“I want everyone to pray for Noam, Hankins began. “It’s very tough to go through an injury which is something that I had to do over the past couple of years. We care about him a lot.”
Mejeris also spoke about the Dovrat, “The feeling is terrible but injuries are part of the game. We will know more tomorrow and I’m sorry for the kid and hope he will be back soon.”
The head coach understands that he may have to be without his Israeli guard in the near future and once he gets the diagnosis, he will know whether or not the team will need to bring in another Israeli to the squad.
“We will be without Dovrat for some time and once we know the status we will determine if we need to look for another player. I am waiting to see what the medical staff will say about Noam and we will react or not based on that so we will see. I’m not a big guy on changes, most people don’t like it but it is what it is.”
However, now that the results of Dovrat’s injury is known it will it’s almost certain that Dzikic will need to make a move to bolster the squad.
Brandon Brown just arrived but he won’t be able to make an immediate impact over the next couple of weeks as he works himself into playing shape Dizkic said, “It’s not smart to rush him and it will be 15 days until he will be ready.”
Patience has been a virtue for Dzikic and it’s clear that this is how he has managed every situation thus far over the course of the offseason and the campaign itself.
Obviously, the next few days will be critical for Hapoel Jerusalem and as to where they may be headed on the personnel side, but it seems without a doubt that the Reds are in the good and more than capable hands of one Aleksanadr Dzikic.