Israeli basketball teams have a full slate of games in Europe on Wednesday as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Holon and Nes Ziona are all in action in continental play.
Maccabi Tel Aviv play the first of two Euroleague games on Wednesday against Khimki Moscow at Yad Eliyahu at 21:05 and then visit Fenerbahce in Turkey on Friday night. The injury bug has hit not only the Yellow & Blue but the Russian squad as well as both sides will be without many of the players who didn’t feature in the season opener.
It is still unknown if Scottie Wilbekin will be available for Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos after the star guard went down with a left ankle injury during the Israeli league game at Hapoel Eilat this past Saturday night, “We still don’t know about Scottie’s status as the percentages seem higher that he won’t suit up, but we have hope.” The coach also looked ahead to the game itself, “We have a very important game against a very talented offensive-minded team. If they find a rhythm, they can score easily, which means we need to play our defense and, on the other end, find attacking lanes. We aren’t in the best condition regarding our injuries, but we will try to do our best. Hopefully, we will be concentrated. I trust our players and this squad as the newcomers start to adjust. We need our fans to support the team more than all other times needing their voice to push us back to winning ways.”
Point guard Aaron Jackson who himself twisted his ankle just a day before the last Euroleague game against Real Madrid is ready to help any which way he can, “I’m up to the challenge, that’s why Maccabi brought me here. It’s crazy the freak injury bug around, but I’m here to stop the bleeding as much as possible. I also had a freak injury, but luckily it wasn’t serious as the other players. Hopefully, we will get Scottie [Wilbekin] and the others back soon.”
“We are the same Maccabi, we are here together as a family, and throughout any season, you have people getting hurt and new ones coming in,” said Angelo Caloiaro who himself wasn’t registered at the start of the season. “The season is 10 months long, things will go up and down, so you just have to keep grinding, doing what you’ve been doing, and things will come your way”.
Although Khimki will be without a number of players most notably Anthony Gill, Jeremy Evans and Chris Kramer, Alexey Shved will still feature for Rimas Kutinaitis’s team and with a player of his caliber in the lineup, the Moscow club is still a dangerous threat according to Jackson, “It’s hard to stop a player like [Alexey Shved], we have to contain him as much as possible, but what is big for him is his first dribble. If we attack that we can do a really good job disrupting him.”
With Maccabi having a long list of injuries including Nate Wolters, John Dibartolomeo, Yovel Zoosman, Tarik Black, Omri Casspi and potentially Wilbekin, Coach Kurtinaitis still understands that the Yellow & Blue have plenty of quality as well, “Maccabi has the same injury problems as we do, but this is always a serious opponent, and we know how hard it is to beat this team on their court. They are well supported by the fans, and at home the players give double energy. A lot will depend on what roster they come out with: if with Wilbekin, there will be one game, if without him, another one. This season, Maccabi plays with dignity and rightly takes a place at the top of the standings. They lost a couple of games in the EuroLeague, but that doesn’t mean anything. It will be a difficult game, but we are ready.”
In addition to Maccabi, three other Blue & White teams are in action including Hapoel Jerusalem who play Antwerp in Belgium (19:30) in the final regular season game of Champions League play. Last week, the Reds clinched first place in their group and will have home court advantage until at least the Final Four. Although the game has no bearing on the standings, Coach Oded Katsh wants to take advantage of the opportunity to work on a number of things, “Right before we play the State Cup semifinal game we have the chance to split up minutes across the squad, gain confidence and work on our defense which will be key for Monday’s game.”
Hapoel Holon will look to punch their ticket to the Champions League playoffs when they host Lietkabelis (21:00). However, a win won’t be enough to move on as Sassari will also need to defeat Manresa to see Stefanos Dedas’s squad through to the Round of 16. “We have a challenge ahead of us and a game that we must win. This is a huge opportunity to end the regular season as best as possible with the hope that the result in Manresa will be to our advantage. We will fight for every ball at our home court in front of our fans after 4 road games in order to finish as best as we can.”
Nes Ziona visits Cluj (18:30) as they will also need to win by 4 points to advance to the next round of the Europe League coupled with an Oradea loss in Minsk. Should Cluj win, Nes Ziona’s season will come to an end. Coach Nadav Zilberstein will have five foreigners available for the game as JP Tokoto, Jeff Withey, Daequan Cook, Jeremy Hollowell and Corey Fisher will all be available for the club. “This is a very important game for us,” Fisher said. “We want to continue our European season but we will have to do what we need to and win. Cluj is a good team and very strong but we will come and play to our strengths and advance to the next round.”