Reds, Greens contending as campaign hits half
Both Israeli teams sit at 3-1 in respective groups; Hap J’lem in Turkey, Mac Haifa visits Tallinn.
After three seasons in which no Israeli team managed to make it past the Eurocup regular season, Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa are looking to make amends.Both Jerusalem and Haifa have amassed a 3-1 record in the Eurocup so far, displaying some impressive form after erratic starts to the season.Despite hectic schedules, the Reds and the Greens eked out home victories last week, with Jerusalem defeating CSU Ploiesti of Romania 82-80 at Malha Arena, while Haifa beat Banvit Bandirma of Turkey 72-69 at Romema Arena.It will be Jerusalem’s turn to face a Turkish opponent on Wednesday, with Brad Greenberg’s side visiting Karsiyaka Izmir, which has also got a 3-1 record, suffering its first defeat at Russian powerhouse Khimki Moscow just last week. Jerusalem will face former player Leo Lyons, with Karsiyaka’s roster also boasting former Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Esteban Batista.Haifa will face Kalev Tallinn in Estonia, with the locals still searching for their first win in the competition. Despite his outburst at the team’s management following the release of guard and friend Sherwood Brown, Donta Smith has been outstanding for Haifa in recent weeks. Smith took the cutting of his American teammate to heart last month and vented his frustration on Twitter, launching a scathing attack on the club’s management and using curse words to make his feelings felt.Nevertheless, he was named as the MVP of Round 3 following the 94-73 win at VEF Riga, racking up an index rating of 41 comprised of 18 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists to record only the fifth triple-double ever in Eurocup competition.He finished last week’s win over Banvit with 20 points, carrying his team to the victory by scoring its final 10 points in the closing 3:16 minutes of the game.Up until this season, three wins from the first four games would have almost certainly secured a team a place in the second round.However, the Eurocup’s new expanded format means Jerusalem and Haifa have still got some work do as they will only be reaching the halfway mark of the regular season on Wednesday.Instead of 32 teams, the regular season includes 48 clubs this season, who were drawn into eight groups.The 10-game regular season will run until December 18, with the Last 32, which will include eight groups of four teams each, opening on January 7. The 24 qualified teams will be joined by eight more eliminated from the Euroleague regular season.The Last 32 consists of six more games for each team, with the top two teams to advance, this time to the eighth-finals.The last-eight, quarterfinals, semifinals and final will all be decided in a head-to-head two-game home-and-away series determined on aggregate score.Despite having his every move scrutinized and his every miss criticized, Yotam Halperin has quickly become one of Jerusalem’s leaders.Halperin has scored in double-figures in all four of Hapoel’s Eurocup games to date, averaging 13.5 points and 3.0 assists. The fact Halperin is also averaging 36 minutes per game in the competition proves how highly he is regarded by coach Greenberg.“Halperin twisted his ankle at the start of the season, but I always believed in him,” said Greenberg. “He is an exceptional person and player. He cares about the team and is similar to Gal Mekel in his intelligence and character. Yotam accepts the responsibility and expectations and doesn’t shy away from them.”