With Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem in dire straits, each losing three consecutive games ahead of their showdown on Saturday, Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Eilat enter the final month of the regular season with a real chance of claiming the No.1 seed in the playoffs.
Holon leads the standings with an 18-8 record, one game ahead of Maccabi, while Eilat is another game further back in third place at 16-10.
Holon has won nine of its past 12 games, with Eilat going one better, triumphing in 10 of its last 12 contests.
Eilat hosts Holon on Wednesday and can close to within a single game of first place by completing a regular season sweep of Dan Shamir’s side. Eilat also holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Maccabi Tel Aviv after beating the yellow-and-blue 76-73 on Sunday.
Oded Katash’s side has won seven straight home games, including an 81-66 victory over Holon in February. That was Holon’s only defeat in its past nine road encounters, a run stretching back to last November.
“When we play well we are very tough to beat,” said Katash. “We have had a clear plan for the team since the start of the season and we are building towards that.”
Bnei Herzliya, which is one game behind Eilat at 15-11, aims to maintain its place in the top four, which leads to home-court advantage in the quarterfinal playoffs at the end of the regular season, when it hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Tel Aviv is coming off a painful 25-point home drubbing at the hands of Ironi Nahariya, falling to 13-13.
Only two games separate Maccabi Haifa (14-12) in fifth place and Maccabi Rishon Lezion (12-14) in ninth, meaning every remaining regular season game could end up proving to be decisive in the playoff race.
Haifa hosts Maccabi Ashdod (10-16) on Thursday, while Rishon Lezion looks to build momentum when it goes to Nahariya (13-13).
Reigning champion Rishon fired coach Arik Shivek after splitting its first 20 regular season games. It went on to lose four of its next five contests under new head coach Shmulik Brenner, who was promoted from his role as assistant coach, but bounced back on Sunday with a 94-87 victory over rock-bottom Maccabi Kiryat Gat.
On Friday, Kiryat Gat (4-22) hosts Hapoel Gilboa/Galil (11-15), which is also still alive in the playoff race.
Kiryat Gat is six games back of Ashdod and could find itself already relegated this week should it lose or Ashdod win.
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