A high-profile showdown is taking place in Group A, as Hapoel Shlomo Tel Aviv plays its first "home" game in Belgrade, Serbia against Joventut Badalona.
Hapoel, Joventut meet again in Belgrade
The BKT EuroCup regular season is about to reach its halfway mark. After four games playing on the road, Hapoel Shlomo Tel Aviv (4-2) plays its first home showdown at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall, looking to snap a two-game losing streak. Joventut Badalona (3-4) comes off back-to-back home losses but has good news in terms of signings and recovered players.
In their only EuroCup meeting prior to Wednesday's, Joventut eliminated Hapoel in last season's EuroCup Quarterfinals, 82-74, in Badalona. Vladimir Brodziansky and Ante Tomic paced the winners with 16 points apiece that night. That duo has been sidelined, however, in the last few games and may miss the rematch in Belgrade, too. Before last season, these teams played only twice in their long histories. Joventut beat Hapoel twice in the 1988-89 Korac Cup, 103-89 at home and 77-82 in Tel Aviv.
Hapoel has been shooting the lights out
Hapoel opened this season with a four-game winning streak, scoring 97 points or more in all of those games. As such, Hapoel now ranks second in scoring (97.0 ppg.) mainly because of its superb three-point marksmanship, having hit 44.8% of all attempts so far from beyond the arc.
As many as five Hapoel players are making 42.0% or more their three-point shots, led by Tomer Ginat (62.5% 3FG). Jaylen Hoard (57.1%), Xavier Munford (53.1%), Braian Angola (44.8%) and Bar Timor (42.9%) are also shooting the ball really well from downtown.
Hoard has been all over the place this season, ranking second in PIR at 22.7 per night. He is averaging 17.7 points on 76.2% two-pointers, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.0 blocks. His matchup against a highly experienced opponent like DeShaun Thomas should be one of the biggest keys to this game.
Joventut is dealing with injuries
Joventut has been struggling lately with three injured frontcourt players (Tomic, Brodziansky and Miguel Allen) plus five EuroCup games missed by star playmaker Andres Feliz, who returned to action this weekend. Feliz had a remarkable comeback game in the Spanish League, coming off the bench to get 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 fouls drawn. Above all, he buried a 21-meter prayer at the buzzer give Joventut an 81-78 home win over Bilbao Basket.
Joventut also strengthened its frontcourt recently by signing power forward Tyler Cook, who is set to make his EuroCup debut in Belgrade. He replaced former Hapoel big man Chinanu Onuaku, who parted ways with Joventut earlier this month. It is Joventut's second mid-season signing: it previously brought in guard Kenny Chery, who is averaging 13.0 points off the bench in three EuroCup games.
Teenage center Ruben Prey stepped up in the last two games, averaging 7.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, proving he is ready to keep seeing quality playing time in the near future.
Both teams need better defense
In a game between two very offensive-minded teams, defense could arguably be the biggest key. Both struggled defensively in the last two games. Hapoel allowed 106.0 points in its last two games against Paris Basketball and Prometey Slobozhanske. Hapoel was outrebounded in both games, too, and allowed those opponents to make 35 of 73 three-pointers (47.9%) while combining for 57 assists against just 14 turnovers.
Joventut did not do not better, allowing 94.0 points on average between losses to London Lions and Paris. After giving their opponents 30 offensive rebounds in those two games, boxing out should be a major concern, as well as shooting the ball better from beyond the arc. Joventut shot only 27.9% from downtown in the those two games.
Two quality teams ready to bounce back from recent losses in one of the most famous arenas in Europe. What's not to like?