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Tokyo, Saitama stay in playoff picture

by Ed Odeven

With 10 games remaining in the regular season, the Tokyo Apache and Saitama Broncos are locked in a tight race for the bj-league’s third and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Both teams recorded two-game sweeps over the weekend and improved their overall records to 18-16.

The Broncos defeated the visiting Osaka Evessa 97-79 on Sunday in Sakura City, Saitama Prefecture.

Tokyo accomplished the feat with an 89-80 win over the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings at Ariake Colosseum.

For Saitama, Gordon James had a 21-point, 19-rebound performance. His frontcourt mate Mamadou Diouf added 19 points and a team-best nine assists, while Taishiro Shimizu added 12 points and six assists. James Davis scored 16 and Kazuhiro Shoji and Andrew Feeley had nine apiece for David Benoit’s club, which is two games over .500 for the first time this season.

The Broncos put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Evessa (25-9) 27-13.

Jeff Newton’s 23 points led Osaka, while Mikey Marshall flirted with a triple-double (20 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds) and Naoto Nakamura scored 17.

At Ariake, Tokyo also closed out the game with a 27-13 scoring advantage in the fourth.

Apache All-Star guard Cohey Aoki, a day after making 11 of 11 free throws and scoring 21, had 23 points and was again perfect from the charity stripe — 6-for-6. Masashi Joho contributed 17 points and John Humphrey had 12, while center Nick Davis dished out a team-high six assists to go along with his 17 rebounds and four blocked shots.

For the Golden Kings (9-25), Kevin Steenberge’s 23 points led the team. Herb Gibson added 14, Danny Jones 12 and Naoto Takushi dished out 10 assists.

Elsewhere, the visiting Sendai 89ers earned a 109-87 win over the Oita HeatDevils. Bobby St. Preux and Nick DeWitz scored 27 points apiece to lead the high-scoring 89ers (24-10). Patrick Whearty (16 points, 14 rebounds), Kenichi Takahashi (10 points) and Daichi Matsuta (five assists) also made significant contributions.

Andy Ellis’ 30 points paced the HeatDevils (15-19).

The Niigata Albirex BB gave the rowdy home boosters something to smile about, picking up a 99-86 win over the Toyama Grouses.

Andre Smith provided the inside muscle (24 points, 18 rebounds) as Niigata upped its record to 23-13. Four of Smith’s teammates — Andrew Preston (19), Takamichi Fujiwara (18 on 6-of-10 shooting), Naoto Kosuge (10) and Rodney Webb (10) — also scored in double figures.

For the 4-34 Grouses, who appear headed for a major overhaul after the season, Masayuki Kabaya had a team-high 20-point effort.

Also Sunday, the Rizing Fukuoka bounced back from Saturday’s 33-point loss to beat the host Takamatsu Five Arrows 105-96.

Michael Parker was the catalyst at both ends of the floor, finishing with 27 points, seven steals, six rebounds and five blocks. Center Jeffrey Price also had 27 points and 11 boards as the Rizing improved to 13-21, pulling two games behind Oita in the race for the Western Conference’s third playoff spot.

Reggie Warren (23 points) and Yu Okada (19) were the high scorers for Takamatsu (23-11).