The Saitama Broncos picked up a pair of important victories last weekend, overwhelming the Toyama Grouses in the process. Those wins were by a combined 50 points.
Now they face a stiffer challenge: the Sendai 89ers (26-20), who have won eight of their past 10 games and have secured at least the No. 3 seed in the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. The pivotal series will also take place at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium, where the Broncos fell behind 15-2 on Sunday against the Grouses before playing with the kind of intensity and productivity that they needed to secure the victory.
The Broncos (19-27) probably need to win four of their final six regular-season games and hope the Niigata Albirex BB (22-24), the East’s fourth and final playoff seed, lose at least four of their games in that span.
“Winning these two games really helped us mentally, so that was essentially what we needed — to get back to enjoying the game,” Saitama coach David Benoit said on Sunday.
Taking a look at the upcoming series, Benoit said three things will be key to victory.
“The first thing we’ll need is to play good team defense — because I really like the unselfish play (of the 89ers), their motion offense and guys that play unselfishly. That’s the sign of a really good team,” he said.
“The second thing will be our rebounding, because Chris Holm (the league’s leading rebounder at 16.1 per game) and Rodney Webb (8.8 rpg) are really good offensive rebounders,” he added. “When they are getting second shots, they’ve really got an advantage.
“The last thing is us executing offensively. I really would like to see us push the ball and run the ball a little bit more. Execution is going to be really important for us.”
Saitama, which is 2-4 against Sendai this season, found its offensive groove on Sunday, led by Reggie Warren (33 points), Isaac Sojourner (18 points on 8-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench) and 14-for-22 3-point shooting; 28 assists against 10 turnovers didn’t hurt, either.
Up next: The Rizing Fukuoka (20-26) and Osaka Evessa (29-17) play a two-game series starting on Friday. The other weekend series begin on Saturday, and they are as follows: Ryukyu Golden Kings (35-11) vs. Takamatsu Five Arrows (32-14), Toyama Grouses (10-36) vs. Tokyo Apache (28-18), Shiga Lakestars (17-29) vs. Oita HeatDevils (7-39) and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (31-15) vs. Niigata Albirex BB (22-24).
The Grouses have lost 13 consecutive games, while the HeatDevils look to snap a 14-game slide this weekend.
Who’s hot: 89ers point guard Kenichi Takahashi has 32 assists and eight turnovers in his past five games. . . . Albirex point guard Akitomo Takeno has made 17 of 34 3-point attempts in that same span. . . . Rizing forward Michael Parker has 20 steals and 12 blocked shots over that stretch of games.
Who’s not: Phoenix point guard Michael Gardener is 25-for-84 from 3-point range in the last five games.
Parting thought: The Japan Basketball Association opened a four-day training camp on Thursday. Of the 22 players on the national team roster, none are bj-league players. To improve the national team in the long run, the JBA will need to allow bj-league players to join the nation’s top college and JBL standouts, and in doing so, it will be a true national team.
In the meantime, the word “farce” will continue to describe this squad.
Sad, but true.