Santa Claus didn’t personally ask each of the bj-league’s 16 teams for a Christmas wish list.
But if he had, here’s one thing each of these clubs would certainly ask for:
• The Akita Northern Happinets (7-13) want a few wins against the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and Tokyo Apache later this season. The expansion club is 0-4 against those Eastern Conference foes this year.
• The Kyoto Hannaryz (10-10) hope power forward Reggie Warren (15.4 points per game) can improve his free-throw shooting. The hard-working versatile veteran has missed 30 of his 64 foul shots through Sunday.
• The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (18-2) only wish that Murphy’s Law — Everything that can go wrong will go wrong — doesn’t suddenly become their trademark for the remainder of the season.
• The Miyazaki Shining Suns (6-14) seek greater success on the road. The first-year franchise, which is a respectable 3-3 against Shiga, Fukuoka and Kyoto, is 2-8 in away games.
• The Niigata Albirex BB (9-8) aim for greater consistency: their last eight games have ended this way: loss, loss, win, win, loss, loss, win, win.
• The Osaka Evessa (15-5) hope to cut down on turnovers. That’s been their biggest weakness to date (279 assists, 269 turnovers).
• The Oita HeatDevils (7-11) want better production from their 3-point shooters. Oita is shooting a dismal 29.2 percent from long range, or 97-for-332.
• The Rizing Fukuoka (12-8) hope spitfire guard Akitomo Takeno maintains his super shooting form after the holidays. He enters this weekend shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range, 55.4 percent from inside the 3-point arc and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe.
• The Ryukyu Golden Kings (13-7) want more of the same from steady point guard Tsubasa Yonamine, who doesn’t need to score in droves to make a positive impact for his team. Quietly, Yonamine’s 97-assist, 22-turnover season thus far is a testament to his commitment to excellence.
• The Saitama Broncos (5-15) hope for a miracle. Nothing has gone according to plan for first-year coach Bob Nash, though the pickup of George Leach has added strength and balance to the team’s offensive and defensive schemes.
• The Sendai 89ers (10-8) look for the same effective shot-blocking from Mike Bell (33 rejections), Terrence Woodyard and Chris Holm (17 apiece) and the team in the next 34 games, while greater success at home (5-3 so far) is another key objective for coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s club.
• The Shiga Lakestars (15-5) seek continued excellence from their Big Four. In other words, the Western Conference-leading team looks for Mikey Marshall (19.5 ppg), Lamar Rice (17.5 ppg), Gary Hamilton (14.7 ppg) and Masashi Joho (14.0 ppg) to remain tone-setters.
• The Shimane Susanoo Magic (8-12) keep plugging away in their quest to make the playoffs as a first-year club. Coach Zeljko Pavlicevic has instilled confidence in his youthful charges, but wants his team to increase its scoring output (76.3 ppg, third-lowest total in the nine-team Western Conference).
• The Takamatsu Five Arrows (5-13) hope their dwindling fan base doesn’t completely disappear. After an awful 13-39 campaign in 2009-10, the Five Arrows are in the midst of another terrible season.
• The Tokyo Apache (6-4) are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that injuries and fatigue don’t destroy their chances of making the playoffs under bench boss Bob Hill, the former NBA coach. The Apache will play 40 of their 52 regular-seasons during the season’s final four months after three months filled with more time off the court than on it.
(The Apache will play 10 games in January after only 12 contests in October, November and December combined.)
• The Toyama Grouses (5-13), share this in common with the Broncos and Five Arrows: Winning has never been their trademark. In fact, they’ve never made the playoffs, and now in their fifth season, even a .500 record would register as a sensational accomplishment.
Weekly accolade: Hannaryz guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf scored 21 and 28 points in wins over the visiting Grouses last weekend. He is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week, the bj-league announced on Wednesday.
Abdul-Rauf, averaging 12.7 ppg, put on a shooting clinic in Sunday’s win, one that was reminiscent of his headline-grabbing days at LSU before turning pro in 1990.
In the series finale, he was 11-for-15 from the field, including 6-for-7 from 3-point range. He also had nine assists and three steals over the weekend.
Fantastic five: Here are The Japan Times’ latest rankings of the league’s top clubs.
1. The Phoenix rattled off 15 straight wins before losing last Saturday against the Rizing. Then they picked up a customary victory in the series finale. Coach Kazuo Nakamura has this club playing efficient, disciplined ball.
2. The Evessa are 9-1 at home. Indeed, first-year coach Ryan Blackwell has demonstrated that he’s a strong motivator for the squad.
3. The Lakestars are blessed with Hamilton’s unique skill set — he leads the team in assists (87) and steals (36) and is No. 1 in the league in rebounds (15.0 per game) — and a head coach in Takatoshi Ishibashi who works well with the bigs.
4. The Golden Kings don’t need frontcourt mainstay Jeff Newton to rack up stats in order to have a profound impact on games or stretches of games. Instead, the four-time bj-league title winner leads by example, outworking, outhustling and outsmarting his foes on a regular basis.
5. The Rizing have a balanced scoring attack, featuring six players averaging 8.9 ppg or more, led by league leader Michael Parker (28.6 ppg, including 30 dunks).
Upcoming games: This weekend’s schedule is as follows: Sendai vs. Miyazaki, Kyoto vs. Fukuoka, Akita vs. Niigata, Toyama vs. Takamatsu, Hamamatsu vs. Shiga, Saitama vs. Tokyo, Shimane vs. Osaka and Oita vs. Ryukyu. All of the two-game series begin on Saturday except the Sendai-Miyazaki showdown which got under way on Friday.
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