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Nakamura gets reward as focused Phoenix beat Northern Happinets

by Ed Odeven

FUJIEDA, Shizuoka Pref. — Kazuo Nakamura, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s excellent coach, expects superior results from his players. And he usually gets them.

Case in point: the hosts’ weekend series against the Akita Northern Happinets, which saw the Eastern Conference powerhouse bouncing back from a one-point loss and recording a 117-99 victory, a game in which it led from start to finish.

Hamamatsu (35-5) had six players score in double figures on Sunday, led by Kenya Tomori and Jeffrey Parmer (25 points apiece), Shingo “Red Lightning” Okada (19) and Ray Nixon (17).

Tomori led the hosts’ 3-point shooting barrage, making 7 of 11 long-range shots, while Nixon was 5-for-13. As a team, the Phoenix made 20 of 38 3s.

Hamamatsu also shot 66.7 percent from 2-point range (24-for-36), exploiting Akita’s lack of frontcourt size on the afternoon. Big man Dokun Akingbade, who had 10 points and 15 rebounds on Saturday, didn’t play in the rematch due to a knee injury; it was a game-time decision. Post player Paul Butorac didn’t make the trip to Shizuoka Prefecture due to a hamstring injury.

“We missed their inside presence,” Akita coach Bob Pierce said of his injured frontcourt players.

As a result, the Happinets defense lacked intensity and was slow reacting to Hamamatsu’s swift ball movement.

Akita fell to 13-29. Will Graves paced the Happinets with 25 points, while Burks (6-for-12 on 3s) and rookie Makoto Sawaguchi each scored 20.

After the one-sided defeat, Graves said his club’s defense was ineffective, but he also observed the value of the bigger picture: games giving people a sense of normalcy at a time when the news is filled with stories of devastation and destruction after the March 11 earthquake and the subsequent enormous problems the nation faces.

“The fans are relieved to have some type of entertainment,” said Graves, who had a team-high 11 rebounds.

The run-and-gun Phoenix didn’t produce above-average results on Saturday, which led to the belief that they would fare better in the series finale, the eighth playdate between the Eastern Conference clubs this season (seven Hamamatsu victories), especially from 3-point range, where the team’s capable perimeter shooters have been solid all season.

Hamamatsu, the bj-league’s reigning champion, turned the first quarter into a 3-point shooting exhibition — rapid-fire shots buoyed by quick passes and good spacing on the offensive end. The Phoenix nailed 7 of 10 3s in the quarter, including Tomori’s 3-for-3, and 13-for-18 on all shots at Shizuoka Prefectural Budokan.

After making 10 of 37 3s in the series opener, Hamamatsu came out firing from long range once again. Four of the Phoenix’s first five field goals were from beyond the 3-point arc. Using Nakamura’s patented quick-strike offense, the Phoenix took advantage of its drive-and-dish smarts, moving the ball inside and out effectively against a passive Akita resistance.

The Happinets trailed 33-21 after one quarter and by as many as 21 points in the second stanza.

The Phoenix, firing on all cylinders, had 40 points before the game was 10 minutes old. They led 60-43 at halftime; this included 11-for-19 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Graves had 19 points in the first half. For Hamamatsu, Tomori had 16 points, Nixon had 14 — while both players had four 3s in that span — and Parmer made a number of dazzling moves in the paint, was 6-for-7 from the field with 13 points before both coaches had a chance to point out the good, the bad and the ugly from the first 20 minutes.

Despite the absence of Phoenix standout Wayne Arnold and Jermaine Dixon, who are visiting their families in the United States, Parmer said Nakamura’s message of unity — describing it as a “family-oriented atmosphere” — has helped the team keep its focus during a long layoff.

“Coach was pretty much the same, nothing was too much different with him,” said Parmer, who had 11 rebounds and nine assists. “He’s the type of coach that he’s going to give 100 percent in whatever he does, no matter what the situation is. I respect him for that, because with the disaster happening, it was tough times for people, and he understood our feelings as well as the other Japanese guys on our team that the morale of the team was kind of different with the way things were going on.”

Nakamura gathered his players and resumed practicing on Wednesday in preparation for the Akita series. Previously, they were focused on relief efforts and fundraising. “I really didn’t feel a desire to have a game,” the coach admitted, saying he’s filled with sad feelings for the Tohoku victims.

But with home games against the Rizing Fukuoka on April 16-17, “my feelings are getting better for the next month,” Nakamura said. “I will have a big smile in the next month.”

Golden Kings 105, Grouses 53

In Okinawa City, Ryukyu outscored Toyama 70-26 in the second half to complete a series sweep.

Naoto Kosuge scored 23 points, Dillion Sneed had 22, David Palmer poured in 19 and the Golden Kings (27-15) remain tied with Osaka for the best record in the Western Conference. Ryukyu outrebounded Toyama 72-34.

Takeshi Mito scored a team-high 15 points for the Grouses (12-26).

Lakestars 95, Hannaryz 83

In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, Josh Peppers had 24 points and Gary Hamilton and Masashi Joho each scored 18 to lead the hosts to a series split.

Hamilton also had 17 rebounds and eight assists for the Lakestars (24-18).

For Kyoto (23-19), Reggie Warren scored 20 points, grabbed 22 boards and handed out seven assists and Kyosuke Setoyama and Kibwe Trim scored 16 apiece.

Evessa 91, HeatDevils 90

In Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture, Billy Knight scored a game-best 32 points and Wayne Marshall had 15 as the hosts improved to 27-15.

Evessa star Lynn Washington chipped in with 14 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

Damian Johnson led Oita (16-26) with 30 points and Kimitake Sato had 22.

Magic 81, Five Arrows 69

In Takamatsu, Tatsuhiro Yokoo led Shimane’s balanced scoring attack with 18 points and Reggie Golson had a 16-point afternoon to guide the expansion squad to a series sweep.

Takumi Ishizaki contributed 15 points and Jeral Davis added 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots for the Magic (20-22).

Terrance Farley paced Takamatsu (9-31) with 22 points and Satoshi Takeda scored 17.

Fukuoka 94, Shining Suns 85

In Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, Michael Parker’s 32-point, 14-rebound performance and Akitomo Takeno’s 14 points sparked the Rizing to a win over Miyazaki.

Fukuoka improved to 25-17.

Taishiro Shimizu scored 17 points for the Shining Suns (12-30).