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With playoff spot already locked up, powerhouse Kings take on Albirex

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

With 14 games remaining, the Ryukyu Golden Kings have already clinched a playoff spot.

At 31-7, the Golden Kings are the league’s winningest team and a favorite to appear in the title game for the third time in four seasons under bench boss Dai Oketani.

If there’s any doubt that Jeff Newton is the cornerstone of the team’s success, you haven’t been paying attention.

Through Sunday, Ryukyu is 149-87 in the regular season since the start of the 2008-09 season, when the Indiana University product made his Kings debut. The team completed a storybook season in Newton’s first season in a Ryukyu uniform by capturing the championship, and has tried to replicate that story ever since.

No one would be shocked if it happens again this season.

Ryukyu, which travels to face the host Niigata Albirex BB this weekend, features seven main scorers: David Palmer (12.8 points per game, league-best 52.7 percent on 3-pointers), Newton (12.1 ppg), Anthony McHenry (11.5), Narito Namizato (11.5), Naoto Kosuge (10.4, a team-best 68 3-pointers), Dillion Sneed (10.1) and Dzaflo Larkai (9.4).

Indeed, Albirex coach Matt Garrison, a former Niigata and Takamatsu Five Arrows player, expects a tough series for his club this weekend and will need a strong effort on defense against the high-octane Golden Kings.

Since the bj-league began play in 2005, three players have achieved icon status: Osaka Evessa’s Lynn Washington, a two-time MVP, Newton and six-time All-Star and Osaka guard Cohey Aoki, the longtime Tokyo Apache standout.

Newton and the Evessa captured three titles and went 91-33 overall during the 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 regular seasons, and adding the numbers mentioned above, Newton’s teams are 240-120 in the regular season entering this weekend. Twice as many wins as losses, a stunning statistic in any pro league.

Albirex update: Like the well-balanced Golden Kings, Niigata gets most of its points from several players: Nile Murry (15.8 ppg), Erron Maxey (12.9), Yuichi Ikeda (11.0, a team-high 85 3s), rebounding king Chris Holm (10.5), Kimitake Sato 8.1) and Shuhei Komatsu (7.3, 66 3s).

Since forward Bennet Davis joined the team the week after the All-Star Game in mid-January, Niigata has won six of its last 14 games. The fourth-place Albirex (21-17) are four games out of first place entering this pivotal series.

Weekly accolade: Shinshu Brave Warriors guard Derek Raivio is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week. Raivio spearheaded Shinshu’s two-game sweep over the host Chiba Jets last weekend, scoring 22 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s eight-point win. He had 18 points in the rematch, made 18 of 20 free throws in the series and dished out nine assists.

Raivio leads Shinshu with 18.8 points per game.

Look for a profile story on Raivio in the coming days in The Japan Times.

Around the league: Sendai 89ers forward Dan Fitzgerald is keeping close tabs on New York Knicks forward Steve Novak, who has been in the spotlight in recent weeks as coach Mike D’Antoni has given more playing time to Novak, Jeremy Lin, among others.

In a recent interview, Fitzgerald talked about Novak, a former Marquette University teammate who drained five 3-pointers in an electrifying 12-minute stretch against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 29.

Has Novak, a fifth-year pro who’s had previous stints with the Rockets, Clippers, Mavericks and Spurs, always been a confident shooter and a quintessential gym rat?

“Steve was/is the best shooter I’ve ever played with,” Fitzgerald said. “He is also the most dedicated player I’ve been around. He’s earned every inch of his success. I spent two years with Steve, and we are still good friends. He was in my wedding this past summer. I definitely look up to him as a shooter/player. His dedication to perfecting his craft is something to be admired for sure.

“Off the court he’s a great guy as well. I always follow his games, and I’m always pumped to see a former Marquette guy have success. “(Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix forward) Lawrence Blackledge and I are good friends too. He was the first person I talked to about coming to play in Japan. Glad he’s having continued success with his new club. He’s definitely a guy I’d love to have on my team any day.” …

Since the start of the 2009-10 season, the Takamatsu Five Arrows have won 25 of 146 contests (17.1 winning percentage). … First-round playoff dates have been announced, and the East and West’s third and fourth seeds will play host to Nos. 5-6 in their respective conferences on May 1-2, followed by the conference semifinal series and the Final Four, which is set for May 19-20 at Ariake Colosseum.

Chiba Jets guard Takaki Ishida is appearing in the studio for WOWOW during three NBA telecasts this month, including Celtics-Lakers next Monday (4:30 a.m. start) and Heat-Thunder on March 26 (9 a.m.). Ishida also worked the Heat-Lakers game on Monday. …

Former Akita Northern Happinets swingman Curtis Terry, who was released by the team for theft of three cans of an alcoholic beverage at a convenience store in January, has resurfaced in Portugal. He’s now playing for Associacao Academica de Coimbra, the UNLV product averaging 9.0 points in two games, according to Eurobasket.com

Ex-Tokyo Apache post player Jeremy Tyler, an NBA rookie, had four points and three rebounds in 6:05 on Wednesday in his first game back with the Golden State Warriors after a five-game stint with the NBA Development League’s Dakota Wizards. The Memphis Grizzlies defeated host Golden State 110-92. …

A helping hand: The Kyoto Hannaryz will appear at the Kyoto Marathon on Sunday (12 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.) as the team works to collects funds to aid in the Great East Japan Earthquake reconstruction efforts.

The Hannaryz will be at Okazaki Park’s baseball field, located near the Kyoto Marathon’s finish line. Cheerleaders Karen, Amiri, Nami and Aki, the coaching staff and all of the Hannaryz players are scheduled to appear.

Did you know?: Yokohama B-Corsairs forward Justin Burrell leads the league in technical fouls (nine) and teammates Chas McFarland has eight. Johnny Dukes of the Sendai 89ers and power forward Gary Hamilton of the Rizing Fukuoka also have been assessed eight Ts, the same number handed to Shimane Susanoo Magic standout Michael Parker. Hamamatsu’s Jeffrey Parmer is next with seven, while Takamatsu’s Paul Butorac and Miyazaki’s Darryl Dora both have six. Five players have five technical fouls in the books.

Reader reaction: After this reporter’s Hoop Scoop column last weekend advocating that the league adopt a six-foul rule to counter the influx of new players, coaches, teams and refs, the following email:

“I’ve thought this was something the league has needed for a longtime,” one reader, who requested anonymity, wrote. “I agree 100 percent.

“Here’s a hypothetical: Star A gets a cheap foul early in the first quarter. Picks up a legitimate foul at the end of the first quarter and has to sit out the second. He gets a quick one at the start of the third, and is out for the remainder of the third. He gets one to start the fourth. Now we have a player that is playing crunch time with four fouls. The referees know this, I GUARANTEE that. If there is a bang-bang play or rough play at the end of the game, they may be less likely to put a foul on that player and foul him out. But the reluctance to put a foul on this player may lead to frustration on the other team. This is when the play gets chippy and you may have a flagrant foul or technicals.

“I think that adding an additional foul may not just keep the players in the game, it could also clean the game up.”

Upcoming schedule: This weekend’s action tips off on Friday as Yokohama takes on Kyoto. Eight other series begin on Saturday: Iwate vs. Osaka, Niigata vs. Ryukyu, Saitama vs. Chiba, Hamamatsu vs. Toyama, Shiga vs. Akita, Shimane vs. Miyazaki, Oita vs. Takamatsu and Fukuoka vs. Sendai. Teams will observe a moment of silence before all of this weekend’s games as they reflect on victims of the March 11 triple disasters last year in Tohoku.

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Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp