Already without two-time MVP Lynn Washington, the face of the franchise and the most famous player in league history after his March 13 arrest on suspicion of smuggling marijuana into Japan, the Osaka Evessa now are coping with the loss of center Wayne Marshall for an estimated four weeks.
Marshall, a Temple University product in his second season with Osaka, suffered a bone fracture in his left hand last weekend against the league-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings.
Osaka (29-13 overall, 17-5 in away contests) clinched a playoff berth by beating the Golden Kings 75-70 in the series finale on Sunday. And now, the Evessa must find a way to win without two of their biggest players, the 206-cm Washington and the wide-bodied Marshall, a 211-cm, 120-kg force in the middle.
Osaka will likely need to develop more of a perimeter-based offensive attack during Marshall’s absence. Expect 206-cm forward Mike Bell (13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds) and 196-cm swingman Bobby St. Preux (9.8 points, 6.1 rebounds) to have increased importance on both ends of the floor.
“We have to go with what we have,” Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell told The Japan Times. “Everybody will step up.”
Marshall has made 41 starts this season, averaging 10.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
Veterans Cohey Aoki (12.0 points, league-best 89.5 free-throw shooting percentage) and Masashi Obuchi (6.1 ppg) have both played major minutes in the playoffs in past seasons, and Satoshi Takeda, Hirohisa Takada, Shota Konno, Daisuke Tamura and Kevin Tyner have also experienced the pressured-packed atmosphere of playing for a team that’s expected to contend for a title each season. So now it’s their turn to carry a bigger load minus Marshall and Washington.
The Evessa close out the regular season with five more series: at Miyazaki, against Niigata, at Toyama, against Kyoto and against Shiga. Eight of their final regular-season games are at home, where they are 12-8 this season.
Osaka is currently in second place in the Western Conference behind the Golden Kings (34-10), and Blackwell’s club would prefer to have a first-round bye and enter the playoffs with a home series in the conference semifinals. To do so, the Evessa would need to avoid slipping to third, fourth, fifth or sixth in the standings.
Weekly accolade: Sendai 89ers standout Johnny Dukes became the first player in team history to record a triple-double, finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a 96-78 overtime win over the Shinshu Brave Warriors last Saturday. Dukes added 10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the Sunday rematch, helping the 89ers complete a weekend sweep and improve to 22-20. The University of San Francisco product is the Lawson/Ponta Player of the Week.
Around the league: Toyama’s Masashi Joho remains the league’s leading scorer among Japanese players (15.7 ppg). Other top Japanese scorers include Shiga’s Yu Okada (12.7), Fukuoka’s Akitomo Takeno (12.2), Ryukyu’s Narito Namizato (12.1), Miyazaki’s Taishiro Shimizu (11.1), Niigata’s Yuichi Ikeda (10.9), Yokohama’s Masayuki Kabaya (10.6), Ryukyu’s Naoto Kosuge (10.0), Takamatsu’s Hiroyuki Kikuchi (9.5), Iwate’s Makoto Sawaguchi (9.2), Toyama’s Takeshi Mito (8.9), Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Shoji Nakanishi (8.5) and Iwate’s Yoshiaki Yamamoto and Sendai’s Takehiko Shimura (8.1). . . .
Former Shimane guard Takumi Ishizaki is enjoying a strong season for BV Chemnitz 99 in the German ProA League. In 27 games, Ishizaki is averaging 13.5 points (second-highest output on the team), 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field and 39.4 percent from 3-point range. He’s No. 2 on the team in minutes (29.0 per game).
Did you know?: The 89ers’ 22-point outburst in OT against the Brave Warriors did not set a league record for single-OT scoring. That distinction belongs to the John Neumann-coached Rizing on Nov. 11, 2007, when the Rizing put 27 points on the board in the bonus period against Oita and picked up the franchise’s first-ever victory. . . . Chiba’s Jamel Staten is the only player in the league in the top 10 in scoring (20.6, sixth), rebounding (10.8, fourth) and assists (4.0, tied for ninth).
Injury update: Kyoto reserve guard Sunao Murakami will wear a face mask for a month after suffering a broken nose last Saturday in a game against the Susanoo Magic. He’s averaging 4.2 points in 42 games.
Upcoming games: On tap this weekend are the following nine series: Chiba vs. Iwate (starting on Friday) and — the rest beginning on Saturday — Toyama vs. Shimane, Shinshu vs. Takamatsu, Saitama vs. Sendai, Kyoto vs. Ryukyu, Oita vs. Shiga, Hamamatsu vs. Akita (mentor Kazuo Nakamura faces former assistant Ryuji Kawai’s club), Fukuoka vs. Niigata and the aforementioned Osaka-Miyazaki series.