This season, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix were expected to be one of the Western Conference’s elite teams after four banner campaigns in the bj-league’s Eastern Conference.
That hasn’t changed. In fact, the former Eastern powerhouse squad is still improving — a scary thought for its foes.
The Phoenix have rattled off seven straight wins, including an 82-72 decision over the lowly Osaka Evessa on Saturday, signaling their rise in the West.
Wendell White scored a game-high 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out four assists as Hamamatsu (15-7) won for the fourth time in as many games since White rejoined the team.
Kevin Galloway added 13 points, eight assists and three steals and Jeffrey Parmer chipped in with 12 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals for coach Ryuji Kawai’s club. Tsubasa Yonezawa scored 12 points.
The Phoenix made 12 steals.
Shota Konno led the Evessa (2-14) with 14 points, Rick Rickert scored 13 and hauled in 23 rebounds. Mike Bell added 11 points, while newcomer Dwayne Lathan, an Indiana State product, had two points, two assists and six turnovers in his Osaka debut.
Hamamatsu took a 53-36 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Susanoo Magic 78, Golden Kings 66
In Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, Michael Parker and Jeral Davis combined for 41 points on 18-for-30 shooting from inside the 3-point arc as Shimane swept reigning champion Ryukyu.
Parker scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes. Davis finished with 20 points, eight boards, four blocked shots and three assists.
In the two-game series, Davis, who leads the league with 3.6 blocks per game, had 12 blocks.
Edward Yamamoto provided 11 points and eight assists off the bench for Shimane (13-7), Brandon Freeman scored 10 and Tatsuhiro Yokoo had nine.
Dzaflo Larkai paced the league-leading Golden Kings (15-3) with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Terrance Woodbury scored 17 points with 10 rebounds and Narito Namizato had 15 points and seven assists. Anthony McHenry, the playoff MVP last season, did not play over the weekend.
Crane Thunders 84, Cinq Reves 83
In Midori, Gunma Prefecture, in a showdown of first-year franchises, the hosts completed a series sweep.
With the victory, Gunma (4-16) picked up consecutive wins for the first time in team history.
Former Phoenix standout Jermaine Dixon guided the Crane Thunders to a win, putting 20 points on the board, sinking 9 of 9 free throws and dishing out seven assists.
Dominique Keller and Lewis Witcher each scored 17 points for Gunma, Shingo Okada and Kenya Tomori had eight apiece and Thomas Granado scored seven and pulled down 12 rebounds.
The Crane Thunders shot 3-for-19 from 3-point range, but overcame poor outside shooting to top the visitors. They shot 17-for-21 at the free-throw line.
Six-time All-Star Cohey Aoki scored 23 points for Tokyo (7-11 overall, 2-8 in away games), Jonathan Jones had 18 and Hirohisa Takada scored 15. Rasheem Barrett added nine points and Dennis Carr raked in 16 rebounds.
“We pulled out a close one after giving up a 12-point lead with a little over 2 minutes to go in regulation,” Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell told The Japan Times after the game. “Cohey and Hiro hit a lot of big shots for them down the stretch and we committed four of our 10 turnovers in the final few minutes.”
But the Crane Thunders found a way to pull out a win.
“Jermaine was big for us again,” the coach added. “After starting off slow in the first quarter with only six points, we got it going in the second quarter and Jermaine made great plays on both ends of the floor. Dominique was in a better rhythm today and he made a lot of key shots for us on offense. We had trouble with their bigs down low, but managed to make enough plays as a unit to hold them off.
“Lewis Witcher was big for us after we got into foul trouble,” Blackwell said. “He ended up playing 43 minutes and played solid defense and was a presence on offense in the low post.”
In the end, the game boiled down to crunch-time execution.
“The score was tied at 83 with .03 seconds left and I drew up a play for a lob at the basket and Jermaine was fouled while trying to set a screen,” Blackwell recounted. “We got one free throw, which Jermaine made, and got the ball back and that was the game. We just need to be more consistent as a team on both ends. We go through spells where we loose focus and that showed tonight at the end of regulation. We are improving for sure, though.”
Rizing 104, HeatDevils 59
In Hita, Oita Prefecture, Fukuoka’s talent and depth overwhelmed the HeatDevils in a runaway victory.
Reggie Warren had a triple-double (18 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists) in 25 minutes, Julius Ashby produced an 18-point, 16-rebound performance and the Rizing (13-7) were never seriously threatened. They led 20-8 after one quarter, 43-28 at the break and took a 74-34 edge into the final stanza.
Fukuoka registered 27 assists and eight turnovers, and held a plus-24 advantage in rebounds.
Taishiro Shimizu had 22 points, 14 rebounds and five assists for Oita (9-11), which dressed seven players and lost its seventh straight game.
Shining Suns 84, Five Arrows 82
In Takamatsu, Ricky Woods’ 24 points, 10 rebounds and four steals led Miyazaki to a bounce-back win over the hosts.
Larriques Cunningham had a 19-point outing and Yuto Otsuka scored 16 points for the Shining Suns (3-17). Thomas Fairley contributed 13 points and 16 rebounds.
For Takamatsu (7-11), Dexter Lyons scored 17 points, Hiroyuki Kikuchi poured in 16 and Paul Williams and Masaaki Suzuki had 13 apiece, a season-high total for the latter.
The Five Arrows were 20-for-32 at the foul line, those 12 misses proving costly in a close contest.
Hannaryz 86, Lakestars 58
In Kyoto, a slow start spelled trouble for Shiga in a one-sided defeat to the hosts.
Former Utah Jaz center Marcus Cousin had 21 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks for Kyoto, which led 26-7 after the first quarter.
Yu Okada scored 12 points, Sunao Murakami added nine and David Palmer and Masaharu Kataoka each had eight for the Hannaryz (10-10), while Kyosuke Setoyama, Jermaine Boyette and Hayato Kantake all pitched in with seven apiece.
Kyoto drained 21 of 22 free throws.
Wayne Arnold paced Shiga (10-10) with 12 points. Ray Nixon scored 11 for the Lakestars and Yutaka Yokoe had 10.
Shiga was held to 8-for-27 shooting from beyond the arc and 21-for-65 overall.
Grouses 106, Broncos 79
In Uozu, Toyama Prefecture, eight Grouses players reached double figures in points as the hosts cruised past Saitama.
The Broncos (2-14) suffered their seventh straight loss.
Jeremy Jacob paced Toyama (14-8 overall, 10-4 at home) with 16 points and Brandon Cole had 15. Four teammates had 12 apiece: Tatsunori Fujie, Mitsuhiro Kamezaki, Masashi Joho and Ira Brown.
The Grouses shot 66.1 percent (41-for-62) from 2-point range.
Dameion Baker had 20 points to lead Saitama, while Nyika Williams added 19 points and 17 rebounds. Takuma Yamashiro scored 16 points and Yuki Kitamuki had 13.
Albirex BB 74, Jets 70
In Niigata, veteran forward Yuichi Ikeda canned 5 of 7 3s and had a team-high 22 points as the Albirex completed a series sweep over Chiba.
Nile Murry and Kimitake Sato added 11 points apiece and Shuhei Komatsu scored nine for Niigata (13-6).
The Albirex moved the ball effectively, spread the offense out on the perimeter and made 10 of 17 3s in the win. This proved vital on a day when they were 16-for-47 inside the arc.
Joe Werner had 26 points for the Jets (8-10) and D’Andre Bell supplied 20. Marquis Grey added eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks against his former team (he joined Chiba this week). Kensuke Tanaka dished out eight assists in the loss.
Brave Warriors 83, Northern Happinets 72
In Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture, Edward Morris scored 21 points and Jermaine Green had 19 as Shinshu salvaged a series split despite the absence of starting center Wayne Marshall due to an injury.
Green added 12 rebounds and six assists and Morris pulled down 11 rebounds for the Brave Warriors (13-7). Guard Takanori Goya scored 17 points with seven rebounds, four assists and a steal and Yosuke Saito chipped in with eight points and five assists.
Shinshu controlled the boards, playing hard-nosed ball in the paint to grab 51 rebounds to Akita’s 30.
Anthony Kent led the Happinets (11-7) with 19 points and Yuki Kikuchi and Dan Fitzgerald scored 17 apiece. In his four games in an Akita uniform, Fitzgerald is 10-for-50 from 3-point range.
According to multiple league sources, forward Anthony Mason Jr. left the Akita Northern Happinets before ever playing a game because he failed a recent drug test.
Mason’s signing was announced two weeks ago by the Happinets. No further details were released by the team.
League spokesman Akihiro Ejima would neither confirm or deny what the league insiders told The Japan Times. Instead, Ejima described Mason’s situation as a “personal privacy” issue.