Eight straight victories is an impressive feat in any pro sports league.
Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Chiba Jets are unbeaten in 2013. Their last eight victories have not come against elite teams; in fact, those teams are a combined 21-67 through Sunday. Even so, wins are wins.
The Jets’ average margin of victory in those eight games was an eyebrow-raising 19.1 points.
Chiba defeated the visiting Shinshu Brave Warriors (14-16) 88-78 and 84-55 on Jan. 5 and 6, and in the series opener Shinshu big man Wayne Marshall suffered a season-ending left patella tendon injury.
On Jan. 12 and 13, Chiba thrashed the visiting Saitama Broncos (3-25) by scores of 90-67 and 98-66.
After the All-Star Game the next weekend, coach Shinji Tomiyama’s Jets returned to their winning ways against the host Brave Warriors on Jan. 27 and 28 and picked up 91-75 and 87-65 victories. Last weekend, Chiba swept the host Miyazaki Shining Suns, the Western Conference’s worst team at 4-26, by 85-68 and 87-83 margins.
Which brings us to this week’s big series against the Iwate Big Bulls, who are 21-9 and have looked like a title contender all season. Coach Dai Oketani’s Bulls handed Chiba back-to-back road defeats by one and 11 points in their first series of the season on Oct. 20-21.
Chiba (16-12) has the same record as the Akita Northern Happinets, while the Toyama Grouses (19-11), Iwate and Yokohama B-Corsairs (22-8) and Niigata Albirex BB (22-8) are in front of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Jets possess a potent cornerstone combo in Joe Werner and Marquin Chandler, frontcourt stars who are among the league’s elite scorers, and steady point guard Kensuke Tanaka to set the tone on offense. Werner is fourth in scoring (20.2) and Chandler is second (21.3). Tanaka is in a three-way tie for the top average in assists (5.9), sharing the lead with Ryukyu’s Narito Namizato and Sendai’s Takehiko Shimura.
In other key statistical categories, Werner is the league’s eight-leading rebounder (10.4). Chandler is fourth in 3-point shooting accuracy (43.5 percent, or 47-for-108) and third in free-throw shooting (92.2 percent).
Saitama coach Tracy Williams called Chandler, a San Jose State product, “the best all-around player in the bj-league” on Jan. 13 after the Jets star’s 27-point, eight-rebound, seven-assists, two-block game against the Broncos.
Georgia Tech alum D’Andre Bell is Chiba’s third-leading scorer (14.5 ppg), its leader in steals (53) and a dependable rebounder (5.7 per game). Marquise Gray, a Michigan State product, has fit in nicely with the Jets after starting the season as an Albirex post player. Gray has contributed 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 12 games for Chiba.
Veteran guard Hiroki Sato is the team’s leading Japanese scorer, averaging 7.5 ppg.
Chiba’s success this season can’t mask the franchise’s uncertain future. After all, the Jets will join the re-branded JBL, known as the National Basketball League, next season and face an entirely new cast of foes with a multitude of other challenges as major adjustments they must make.
Cartwright’s first two weeks: The Osaka Evessa have gone 2-2 in former Chicago Bulls coach Bill Cartwright’s four games in charge, winning a pair of games against the visiting Shining Suns two weeks ago before dropping two against the host Ryukyu Golden Kings last weekend in Okinawa.
Three of those games were decided by 10 or fewer points, including a 62-60 setback on Sunday against the defending champion Golden Kings.
Cartwright recognizes the urgency of his current reclamation project.
“I found two assignments for (the team) next week: One, to improve individual skills, (and) two, to decide who to play in critical situations,” Cartwright said on Sunday, previewing the week’s focus at practice.
Cartwright is getting strong production from guard Dwayne Lathan, who scored 19, 15, 14 and 18 points in Big Bill’s first four games at the helm while playing between 20-24 minutes in those contests. And center Rick Rickert has not skipped a beat, either, producing four straight double-doubles under the longtime NBA big man’s tutelage (16 points and 15 boards in Cartwright’s debut game, followed by 11 and 17, 12 and 15 and 14 and 16).
Rickert is the top scorer (14.2 ppg), followed by Mike Bell (13.8). All-Star forward Nathan Walkup is next at 11.9 ppg. Lathan checks in at 10.4 ppg in his 13 games in an Osaka uniform, and Shota Konno is putting 7.4 ppg on the board.
At 7-21, the Evessa have 24 games remaining this season, including 14 at home.
Bell is confident the team will make a strong turnaround.
“He’s a great coach,” Bell said of Cartwright after the Jan. 27 game against Miyazaki. “Give us two weeks and we’ll be much better.”
More on Cartwright: The 216-cm coach, who earned three NBA championship rings (1990-91, 1992-92 and 1992-93 season) during his days as a starting center playing for the Bulls, is scheduled to make a visit to visit Sakuranomiya High School in Osaka on Feb. 14. Cartwright and some Evessa players are expected to offer words of encouragement to the school’s boys basketball team, which has coped with a highly publicized tragedy in recent weeks.
The suicide of the school’s 17-year-old boys basketball captain in December after suffering from corporal punishment from the team’s head coach has shed light on a long-entrenched problem in Japan.
Leadership change: The Shining Suns have appointed Kimitoshi Sano as the team’s acting head coach, taking over for 70-year-old Junichiro Hongo, who was in his first season in charge.
The announcement was made on Thursday evening.
Sano, 30, joined the organization as an assistant coach this season, as did Hongo.
Miyazaki’s original head coach, Koto Toyama, was in charge for two seasons, then left the organization following the 2011-12 campaign. He’s guided the Golden Kings to a league-best 20-6 record entering this weekend.
In related news, standout forward Ricky Woods asked the Shining Suns for his release and the move became official on Wednesday.
Upcoming games: All weekend series begin on Saturday except for Chiba-Iwate, which tips off on Sunday. The others: Sendai vs. Toyama, Fukuoka vs. Shiga, Gunma vs. Akita, Hamamatsu vs. Kyoto, Saitama vs. Shinshu, Osaka vs. Oita, Tokyo vs. Niigata, Ryukyu vs. Miyazaki and Shimane vs. Takamatsu.
Bad scheduling: The Brave Warriors play 18 of their final 26 games at home venues, including their final 10 regular-season contests.
Around the league: Sources in Kansai have told this newspaper that the Evessa and Kyoto Hannaryz are considering jumping to the NBL in the near future. Stay tuned. . . .
In 2007-08, then-Tokyo Apache star Cohey Aoki averaged a career-high 15.8 ppg. Now the face of the franchise for the expansion Tokyo Cinq Reves, Aoki is scoring 15.6 ppg. And he remains Mr. Automatic at the free-throw line, shooting 94.3 percent (99-for-105). . . . Tokyo big man Jonathan Jones has been whistled for four of the team’s five technical fouls this season. . . .
Weekly accolade: Sixth man Draelon Burns of the Yokohama Burns was issued the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP award for his terrific performances last weekend against the Saitama Broncos in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Burns, a DePaul University product, scored 23 points in back-to-back games for the B-Corsairs, draining 5 of 9 3-pointers in the series opener with four assists and one steal. On Sunday, he knocked down 3 of 6 long-range shots, handed out six assists, grabbed five rebounds and made three steals.
Averaging 21.0 ppg, third-best output in the league, Burns is the rare reserve who is among the top five scorers in a pro circuit, and has a shot to win the scoring title if he maintains his points production.
Sendai’s T.J. Cummings is the league leader at 21.6 ppg.
Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to email@example.com