The Osaka Evessa do not look like a championship contender. And it will probably take a minor miracle for the Western Conference club to qualify for the playoffs this season.
But this much is certain: The Evessa are headed in the right direction under new coach Bill Cartwright, who held the same post with the Chicago Bulls from 2001-03.
Osaka has won four of its six games with the former NBA big man in charge, including a 92-80 decision over the Oita HeatDevils on Sunday in bj-league action in Kobe.
The Evessa (9-21) won the series opener 78-76 on Saturday.
Six Osaka players scored in double figures in the rematch, with Mike Bell (16 points, 12 rebounds) leading the way. Dwayne Lathan added 15 in 19-plus minutes off the bench. Taizo Kawabe poured in 13, Shota Konno and Shun Watanuki each had 12, and Rick Rickert provided 11 points and nine boards for the victors.
The Evessa jumped out to a 26-12 advantage by the end of the first quarter, and took a 43-26 lead into the locker room at halftime.
After three quarters, the HeatDevils (11-21) trailed 68-45, but scored 35 fourth-quarter points to make the final score more respectable.
“We played hard defensively,” Cartwright told reporters after the game. “It set the tone of the game.
“We are getting better game by game and improving our level of play,” he added. “We played a good first and third quarter in this game, but . . . we have to play consistently the whole game.”
Noting the challenge of facing 2011-12 championship runnerup Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix next weekend at home, Cartwright said, “We’ll play against a very good team next week; if we could play (mostly) like today, it’s gonna be a great game.”
Cartwright said, “I was very happy about the (first) three quarters, but I didn’t like how we ended that game. We have to fight and fight until we win.”
P.J. Alawoya had 23 points for Oita and Verdell Jones III and Taishiro Shimizu scored 18 apiece.
“We are still an improving team, so if we play lazy in what we try to do, the game looks like today’s first half (for us),” said HeatDevils coach Yukinori Suzuki. “And I think the players noticed it, too. We have to focus on playing hard for 40 minutes.”
Albirex BB 65, Cinq Reves 63
In Tokyo, Niigata clamped down defensively on the hosts in crunch time, denying them an opportunity to mount a comeback, and Hirohisa Takada’s desperation final shot was off the mark as the Albirex escaped with a narrow win and completed a two-game sweep.
Nile Murry led Niigata (24-8) with 19 points, but shot 8-for-24 from the field on a day when his team struggled with its shot from start to finish. The Albirex were 14-for-47 (29.8 percent) from 2-point range, a percentage that coach Matt Garrison said was the lowest in team history.
Garrison called it “a very physical game.”
“Both teams fought hard . . . good defensive game, I guess. I think you could also throw in there that both teams missed a lot of easy ones that they normally make, but I think it was because of good, physical defensive pressure, and a lot of the scores were coming late in the shot clock so a lot of those shots, especially for us, were rushed a little bit.”
Looking at the box score during his postgame game chat with reporters, Garrison noted that “I don’t think we’ve (only) scored 10 in the fourth ever, so looking back on that, we had three or four turnovers there . . . we had some fouls we normally don’t get there, which is fine. They (the Cinq Reves) really slowed down our tempo there in the fourth and kind of made it grinding for us.”
Two wins in less than 24 hours on the road at Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium raised Niigata’s record to 12-4 on the road. Even so, the series finale will be a teaching tool for the Eastern Conference leader.
Said Garrison: “It’s going to be a game that we can really learn from, I know that, especially me.”
Kimitake Sato scored 14 points and knocked down 3 of 6 3-pointers and Yuichi Ikeda sank 4 of 5 3s for 12 points for Niigata. Center Chris Holm pulled down 15 rebounds, leading the charge on the boards for the Albirex, who had 26 offensive rebounds to Tokyo’s eight. This distinct edge in rebounding led to numerous second-chance scoring opportunities for Niigata, but its shot missed its target again and again on the afternoon.
Niigata, however, was ahead 19-18 after the opening quarter and led 33-31 at intermission.
In a tight second half, neither squad went on a game-defining run. Tokyo, a first-year franchise, kept its composure and stayed within reach of victory until the very end.
Jonathan Jones was the Cinq Reves’ top scorer with 20 points and Cohey Aoki had 17. Ricky Woods scored 10 points in his second game for Tokyo.
Tokyo coach Motofumi Aoki agreed with Garrison about the high intensity on display throughout the game, declaring afterward that “it was a very good game, and it was a pity we lost it.”
Coach Aoki said as the season progresses the team will work hard to make Woods more comfortable within the structure of its offense and defense. He also pointed out that Tokyo’s offensive rebounding must get better.
Grouses 60, 89ers 57
In Sendai, Ira Brown’s all-around performance — 18 points, nine rebounds, three assists and four steals — and Masashi Joho’s 17-point effort carried Toyama past the 89ers to complete a sweep.
Toyama improved to 21-11 under first-year coach Bob Nash. Sendai fell to 11-19.
Brandon Cole added 10 points and 11 boards for the Grouses, who shot 4-for-23 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“This game could have gone either way,” Sendai coach Bob Pierce told The Japan Times. “Both teams played tough defense and the lead went back and forth a couple of times in the last three minutes. Mo (Maurice Hargrow) had a drive with 18 seconds to go that I thought was going to put us up by one, but the ball rolled off the rim.”
T.J. Cummings paced the 89ers with 20 points and Takuya Komoda poured in 11. Sam Willard grabbed 16 rebounds in defeat.
Sendai shot 24-for-69 from the field.
Hannaryz 74, Phoenix 72
In Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, former Utah Jazz center Marcus Cousin scored 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting and hauled in 12 rebounds as Kyoto edged Hamamatsu Higashimikawa to earn a sweep.
Masaharu Kataoka scored 14 points and Yu Okada chipped in with 11 points, three assists and three steals for the Hannaryz (18-14).
Wendell White led the Phoenix (21-13) with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Shoji Nakanishi scored 14 points and Kevin Galloway and Jeffrey Parmer each had 12.
Kyoto coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s team sealed the win at the free-throw line, where it knocked down 18 of 20 shots.
Rizing 75, Lakestars 65
In Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Josh Peppers had 20 points and Reggie Warren’s double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) pushed the hosts past Shiga as they salvaged a series split.
Akitomo Takeno finished with 11 points for Fukuoka (20-12).
Wayne Arnold was the Lakestars’ top scorer with 17 points and Dionisio Gomez had 12. Yutaka Yokoe and Ray Nixon each scored 10 for Shiga (19-13).
Susanoo Magic 78, Five Arrows 69
In Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, Jeral Davis and Michael Parker combined for eight blocked shots and handed Takamatsu a nine-point loss, winning for the second time in as many days.
Shimane improved to 21-11. B.J. Puckett scored a team-high 20 points for the Magic, Koki Yabuuchi had 18 and Parker supplied 15 along with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Davis, who scored 11 points, swatted six shots.
Brandon Penn led the Five Arrows (12-20) with 13 points. Daisuke Tamura added 12 points for Takamatsu, which made 26 of 77 shots from the field.
Broncos 100, Brave Warriors 92
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, John “Helicopter” Humphrey scored a game-high 29 points and made four steals as the catalyst for the hosts in their bounce-back win over Shinshu.
Saitama (4-26) snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Yuki Nobuhira pumped in a season-high 21 on 9-for-13 shooting and Nyika Williams added 19 points and 12 boards.
Takanori Goya paced the Brave Warriors (15-17) with 25 points and eight assists and Jermaine Green scored 23. D’Mario Curry and Edward Morris each had 12 points.
Crane Thunders 72, Northern Happinets 66
In Annaka, Gunma Prefecture, Dominique Keller scored 24 points and the hosts won the battle on the boards to pick up a series sweep.
The expansion Crane Thunders (7-25) raked in 50 rebounds and Akita managed to grab 38.
Shingo Okada scored 15 points and Lewis Witcher provided 12 for Gunma. Floor leader Jermaine Dixon was 0-for-8 from the field and scored zero points but contributed in other ways with nine rebounds, five assists and two steals.
For Akita, 19-year-old rookie point guard Yuki Togashi was the high scorer with 19 points, adding six assists and seven turnovers in his fourth game in the bj-league. Dion Harris had 14 points, Marshall Brown scored 12 and Anthony Kent finished with 11 for the Happinets (17-13).
“It was a big home win after losing on Saturday against a talented and well-coached Akita team,” Gunma coach Ryan Blackwell said after the game. “We played well on both ends of the floor. We held them to five offensive rebounds to our 18, which was big for us. We had been giving up a lot of offensive rebounds this season so I was happy about that. We also had 19 assists, which means we were aggressive and sharing the ball a lot, especially playing against Akita’s 2-3 zone most of the game.”
Dixon’s effort didn’t go unnoticed.
“Jermaine didn’t score at all but he made a lot of plays on defense and made plays for others on offense,” Blackwell said. “Dominique was key for us down the stretch, making a lot of big shots and gave a better effort on defense against Marshall Brown. I was really impressed with Shingo Okada. He almost had a triple-double. . . . He was everywhere today.”
In addition to his aforementioned 15 points, Okada had 12 rebounds and seven assists.
Golden Kings 78, Shining Suns 55
In Okinawa City, the reigning champions stepped up the intensity in the third quarter, outscoring struggling Miyazaki 26-9 to seize momentum en route to victory.
Narito Namizato had 17 points, seven assists and three steals for Ryukyu (24-6), Terrance Woodbury scored 16 points, Anthony McHenry had 14 and Morihisa Yamauchi 12, while Jeff Newton supplied eight points and 12 rebounds in a winning effort.
Thomas Fairley and Abdullahi Kuso had 15 points apiece for Miyazaki (4-28), which dropped both weekend games under Kimitoshi Sano, who took over as acting head coach earlier in the week. The Shining Suns have lost six straight games.
Jets 90, Big Bulls 86
In Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, Iwate’s atrocious free-throw shooting (22-for-40) cost it the game, and the hosts extended their winning streak to nine games.
All-Star center Dillion Sneed, who had to settled for 14 points, had the toughest time at the line for the Big Bulls, missing 11 of his 17 foul shots. Teammate Carlos Dixon was Iwate’s top scorer with 22 points.
Marquin Chandler led Chiba (17-12) with 20 points, Hiroki Sato and Joe Werner scored 15 apiece and Reina Itakura poured in 14. Marquise Gray delivered 13 points and eight boards for the Jets and Kensuke Tanaka distributed the ball with smart, precise passes and registered five assists.
Chiba’s offense picked it up a notch in the fourth quarter, outscoring the visitors 31-20.
Lawrence Blackledge had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Iwate (21-10) in the series opener and Naoto Nakamura scored 10 points.