The Takamatsu Five Arrows have had a topsy-turvy season. It started off fairly well, with a 13-7 record to open up the season.
But the team has experienced a dramatic nosedive in recent weeks. Third-year bench boss Kenzo Maeda’s team (17-23) has lost 12 of its last 16 games, including eight straight from Jan. 13 to Feb. 9, and is currently in seventh place in the 10-team Western Conference.
After a historically bad 2011-12 campaign (2-50, the worst in league history), the Five Arrows made big strides last season, finishing 22-30. And now the team is attempting to qualify for postseason play for the first time since going 33-19 in 2008-09 under original coach Motofumi Aoki, who has led three franchises since then — Tokyo Apache, Shinshu Brave Warriors and his current club, the Tokyo Cinq Reves.
Can the Five Arrows play more consistent basketball over the final 12 games of the regular season?
For starters, they’ll be put to the test this weekend against the visiting Sendai 89ers (20-20).
Last weekend, Takamatsu won back-to-back games, beating the visiting Shimane Susanoo Magic and cobbling together their first winning streak since triumphing in three straight between Dec. 31 and Jan. 5.
“I think the team’s spirit has always been high on making the playoffs,” center Paul Williams, a St. Bonaventure (New York) product, told The Japan Times on Wednesday evening. “That has been our goal since Day 1, but after last weekend’s wins it definitely helped everyone see how every game now is very important to us.
“There really is no excuse for our struggles in the past two months. We are still a good team, learning from every game we play.”
Maeda has maintained his confidence in his players despite the team’s struggles.
“Coach Maeda would just remind us that we are a good team and to be confident when we play,” said Williams. “He was very positive with us during our struggles.
“Coach Maeda is a defense coach so he is always preaching rebounding and one-on-one defense. So the next 12 games are so important that we play great defense because we play a lot of good teams down the stretch. At the end of the day we just have to take one game at a time and not get ahead of ourselves. We (will play) a lot of good teams and every game is like a playoff game to us.”
Swingman Sean Smith agreed that last weekend’s victories were quite important for the Shikoku club.
“I think the two-game win streak was vital for this team,” Smith told The Japan Times. “It puts us closer to securing a playoff spot. I believe that these games helped out our team’s confidence. I believe that it gives us a little momentum for the games coming this weekend.”
So what’s gone wrong in recent weeks?
“I believe the 4-12 record happened for tons of reasons,” Smith said. “There were some games where we just had too many turnovers, other games where we just shot the ball terrible. But overall I would just have to say it was a lack of consistency.
“Coach Maeda message’s for us has been to focus on each game at a time. Learn from our mistakes daily and limit them for the upcoming games. He stresses on leaving it all on the court daily, so we won’t have to look back on this season with any regrets.
“He believes in us and believes that we will make it to the playoffs. Overall we need to be consistent in every area of play. But I believe the main area of play for us is defense. I believe that defense is the key to winning games and securing a playoff spot.”
Takamatsu has been solid at home, winning 11 of 20 games. In away games, it’s a different story, with the Five Arrows going 6-14 to date.
In the West, the sixth-place Osaka Evessa (18-24) and eighth-place Oita HeatDevils (16-24) are also in the hunt for the final playoff spot.
Dexter Lyons (18.1 points per game) and Williams (14.2), both in their second year with the club, are Takamatsu’s primary scoring options. Andrais Thornton and Smith are averaging 11.0 and 9.2, respectively. Tsubasa Yonezawa is the team’s top Japanese scorer at 7.3 ppg, followed by Hiroyuki Kikuchi’s 5.5.
The Five Arrows have been hampered by mediocre 3-point shooting (28.2 percent) and their assist-to-turnover totals (513 helpers, 568 giveaways) are not good.
Weekly accolade: Shinshu post player Xavier Gibson is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP, the league announced on Tuesday.
Gibson, a Florida State alum, played an instrumental role in the Brave Warriors’ two wins over the Iwate Big Bulls last weekend.
On Saturday, he had 23 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, three assists and two steals. A day later, Gibson finished with 27 points, including 4-for-5 on 3-point shots, with six rebounds and five assists.
This season, he’s averaging 16.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
Injury report: Ryukyu guard Ryuichi Kishimoto, who leads the team with 85 3-pointers, will be sidelined for 2-3 weeks due to right elbow ligament damage sustained in last Thursday’s game against Fukuoka.
The Golden Kings, who lead the Western Conference with a 34-6 record, made the announcement on Monday.
The 23-year-old is averaging 11.1 ppg.
Catching up with … Justin Allen: The former Oita HeatDevils forward is currently on a book tour to spread a positive message to students.
Allen’s new children’s book is entitled “No You Can’t, Yes I Can.” He is director of basketball operations and head coach for Arizona Magic, a club team that develops players for college and pro opportunities.
In a Facebook post on Monday, the Arizona State product who suited up for the HeatDevils during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, wrote, “I am headed to Illinois tonight and I will be going to 15 schools in four days to share my book and my message of chasing our passions, Yes I Can, and battling adversity to continue our chase. I am beyond excited, wish me luck!”
Upcoming games: On Friday, Oita plays host to Shimane, while the rest of the weekend’s action tips off on Saturday. Those matchups are Iwate vs. Yokohama, Akita vs. Saitama, Gunma vs. Aomori, Niigata vs. Toyama, Tokyo vs. Shinshu, Kyoto vs. Shiga, Osaka vs. Hamamatsu, Nara vs. Ryukyu and the aforementioned Takamatsu-Sendai series.
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