Hokkaido keeps playoff hopes alive

by Kaz Nagatsuka

The Levanga Hokkaido are still alive in the postseason hunt.

Hokkaido cruised past the Hitachi Sunrockers 69-50 at Ota City General Gymnasium on Saturday to tie the Link Tochigi Brex. The Brex lost 93-88 to the Chiba Jets, in the Eastern Conference standings, and now both NBL clubs are 30-23.

Both Hokkaido and Link Tochigi, who are fighting for the third and last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, will play their same opponents on the final day of the regular season on Sunday.

Even if Hokkaido posts a win again, the Brex still can punch a ticket to the postseason based on the second tiebreaker (the edge in point differential in the teams’ six games, they were 3-3 against each other).

Though the two contests for Levanga and Tochigi tipped off at 6 p.m., the Levanga game finished a few minutes before the other. So the players and team staff didn’t make merry on their own win right away.

Coming into the series, the situation was clearly in favor for the Brex. But Hokkaido’s Spanish head coach Juan Manuel Hurtado Perez insisted after Saturday’s game that his team would concentrate on what it could do, not dwelling on Link Tochigi’s game.

“I think that Chiba has a good team,” Perez said of the Jets, who are now tied for last place with Hitachi in the East. “It’s not easy to beat them. Right now, we have to be ready for tomorrow in our things, we have to refocus in our game, like today.

“We are going to finish our game. We can’t watch the other one, but nothing will change for tomorrow. We can’t do nothing about the other court. It’s not our court, but theirs. We need to keep our focus and our fight.”

American Jerome Tillman led Hokkaido with 19 points and three steals, while Japanese ace Ryota Sakurai had 18 points.

Sakurai, a Japan national team player, revealed that the Levanga team had not necessarily played well in games and practices, but ultimately their mental will boosted them for the victory.

“We have our final game tomorrow” Sakurai said. “We’ll just have to give everything we’ve got into it.”

Both Hokkaido and Link Tochigi will tip off their games on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, the battle for the first seed in the Western Conference had also come down to the wire. As the second-place Wakayama Trians needed to sweep the first-place Aisin SeaHorses in their final series, Wakayama edged Aisin 86-82.

Now the two teams are tied with 40-13 records. The first-seeded teams will get a first-round bye in the six-team playoffs in May.

Wakayama’s big three — Takuya Kawamura, Rick Richert and Michael Parker — racked up 24, 21 and 18 points, respectively, to guide the Kansai club.

The two teams will meet again at 3 p.m. in Wakayama.