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Nara chasing playoff berth, consistency late in season

by

Staff Writer

Without their 22 road games, the Bambitious Nara would be in no position at this stage of the season to be vying for a playoff position.

The Bambitious, however, are 9-13 in away games. That has helped compensate for their 6-16 mark in home contests.

Nara (15-29) will look to end its six-game losing streak when it visits the host Osaka Evessa (30-14) this weekend.

The Bambitious sit in eighth place (the final playoff position) in the 12-team Western Conference. The Rizing Fukuoka (14-30) are also vying for that spot, while the Oita Ehime HeatDevils and Takamatsu Five Arrows, who have identical 11-31 records, are in striking distance if Nara and/or Fukuoka fail to win enough games over the final five weeks of the regular season.

First-year bench boss Kohei Eto has a chance to guide Nara to the playoffs for the first time in its three-year history. The Bambitious were a West-worst 12-40 last season and 19-33 in their inaugural campaign.

Nara center Julius Ashby, who has anchored the middle for playoff teams Takamatsu Five Arrows, Tokyo Apache, Niigata Albirex BB, Shiga Lakestars and the Rizing in past seasons, told The Japan Times that his club faces a big challenge to clinch a playoff position.

Ashby admitted that he has struggled this season.

“I feel like I haven’t played to my potential consistently this season,” he said in an email on Tuesday.

Guard Charles Hinkle leads Nara in scoring (15.5 points per game) and power forward Josh Ritchart is averaging 12.3. In 43 games, Ashby has recorded averages of 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. He is second on the team in assists (80) and tied with Ritchart for the lead in blocks (25).

A decade after playing his first game in the bj-league for the Five Arrows in the fall of 2006, Ashby believes that one of Nara’s biggest shortcomings is the youthful nucleus of the team’s roster.

“We don’t really have any experience on this team,” the ex-University of Colorado player said. “It’s really a very lucky situation we are in the eighth spot right now, but holding on to it will be very tough.”

After a tough series against the Evessa, Nara returns home the following weekend to face the Shimane Susanoo Magic (33-11 through Sunday), followed by a bye week, then two-game sets against the Hiroshima Lightning (1-39) and Fukuoka.

To finish the season strong, Ashby’s valuable playoff experience could be key for the young Nara squad.

“(All) I can really do is go out and give my best every game and hope we come out with wins,” Ashby said.

To rack up victories, Nara will need point guard Tatsuya Suzuki’s steady productivity to continue. He’s the league leader in assists (6.9 per game) and No. 1 on the team in steals (75). Suzuki, averaging 9.1 ppg, has done a stellar job taking care of the ball (290 assists, 83 turnovers).

Furthermore, what’s impressive about Suzuki’s output is the gap between him and the league’s No. 2 passer (Saitama’s Seth Tarver at 4.9 assists per game).

Ashby recognizes that Hinkle and Suzuki have had a major impact in keeping the Bambitious in the hunt for a playoff berth.

He called Hinkle “a bright spot” for the team, adding Suzuki’s play “has got us to where we are right now, and hopefully that can take us to the playoffs with eight games left in the season.”

Key acquisition: The Fukushima Firebonds are 7-3 since the acquisition of forward/center Bingo Merriex, who began the season with the Rizing Fukuoka.

The Texas Christian University product has averaged 9.2 points and 9.5 rebounds since joining Fukushima last month.

The Firebonds (26-16), a second-year franchise, are in fifth place in the East.

League accolade: Aomori Wat’s guard Nile Murry sparked his team in a pair of road victories over the Gunma Crane Thunders last weekend.

The TCU alum is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP winner, it was announced on Wednesday.

Murry had 19 points, three assists and two blocks in a 72-70 Aomori win on Saturday. He followed up that performance with 27 points, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range, with four steals as the Wat’s downed Gunma 84-75 on Sunday.

The veteran star, who was playoff MVP for the champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix last season, is averaging a team-best 18.6 ppg for the Wat’s.

Epic streaks: The Lightning have lost 34 consecutive games and the Tokyo Cinq Reves (1-39) have dropped 33 straight.

The Takamatsu Five Arrows set the record for the league’s worst record, going 2-50 in the 2011-12 season.

Upcoming games: The Hiroshima-Fukuoka and Oita-Takamatsu series are scheduled to begin on Friday.

The rest of the weekend’s action is slated to tip off on Saturday and includes Iwate vs. Toyama, Sendai vs. Aomori, Fukushima vs. Yokohama, Niigata vs. Tokyo, Shinshu vs. Gunma, Saitama vs. Akita, Kanazawa vs. Shimane, Hamamatsu vs. Kyoto, Ryukyu vs. Shiga and the aforementioned Osaka-Nara series.

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp