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Evessa, Apache to clash in battle of unbeatens


Chalk up an assist for the schedule makers. They’ve provided us with an early season treat this weekend: Osaka Evessa vs. Tokyo Apache, teams sitting atop their respective conferences in the bj-league.

The Evessa, you may recall, are the two-time defending bj-league champions. They’re off to a 4-0 start this season, including a pair of impressive victories over the Takamatsu Five Arrows, last season’s other championship game finalist, last weekend.

After Sunday’s 104-91 Osaka victory, Five Arrows coach Motofumi Aoki made these remarks:

“Yesterday we were beaten by (Jeff) Newton and today it was (Lynn) Washington. It’s like we got beaten by individuals, not by the team. Overall, however, it was a good game. Although we lost two in a row, we would like to forget this and come in to the next game.”

The retooled Apache, coached by Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, rattled off three straight wins before dropping a 90-85 game against the host Sendai 89ers last Saturday.

The 89ers (3-1) moved into a first-place tie with Tokyo in the Eastern Conference. The Niigata Albirex BB (2-2), Saitama Broncos (1-3) and Toyama Grouses (0-4) round out the Eastern standings.

In the Western Conference, three teams — the Five Arrows, Ryukyu Golden Kings and Oita HeatDevils — have identical 2-2 records and the Rizing Fukuoka have a 1-3 mark.

Revisiting the Evessa’s series-opening win over the Five Arrows, provides us with two telltale numbers: 32 and 12, the number of points and rebounds, respectively, that Newton produced in the 88-76 victory in Osaka’s home opener.

A day later, Washington had 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting and a 7-for-7 effort from the charity stripe.

So, yes, you can make this conclusion: Aoki had sufficient evidence — and a good memory — to include the Evessa’s dynamic frontcourt duo’s performance in his series-concluding comments.

In Sunday’s game, the Evessa were successful on 36 of 57 two-point shots and sank 5 of 11 from 3-point range.

Osaka’s on-the-mark output was made possible by a spread-the-wealth approach, with 22 assists, led by Mike Marshall’s eight and Matt Lottich’s seven, to illustrate the point.

“I think we were able to play a good game,” Osaka coach Kensaku Tennichi declared.

“We could win because we got rebounds firmly and scored 28 points at the beginning of the second half,” he added, referring to his team’s third-quarter output, which stretched the lead to 80-65 entering the final period.

The Apache, meanwhile, welcomed point guard Cohey Aoki, the league’s shortest player at 167 cm, into the starting lineup last Friday. He came off the bench for the season’s first two games, giving an ankle injury time to recover, and then erupted for a benchmark performance.

His 30-point, 12-assist performance in a 103-84 Tokyo triumph served as a colossal reminder that he is one of the league’s rising stars, an exciting player whenever he steps onto the court.

In fact, he proved that point before the first half ended, dishing out nine assists to his happy teammates.

In other games this week, Sendai plays host to Toyama on Friday night at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2. In the other Saturday-Sunday series, Niigata travels to Saitama and Oita visits Takamatsu.

ON THE RISE: Keep an eye on Rizing Fukuoka point guard Jun Nakanishi. He is quietly becoming an All-Star caliber player for his first-year club. The Tokyo native has increased his minutes and points in each game, including double-digit outputs in three consecutive contests.

He’s coming off a 26-point, six-assist, three-steal effort in the Rizing’s historic first victory, a 104-91 overtime win against the host Oita HeatDevils on Nov. 11.

Fukuoka also got 20-plus points from Michael Gardener (23), Jeffrey Price (20) and Ndongo N’diaye (20) in the pulse-rising win. HeatDevils big man Andy Ellis had 27 points.

Oita committed 19 turnovers, the same number of assists it made.

“We need to play smartly,” HeatDevils coach Dai Oketani said. “The focal point from now will be how much we can raise our ability.”

Fukuoka coach John Neumann had a different perspective after the victory.

“Today, all of our players exhibited good plays,” he said, “especially our defense was good.”

IN THE PAINT: The NBA Development League begins its 2007-08 season on Nov. 23. Former bj-league standouts David Palmer and Julius Ashby were recently drafted by D-League squads.

In related news, the Bakersfield Jam, meanwhile, welcome back guard Yuta Tabuse, one of three returnees from last season’s squad. The Jam, coached by ex-UCLA mentor Jim Harrick, opened training camp with 16 players.

IMPRESSIVE FIGURE: 7,056. The number of spectators at the Nov. 11 Osaka-Takamatsu game.