It’s a big weekend for the bj-league.

Two of the league’s top teams — the Osaka Evessa, the two-time defending champions, and the Tokyo Apache — square off for a pair of games on Saturday and Sunday at Ariake Colosseum.

With identical 9-3 records, including one win apiece in their previous two-game showdown in Kansai in mid-November, the teams are set for a marquee matchup in their final games of 2007.

There’s plenty at stake for Kensaku Tennichi’s Evessa and Joe Bryant’s Apache. Both teams are tied for first in their respective conferences. The Evessa, playing without injured power forward Lynn Washington, the league’s 2005-06 MVP who sustained a major knee injury in the aforementioned series, are in a tight race with the Takamatsu Five Arrows in the Western Conference.

Tokyo, meanwhile, is tied for first with the Sendai 89ers in the Eastern Conference.

Ex-Evessa standout Masashi Joho has made a strong impact in his first season with the Apache, providing a strong shooting outside shooting touch and a stellar defensive presence.

Saturday’s game tips off at 6 p.m., followed by Sunday’s rematch at 2.

The Saitama Broncos, who won back-to-back games for the first time this season by sweeping the Rizing Fukuoka last Sunday and Monday, visit Sendai for a pivotal series, which starts on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Christmas Eve contest commences at 2 p.m.

The Niigata Albirex BB, 7-7 and keeping themselves in the playoff picture, play host to the struggling Ryukyu Golden Kings (3-11) on Saturday and Sunday.

The Oita HeatDevils (6-6) travel to Takamatsu for another Saturday-Sunday series that could shake up the standings.

Elsewhere, the Toyama Grouses, who picked up their first victory of the season last Sunday after 13 straight losses, look for a strong showing against Fukuoka (5-7) in Kyushu.

The 2007-08 All-Star Game will be played Dec. 29 in Niigata.

Look for All-Star preview coverage in The Japan Times during the coming week.

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