Coming off a bye week, the Tokyo Apache now face a tough stretch of games.
Joe Bryant’s club takes on the Saitama Broncos on Saturday and Sunday in Tokorozawa, followed by a rare home series at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Nov. 19-20 against the Osaka Evessa. Then the Ryukyu Golden Kings visit Tokyo for a two-game set on Nov. 29-30.
There is no clear-cut top team in the bj-league’s Eastern Conference at this point. The Broncos and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix both have 5-3 records. The Sendai 89ers and Niigata Albirex BB are both 4-4. And the Apache (3-3) look stronger at this stage of the season than the Toyama Grouses (1-5).
During the bye week, the Apache got back to basics, working on fundamentals, conditioning and team bonding during a mini-camp at Camp Zama, a U.S. Army base in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Before his team left Tokyo, Bryant explained why the Apache had planned this trip.
“I think that would help us for the most important thing: to get in better condition because we need to run up and down,” he said. “We want to run more fast breaks, but also the team can bond together (and) get a chance to know each other more so than just basketball — know their family, know their kids — so they can really care about each other. And that’s what training camp really is: it’s about bonding together.”
Disappearing act: Saitama reserve Yuki Kitamuki flourished on offense in five of his team’s first six games (zero points in the second game), but double-digit outputs in the others, including 27- and 25-point efforts against the Niigata Albirex BB on Oct. 25-26. The shooting guard scored 96 combined points in the next four games after the scoreless outing, helping the Saitama Broncos begin the season with a 5-1 record.
Since then, the Broncos have lost two straight games and Kitamuki has been a non-factor on offense. After attempting 52 shots from the field in the aforementioned four games, he took just five shots in 33 minutes in the past two games.
Kitamuki is third in the league in 3-point shooting accuracy (47.6 percent), but the Broncos failed to capitalize on this skill in a pair of road losses last weekend against the Sendai 89ers. Kitamuki, who is 20-for-42 from 3-point range, was 0-for-2 last weekend.
Clearly, Kitamuki can give the Broncos a boost by scoring close to his average (12.9) or more this weekend against the Apache.
Looking ahead: The rest of this weekend’s schedule is as follows: Shiga Lakestars (3-5) vs. Ryukyu (8-0); Hamamatsu vs. Toyama; Sendai vs. Niigata; Rizing Fukuoka (2-6) vs. Takamatsu (5-3); and Oita HeatDevils (2-6) vs. Osaka (4-4).
By the numbers: Evessa power forward Lynn Washington is the league’s leading scorer (25.6 points per game) through last weekend. Tokyo’s John Humphrey, a two-time scoring champ, is next with a 24.7 ppg average.
Phoenix point guard Michael Gardener is No. 1 in assists (7.1 per game). Shiga’s Takamichi Fujiwara is No. 2 at 6.8, followed by Ryukyu’s Naoto Takushi (6.4) and Saitama’s Taishiro Shimizu (5.9).
On the boards, two-time rebounding king Gordon James of the Takamatsu Five Arrows is the current leader (13.6 per game).
Takamatsu point guard Rasheed Sparks is averaging 2.9 steals, tops in the league.
Saitama Broncos center Antoine Broxsie is the top shot-blocker (4.4 per game).
Broncos forward Kazuhiro Shoji is tops in 3-point shooting accuracy (54.2 percent, or 13-for-24).
Tokyo guard Cohey Aoki is No. 1 in free-throw percentage, draining all nine of his attempts to date. He was tops in this category in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
Did you know?: The Evessa are 2-4 in games decided by nine points or less. . . . The Broncos are 3-1 when Shoji scores in double digits.