Three teams enter this weekend’s action with 12-18 records, and all three can enhance their playoff position with a two-game road sweep.
A weekend split would probably give each of them much-needed confidence, but two more losses could prove to be a serious blow to their playoff chances.
The Rizing Fukuoka travel to face the Osaka Evessa (21-9), the three-time defending bj-league champions, who have found themselves in the unfamiliar position of second or third place in the Western Conference for much of the season.
The Evessa are now third, trailing the Takamatsu Five Arrows (21-9) and the Ryukyu Golden Kings (24-6). And this much is certain: Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi has told his players they cannot overlook the Rizing and think ahead to next week’s games against the Five Arrows.
After all, Rizing forward Michael Parker, the league’s top scorer at 26.3 points per game, is a difficult defensive challenge in every game.
At the other end of the floor, center Shawn Taylor, who had a 10-block outing two weeks ago, will attempt to make Osaka’s job as difficult as possible.
The expansion Shiga Lakestars (12-18) have won one of their last five games and look to get back on track against the Oita HeatDevils (5-25).
Two of Oita’s five wins have come against Bob Pierce’s squad. That fact will probably be brought up by Pierce in Shiga’s pre-game preparations this weekend.
The Saitama Broncos (12-18) now feature added depth in the frontcourt with the recent addition of Isaac Sojourner. But the Broncos, who have eight losses in their past 10 games, face the balanced Sendai 89ers (15-15) in a key Eastern Conference series.
Sendai center Chris Holm is playing as well as any big man in the league. In recent weeks, his rebounding instincts have been as steady as any player on the planet (107 rebounds in the past five games).
The injury-plagued Tokyo Apache (18-12), missing stars John Humphrey and Nick Davis, were swept by the Niigata Albirex BB in a midweek series on Feb. 4-5. The Apache, coached by Joe Bryant since the league began, had a few extra days to rest and then got back to work.
It’ll be interesting to see how Bryant’s club, which has slipped from first place to second place, will respond this weekend in a home series against the Toyama Grouses (9-21).
Also this weekend, the Takamatsu Five Arrows (21-9) play host to the Ryuyku Golden Kings (24-6). Motofumi Aoki’s squad is 0-4 against its Okinawa opponent this season.
Niigata (14-16), meanwhile, is back at home and faces a pivotal two-game series against the first-place Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (19-11), who had their 10-game win streak snapped last Saturday but bounced back a day later against the 89ers.
Room for improvement: Albirex point guard Akitomo Takeno is one of the league’s top 3-point threats.
Give him any space to set up shop, and the 173-cm guard will take a shot.
Takeno is No. 2 in 3-point shooting percentage (42.6), trailing only Shigeyuki Kinjo of the Golden Kings (42.7). He has made 63 of 148 3-point shots.
Takeno has had less success on shots from inside the arc. He’s shooting 39.2 percent (69-for-176) on 2-pointers. An improved output on 2-point shots will make him more difficult to defend.
But hey, he’s still 23 years old and already proven he can score in double digits on a consistent basis (13.2 points per game). He’s become one of the league’s most entertaining Japanese players, so now he can focus on becoming a more consistent shooter.