When steady center George Leach sustained a season-ending knee injury in mid-January, it appeared the Takamatsu Five Arrows faced an uphill battle to remain one of the bj-league’s elite teams.

Guess again.

The Five Arrows (23-9) have rattled off nine straight victories, including eight in a row since playmaker Kazuyuki Nakagawa, who has suited up for teams in both the ABA and USBL, joined the team.

Nakagawa is one of the top Japanese point guards in both the JBL and the bj-league. He helped the Five Arrows reach the bj-league championship game in their inaugural season (2006-07) and he helped the Rizing Fukuoka pull off an upset win over Takamatsu in last season’s Western Conference wild-card game in Takamatsu.

Now he’s back for his second tour of duty with the Five Arrows. And it’s been an impressive start.

Nakagawa is averaging 13.4 points per game since making his season debut on Jan. 17. He also has averages of 4.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.0 steals per contest. What’s more, he has an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2:1 (27 assists, 12 turnovers).

The confident floor general has settled comfortably into his role at the point, while incumbent starter Rasheed Sparks, a two-time winner of the league’s Slam-Dunk Contest, shifts over to shooting guard. Yu Okada joins the dynamic duo in a potent three-guard lineup.

“Kaz has been the biggest difference on our team,” Five Arrows forward Gordon James said. “Teams will have to play more defense on Rasheed now since he can play the shooting guard position instead of point guard. Kaz is now our point guard, therefore Rasheed can be way more effective for us on offense.”

Sparks has made a solid transition to shooting guard. He’s had four games of 14 or more points since Nakagawa arrived in Shikoku.

And he continues to stuff the stat sheet with all-around production. This includes six games with six or more boards, 41 total assists, 17 steals and six blocked shots.

In Takamatsu’s most important victory of the season, Sparks keyed the team’s high-energy effort. He had four slam dunks (10 total points) and six steals in an 85-70 win last Saturday over the Ryukyu Golden Kings.

The Five Arrows had lost the four previous meetings between the teams this season, then completed the weekend sweep a day later as Nakagawa scored a season-high 22 points.

“I love Kaz as a player because of his attitude toward the team and the sport of basketball itself,” said James. “His energy and work ethic is one of a kind, and I’m very glad he is here.”

And now the Five Arrows face another big test this weekend: a two-game home set against the three-time reigning champion Osaka Evessa (20-12).

The rest of this weekend’s schedule is as follows: Saitama Broncos (13-19) vs. Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (21-11); Toyama Grouses (9-23) vs. Niigata Albirex BB (14-18); Tokyo Apache (20-12) vs. Sendai 89ers (16-16); Rizing Fukuoka (13-19) vs. Shiga Lakestars (12-20); and Ryukyu Golden Kings (24-8) vs. Oita HeatDevils (7-25).

James update: Gordon James, Takamatsu’s All-Star power forward, has missed the past four games due to a knee injury. He confirmed in an e-mail that he began experiencing knee pain after a recent collision with a teammate.

James said he’s OK and expects to return to the lineup soon, but added that his focus is on helping the team at the season’s most critical stage.

“I will be needed more for the playoffs,” said James, the league’s No. 10 scorer (19.1 ppg) and No. 2 rebounder (14.2 rpg).

Basketball-inspired art: A stylish manga story featuring Sendai 89ers point guards Hikaru Kusaka and Takehiko Shimura is now posted on Spoma.jp. The illustrations are quite realistic and iconic at the same time.

Give a big thumb’s up to Spoma, and chalk it up as a clever marketing idea for the company and the Tohoku-based basketball team.

Streaky shooter: Albirex forward Yuichi Ikeda was 0-for-11 from 3-point range in the past three games. In the two games before that, he was 6-for-11.

Overall, Ikeda is a 30.5 percent shooter on 3-pointers. He is No. 8 in the league in minutes played (1,119) and first among Japanese players in that category. He is Niigata’s second-leading scorer (12.8 ppg).

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.