The Saitama Broncos were handed their 10th consecutive defeat on Sunday in the bj-league, losing their sixth straight game by double digits.
Conversely, the Osaka Evessa continued their late-season surge, extending their winning streak to 10 games.
Meanwhile, All-Star big man Jeff Newton, the reigning regular-season and playoff MVP, made his return to the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings lineup for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury on Jan. 23.
By all accounts, it was a hectic, memorable weekend for the fifth-year pro league.
The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix completed a weekend sweep, trouncing the Broncos 80-55 in the series finale. Furthermore, veteran bench boss Kazuo Nakamura’s club humiliated Saitama 93-60 on Saturday, when seven Phoenix players had two or more assists, contributing to a runaway win.
For the Phoenix (35-9 overall, 19-5 on the road), Wendell White, a worthy candidate for the MVP award, led the victors with a tone-setting 20-point, 15-rebound, five-assist effort. William Knight added 13 points and seven boards, Jermaine Green scored 12 and Masahiro Oguchi had 11 points.
Terrence Roberts was Saitama’s only scorer in double digits (11 points).
The Broncos fell to 13-31, including 7-17 at home.
Also Sunday, the Evessa defeated the Shiga Lakestars 71-66, using a strong fourth-quarter effort to secure the win.
Nile Murry paced Western Conference-leading Osaka (28-16) with 21 points and dished out five assists. David Palmer chipped in with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Jason Klotz scored nine, Ryan Blackwell had eight and Lynn Washington finished with a seven-point, nine-rebound outing.
Shiga, the West’s fourth-place team, slipped to 24-22 after back-to-back defeats to Osaka.
The Lakestars were unable to match the hosts’ offensive firepower in the fourth quarter, when Osaka outscored the Shiga 24-6.
Masashi Joho led the Lakestars with 23 points, including 5-for-12 from beyond the 3-point arc. The All-Star guard struggled in Saturday’s setback, shooting 2-for-18 from the field (0-for-6 on 3-point shots). Mikey Marshall added 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Shiga played the series without power forward Gary Hamilton, who served a two-game suspension for a flagrant foul against Ryukyu on April 4.
It was an intense series from the get-go, and both teams showed their desire for victory in the opener. The Lakestars forced overtime against Osaka on Saturday, with Ray Schafer’s hoop tying the score at 67-67 with 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Ten seconds into the bonus period, Murry, who finished with a game-high 25 points, drained a 3-pointer to break the deadlock and Osaka jumped out to a nine-point lead en route to another victory. Washington’s vintage effort (20 points, 10 rebounds) also proved to be a pivotal factor for the Evessa.
“It was a great game,” Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said on Saturday. “Both teams have been fighting and everyone was competing on defense.”
As a team, the Lakestars were 13-for-26 at the free-throw line in the series-opening loss.
Elsewhere, the host Niigata Albirex BB earned a series split, routing the Sendai 89ers 84-58 on Sunday.
Uche Echefu was the leading scorer (16 points) for the Albirex (22-22), followed by Tyrone Levett (14 points), Paul Butorac (13), Antonio Burks (11), Yuichi Ikeda (nine) and Makoto Hasegawa (six).
For Sendai (30-14), Josh Peppers had a game-best 23 points and Chris Holm scored 10. (By the way, the 89ers lived up to their nickname in the series opener, winning 89-68.)
Making a late-season push for the playoffs, the Oita HeatDevils (23-23), swept the Kyoto Hannaryz, thanks to an 81-64 triumph in the series finale.
Ricky Woods (30 points, 10 boards), Mike Bell (23 points, 18 boards), Kimitake Sato (eight points) and Matt Lottich (seven points, six assists) guided the HeatDevils to a victory.
John Clifford led the visiting Hannaryz (15-29) with 18 points and 15 rebounds, while Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf scored 16 and Naoto Takushi had nine points and five assists. (The HeatDevils edged the Hannaryz 86-78 in the opener). Michael Parker and Richard Ford Jr. each had double-doubles in the Rizing Fukuoka’s 71-65 road triumph over Ryukyu on Sunday.
Parker (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Ford (17 points, 10 boards) received solid support from teammates Thiago Cordeiro (nine points, 12 boards) and Tsuyoshi Kawazura (seven points, seven rebounds, five assists) in the series finale.
Fukuoka ended the weekend with a 27-19 record, which includes a 77-73 setback on Saturday.
Newton had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Golden Kings (28-18) in his second game back. He played 21 minutes on Sunday, shooting 8-for-15 from the field and adding one assist and one blocked shot for good measure. He played 20 minutes in the opener, finishing with four points and six rebounds).
Ryukyu assistant coach Keith Richardson said the team’s fans gave Newton a warm welcome on Saturday.
“You should have heard the crowd and the standing ovation he got when he was introduced,” Richardson said. “I had a tear in my eye — for real.”
On Sunday, reserve forward Bryan Simpson, who had a 12-point game, was Ryukyu’s only other double-digit scorer. Yosuke Sugawara finished with nine points and George Leach had eight.