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Pierce prepares for playoffs


The Japan Times will be featuring periodic interviews with individuals in the bj-league. The league’s fifth season began in October. Head coach Bob Pierce of the Shiga Lakestars is the subject of this week’s profile.

Looking ahead: The Lakestars, a second-year franchise, posted a 29-23 record during the regular season and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Shiga faces the host Osaka Evessa (34-18), the league champion in 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08, in the opening round of the playoffs this weekend in Kansai. The Western Conference champion Evessa won four of six regular-season contests against the Lakestars this season.

Before the playoffs begin, Pierce breaks down the series and offers his insights on the upcoming games, including his thoughts on Osaka’s talented veteran mainstays Lynn Washington, Nile Murry, Ryan Blackwell and David Palmer, as well as Shiga players Gary Hamilton, Mikey Marshall, Masashi Joho, Chris Schlatter and Ray Schafer. . . . Hamilton led the bj-league in rebounds (14.3 per game).

What are the main keys to beating Osaka?

I wish I knew. . . . The keys seem to be: 1) out-rebound them; 2) be able to control Lynn, Nile, or both; 3) stop, or limit, their 3-point shooting; and 4) someone on your team needs to be able to score and exploit his matchup with Evessa.

Teams with explosive scorers, like Hamamatsu, Niigata (when they’re hot), Ryukyu and Oita, have been able to get some wins against Osaka this season.

How has the Lakestars defense improved since the addition of do-it-all small forward Mikey Marshall in early March? Can you give an example or two?

We won our first two games with Osaka, then lost the next two. We really struggled to match up with Nile Murry, and in the process of trying to stop Nile or Lynn, David Palmer or Ryan Blackwell often exploited their matchups.

With Mikey in the lineup now we match up better defensively with Nile or David. But we had to play the last two games at Osaka (April 10-11) without Gary Hamilton, and lost both at the end when Gary’s presence would have been a big help.

Comparing your team vs. the Evessa, at which positions do you feel the starters match up most effectively against Osaka’s starters?

Offensively, we want to use Ray’s size and scoring ability around the basket, whereas Evessa will try to exploit him by making him guard Lynn or Ryan away from the basket. If Ray is strong and aggressive early, we may have an advantage, if not, Evessa has a big edge.

Mikey and Nile may cancel each other out, so it often comes down to who else can score and create an advantage: Ryan or David for Evessa; Gary, Luke (Zeller), or Chris for us.

Joho can be the X-factor for us. He played great in the first two meetings (23 points and 22 points on Oct. 24 and 25, respectively; both Shiga wins), but seemed to be pressing and forcing things in the games at Osaka. His scoring is much more important to us than the points Jun (Nakanishi) or (Hirohisa) Takada get, so if he struggles, we will have a hard time winning.

Looking at game film this season, how would you say Hamilton has held his own against two-time MVP Washington?

They do different things, with Lynn being much more of a scorer than Gary. In our home wins, Gary got some big stops against Lynn, but no one stops Lynn for very long. We gave up several key offensive rebounds in our losses at Osaka, and grabbing those kinds of rebounds will be Gary’s most important role. Gary gives us some on-the-court leadership and toughness that is similar to what Lynn does for Evessa.

Is talented point guard Nile Murry the X-factor for Osaka? I mean, if he comes close to a triple-double, does that bode well for coach Kensaku Tennichi’s club?

Nile is so strong that he can often get to whatever spot he wants and get his shot off. I think he’s been their key player all year. But their strength is that after Nile and Lynn, someone else always steps up and contributes, usually David, Ryan, but also (center) Jason Klotz and Takada depending on the matchups.

Would you rather play a high-scoring game against Osaka or keep the score in the 60s?

I personally prefer that we get to at least 80, while keeping the opponent below 80 . . . but at times we go through scoring droughts, and so we really have to work defensively to win some games in the 60s. Fast, slow, man-to-man or zone, our goal is to find a way to win no matter what the style or opponent, i.e. a bit like Tom Izzo’s NCAA championship team in 2000 at Michigan State with Mateen Cleaves.

For Joho, who appeared in championship games while with Osaka and then with the Tokyo Apache, do you think he has extra motivation whenever he faces the Evessa?

Oh, he was definitely motivated when we played them the first two games and won both at home. But I think his own expectations and desire to play well in Osaka hurt him in our away games as he tried to do too much at times. But no question he’ll be motivated and ready to play in the playoff games this weekend.

Oh, by the way, how did the team spent its final off-week of the season?

Tried to take it easy, as 52 games is a long season. We took a couple of days off after Oita, and again this past weekend. We want to be fresh for the playoff, as “fresh” as you can be after playing 52 games.