It took until the fifth month of the season for the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Tokyo Apache, a pair of bj-league title contenders, to face each other for the first time.

Saturday’s game in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, could be a preview of May’s championship game. But first and foremost, it was a big victory for Bob Hill’s Apache, a 92-84 triumph in which six players scored in double figures, including budding star Kensuke Tanaka’s 21-point performance. Tanaka canned 5 of 7 3-point attempts.

The Apache (19-10), who have played four fewer games than the rival Sendai 89ers, moved into second place in the Eastern Conference. Tokyo’s winning percentage is now .655 after recording its fifth straight victory.

Byron Eaton scored 19 points off the bench, Cohey Aoki, Mike Chappell and Jumpei Nakama had 11 points apiece, while Jeremy Tyler scored 10. Chappell grabbed a team-best nine rebounds.

Anthony McHenry paced the Golden Kings (21-14) with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Shigeyuki Kinjo and Naoto Kosuge had 15 points apiece. Carlos Dixon scored 13 and Jeff Newton had 12 points and 11 boards before fouling out, while Tsubasa Yonamine finished with nine points and eight assists.

The Apache trailed 52-39 at halftime. They outscored the hosts 29-10 in the third quarter to pull ahead.

Phoenix 110, Shining Suns 83

In Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture, seven players scored in double figures to lead the hosts to a rout.

Wayne Arnold paced Hamamatsu Higashimikawa (31-4) with 17 points and Kazutoshi Ota scored 16. Jermaine Dixon poured in 15 points, Dzaflo Larkai scored 14 and Jeffrey Parmer had 13 points and 13 boards.

Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura’s club overwhelmed Miyazaki (12-23), which is led by one of his former assistants, rookie bench boss Koto Toyama.

Brandon Cole finished with a team-high 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Shining Suns. Elijah Palmer scored 19, Jackie Manuel had 16 and Taishiro Shimizu dished out six assists.

Hannaryz 87, 89ers 79

In Sendai, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who began collecting a pro paycheck before the Internet was used by ordinary citizens on a regular basis, scored a team-high 24 points and had five assists to guide Kyoto to a road triumph.

The Hannaryz improved to 18-17 despite a 30-point, 14-rebound, six-assist performance by Sendai guard Mac Hopson.

Taizo Kawabe chipped in with 12 points for Kyoto, while Michael Fey had 11, Naoto Nakamura contributed nine and Reggie Warren and Kibwe Trim each scored eight. Six Hannaryz players had two or more assists.

Sendai slipped to 21-12. Mike Bell (16 points, eight boards) and Chris Holm (14 points, 10 rebounds, four steals) had solid games in the loss.

Albirex BB 70, Broncos 61

In Toyano, Niigata Prefecture, Julius Ashby scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and Willie Veasley had an 18-point performance as coach Masaya Hirose’s club won the series opener.

Shuhei Komatsu scored 11 points and Issa Konare pulled down 10 rebounds for the Albirex (17-16).

For Saitama (14-21), trying to remain in playoff contention, Kenny Satterfield had an 18-point, 14-rebound effort, George Leach raked in 16 boards and Yuki Kitamuki and Gordon Klaiber both scored 10.

Satterfield also had eight of Saitama’s 16 turnovers.

Broncos All-Star forward Kazuya Hatano returned to the rotation after being sidelined a month with a right-hand injury. He had three points and two rebounds in 23-plus minutes off the bench.

Evessa 85, Happinets 74

In Amagasaki, Osaka Prefecture, the hosts snapped a two-game losing streak and sent Akita to its sixth consecutive defeat.

Billy Knight and Lynn Washington scored 17 points apiece for the West-leading Evessa (22-13) and Daisuke Tamura and Hirohisa Takada each had 12 points. Washington added eight rebounds and six assists.

For the expansion Northern Happinets (10-25), Will Graves notched a double-double (23 points, 12 rebounds), Paul Butorac scored 14, Dokun Akingbade had 13 along with 10 rebounds and Antonio Burks scored 10. Ryosuke Mizumachi had six assists.

Susanoo Magic 71, HeatDevils 66

In Beppu, Oita Prefecture, Shimane clamped down defensively over the final three quarters, holding the hosts to 47 points in that span, to record a series-opening win.

Takumi Ishizaki paced the Susanoo Magic (16-19) with 13 points and Jeral Davis had 12 points and seven rebounds. Forrest Ray Fisher III and Terry Evans each scored 10 points for the expansion club.

Shimane moved into sixth place, the final playoff position, in the nine-team West, while Oita fell to seventh.

Cyrus Tate led the HeatDevils (15-20) with 17 points, Stanford products Taj Finger and Matt Lottich scored 13 and 12, respectively, and Kimitake Sato had nine points, but shot 2-for-14 from the floor. Finger and Damian Johnson had 10 rebounds apiece.

Rizing 94, Five Arrows 69

In Fukuoka, Michael Parker’s 30-point, 18-rebound, four-steal effort sparked the Rizing to a home win over Takamatsu.

Thiago Cordeiro scored 12 points and Jun Nakanishi and Nile Murry had 11 apiece, while Akitomo Takeno finished with 10 for Fukuoka (20-15). Murry chipped in with six assists.

Jeffrey Price had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Five Arrows (8-27).

Grouses 82, Lakestars 81

In Toyama, Brian Harper had 33 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and the hosts survived a woeful free-throw shooting night (8-for-19) to hand Shiga its sixth straight loss.

The Lakestars outrebounded the Grouses 61-47 and had only 10 turnovers but failed to end their recent string of defeats, including their first under interim coach Hirokazu Nema, who replaced Takatoshi Ishibashi on Tuesday.

Takeshi Mito and Makoto Kato each scored 11 points to help Toyama improve to 11-22. Big man Jerrell Smith had eight points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots for the Grouses.

For Shiga, which was 5-for-12 at the charity stripe, Josh Peppers scored 27 points and nine rebounds, Masashi Joho had 14 points and four 3-pointers and Ray Schafer scored 10. Gary Hamilton, who was held to 2-for-11 shooting, hauled in 14 rebounds and added eight assists.

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