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Gomez, Ogawa helping Shiga stay in playoff picture


Staff Writer

In 10-game increments, you can get a pretty good measure of how a team is playing during the long, 52-game bj-league regular season.

Everyone will agree that the Yokohama B-Corsairs’ 9-1 record over their past 10 games is impressive, whereas as the Oita HeatDevils’ 0-10 stretch is, well, awful.

The current Western Conference standings feature the top six teams — all of which would advance to the playoffs if the regular season ended today — with winning records in that on-court litmus test.

From first through sixth place, those marks are: Ryukyu (7-3), Shimane (7-3), Fukuoka (8-2), Hamamatsu Higashimikawa (8-2), Shiga (7-3; more on the Lakestars later) and Kyoto (6-4). Those top six West teams are a combined 43-17 in their past 60 games collectively.

Shifting to the Eastern Conference, first place Iwate (7-3) leads the charge from the top, followed by Niigata (8-2), aforementioned Yokohama, Akita (5-5), Toyama (6-4) and Shinshu (2-8, six straight defeats and seven of its last eight). Those six East squads are 37-23 in that span.

The fifth-place Lakestars (14-10) have been adequate on the road, winning five of 10 contests.

Against the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, Shiga is 5-5 overall, including 1-1 against Hamamatsu, 1-1 against Fukuoka, 3-1 against Shimane and 0-2 against reigning champion Ryukyu.

“We’ve been playing some pretty good ball, after a slow start,” Shiga coach Al Westover told The Japan Times on Wednesday, referring to the team’s 3-6 start in its fifth season.

The Lakestars brought back 203-cm forward Dionisio Gomez for a second season and his leadership has been a valuable asset for the club.

The University of Arkansas product is averaging 13.0 points, second-best total on the team behind Ray Nixon’s 13.2, and 8.4 rebounds in 24 games.

The 32-year-old veteran had a pair of outstanding games against the Miyazaki Shining Suns last weekend, proving 14 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the opener and a season-high 36 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in the rematch. The Lakestars have won four straight games.

Gomez’s steady production has not gone unnoticed.

“Gomez has been terrific for us, and is a very versatile player who contributes well in the 4 (power forward) or 5 (center) position,” Westover said. “I’m sure that he is more comfortable with our structure this year. He came up big for us on the weekend, and led us in scoring, rebounding and assists, as we needed a big effort from him and Ray, as Wayne (Arnold) was out with an abdominal strain (for both games), and (big man Alfred) Aboya sprained his neck. We’re hopeful that both of them will be back for this weekend.”

While Gomez is easy to spot on the court due to his height and presence in the paint, 183-cm guard Shinya Ogawa is grabbing attention for his steady performance. He’s averaging 10.0 points per game, with 62 assists and 34 turnovers.

In addition, he’s one of the league’s more dependable 3-point shooters, knocking down 42 of 92 shots (45.7 percent, No. 2 in the league) from beyond the arc.

“Shinya is having a big season for us, as he’s more confident and more comfortable with our structure and with being our captain. He’s a versatile guard, that has been playing some in the 2 (shooting) spot with the emergence of (23-year-old Yutaka) Yokoe as a force off the bench in the point guard position,” Westover said.

Yokoe is scoring 4.6 ppg, including 15 in 21 minutes last Saturday against Miyazaki.

As for Ogawa, the coach said, “I’m not surprised with his success, and think he’s capable of putting up bigger numbers, as he probably doesn’t know how good that he can be.”

Taking a look at the bigger picture, Westover recognizes the fact that more than half of the season remains and will provide plenty of drama between now and the start of the postseason.

The HeatDevils (9-15) have faded out of the playoff picture after a 9-4 start; Kyoto (12-12) sits ahead of Oita, and the Takamatsu Five Arrows, also are 9-15, but leaps and bounds ahead of where they were a season ago, when coach Kenzo Maeda’s club went 2-50.

A new cast of players, led by ex-Miyazaki standout Dexter Lyons, has helped the Five Arrows jump back into the category of potential playoff teams.

“A lot can still happen in the Western Conference,” Westover said.

“Obviously the Five Arrows are a lot better, and a lot of that is because of Dexter. Kyoto is as good as anyone in the West as they have a deep, big, and talented group. A lot will depend on who gets on a roll, and of course injuries, and how teams react to the ups and downs of a season.”

Upcoming games: Sendai plays host to Niigata in the first known three-game series in league history. It started on Thursday, and was set to continue through Saturday. The first game is a rescheduled contest that was called off on Dec. 7 due to an earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku.

Tokyo plays host to Akita on Friday and Saturday. The rest of the weekend’s schedule tips off on Saturday. That lineup is as follows: Kyoto vs. Oita, Osaka vs. Shiga, Yokohama vs. Gunma, Iwate vs. Toyama, Hamamatsu vs. Fukuoka, Chiba vs. Saitama, Miyazaki vs. Shimane and Ryukyu vs. Takamatsu.

Around the league: Two unnamed bj-league teams are reportedly planning to defect and join the re-branded JBL (to be known as the NBL) for the 2013-13 season along with the Chiba Jets, who already announced their move last summer, a league insider told The Japan Times. . . .

Kyoto’s Jermaine Boyette will miss this weekend’s games due to a family issue he will attend to in the United States, the team reported in a news release on Thursday.

Boyette is averaging 8.5 points in 24 games for the Hannaryz.

In related news, Kyoto guard Kyosuke Setoyama will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a right jaw fracture on Jan. 3 against Ryukyu. After undergoing surgery this week, he’s scheduled to begin rehabilitation.

League accolades: Niigata forward Yuichi Ikeda was named the December MVP, helping the Albirex go 8-1 in the month.

The veteran standout averaged 15.8 points for Niigata in that span, shooting 50 percent on 3-point range, 59.5 percent on 2s and 92.7 percent at the charity stripe.

Last weekend, Gomez, as mentioned above, had a pair of banner games against the Shining Suns. He is the Lawson Ponta Weekly MVP, the league announced on Thursday.

Do you have a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp