Things are starting to fall into place for the Sendai 89ers.
After missing five straight games, center Dzaflo Larkai returned from a knee injury on Nov. 30. And since then, the 89ers have quietly continued their climb in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Sendai (9-9) now sits in sixth place, the final playoff position, in the 11-team East after beating the visiting Aomori Wat’s 90-70 on Sunday at Xebio Arena.
“It was the last home game in 2013, (so we) started off with a feeling ‘to protect the home always,’ ” 89ers coach Shuto Kawachi told reporters after the game.
Kawachi, in his first season at the helm, said the team wants to wrap up the year “fighting firmly.”
The 89ers have won six straight games and seven of their last 10. They are 9-1 in home contests and they feature one of the top frontcourt tandems in the league in Larkai (15 points, nine rebounds) and former league MVP Wendell White (17 points, eight boards, five assists).
In the series finale, Sendai sank 14 of 33 3-point shots. Point guard Fumiya Sato, an up-and-coming 23-year-old standout, made 5 of 8 3s in a season-high 15-point performance. Takehiko Shimura, who had 13 points, was 3-for-3 from long range. Travele Jones, who had 18 points, knocked down 3 of 4. White was 3-for-7.
For Aomori (8-10), Gordon Klaiber was the top scorer with 22 points and Yuki Kitamuki had 12. Abdullahi Kuso finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds and Makoto Sawaguchi had 10 points and four assists.
Golden Kings 87, Bambitious 69
In Okinawa City, Draelon Burns came off the bench and sparked the hosts with 26 points in 28-plus electrifying minutes in a rout over Nara.
Ryukyu (14-2) ran its winning streak to 10 games, including a 6-0 mark since Burns, a DePaul University product, joined the team.
Burns canned 5 of 9 3-pointers against the Bambitious (4-14). Teammate Shigeyuki Kinjo also had the hot hand from beyond the arc, burying all three of his 3-point shots in a 17-point effort. Morihisa Yamauchi scored eight points for the Kings, as did Kibwe Trim, who also grabbed 10 rebounds.
It was a clinical exhibit on offense for Ryukyu, which shot 11-for-21 on 3s, 19-for-37 from 2-point range and 16-for-20 at the free-throw line.
For Nara, Joe Chapman led the way with 14 points and Jumpei Honda scored 11, while Taishi Kasahara and Anthony Brown had 10 apiece.
Grouses 83, Northern Happinets 77
In Uozu, Toyama Prefecture, Masashi Joho scored 22 points and the Grouses gave a spirited rebounding effort in a bounce-back win over Akita.
Toyama (14-4) out-rebounded the visitors 63-51 and held them to 5-for-28 shooting from 3-point range in a showdown between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference standings. Akita fell to 17-3.
Ira Brown had 14 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Grouses and Tatsunori Fujie also scored 14 points. Sam Willard chipped in with 11 points, 12 rebounds and three steals, Josh Gross scored nine points and Takeshi Mito had eight.
Ruben Boykin paced the Happinets with 24 points and 15 rebounds and Richard Roby provided 20 points and nine boards. Newcomer Sylvester Seay scored 17 points in the loss, and Chas McFarland was limited to five points and six rebounds before fouling out.
B-Corsairs 81, Five Arrows 67
In Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Omar Reed’s 23-point, 16-rebound afternoon and Marquise Grey’s 18-point, 15-board outing steered Yokohama to a win over Takamatsu.
The B-Corsairs (8-10) dominated in the rebounding department (55-29 margin, including 20-7 on the offensive boards) to salvage a series split.
Masayuki Kabaya scored 14 points for the reigning champions, Wayne Marshall had 11 and Kenji Yamada handed out nine assists.
Dexter Lyons had a game-high 35 points for the Five Arrows (6-10) and Paul Williams scored seven. Takamatsu missed 13 of 14 3-point attempts.
HeatDevils 88, Susanoo Magic 65
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Verdell Jones III was a calm, effective presence at the charity stripe, draining 14 of 16 shots to guide Oita to a victory over the hosts.
Jones scored 25 points with five assists and three steals for Oita (11-7 overall, 8-2 on the road) and Taishiro Shimizu had 22 points. Gabe McCulley added 13 points and seven rebounds and Devonne Giles had nine points and nine boards.
Jeral Davis scored 21 points and hauled in 10 boards for Shimane (4-14). Shawn Malloy had 16 points and 10 boards and Edward Yamamoto added nine points and five assists. Adrian Thomas also netted nine points.
The Magic sank 2 of 16 3s.
Big Bulls 72, Broncos 59
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, Scootie Randall’s 16 points led a balanced Iwate scoring attack as the Broncos suffered their 13th straight loss.
Kenichi Takahashi had 15 points, five assists and five steals for the Big Bulls (10-6) and Lawrence Blackledge and Josh Peppers each scored 12 points. Tsubasa Yonamine dished out six assists.
Blackledge also contributed three steals and two blocks and Peppers registered five assists.
Mark Dawson led Saitama (2-16) with 15 points and John Humphrey, back in the lineup after a one-game absence, scored 12.
Saitama was 10-for-20 on free throws.
Evessa 81, Phoenix 72
In Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Kevin Galloway’s all-around impact carried Osaka past the hosts as it earned a series split.
Galloway filled the stat sheet with 15 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and seven steals for the Evessa (8-10) and Dillion Sneed scored 16 points and collected 10 rebounds. Zach Andrews had 14 points and 11 rebounds and Naoto Nakamura scored 13 points.
Jermaine Dixon scored 24 points with six assists, but also had seven turnovers for the Phoenix (10-8). Ray Nixon and Aki Chambers ended the game with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Crane Thunders 79, Cinq Reves 68
In Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture, coach Ryan Blackwell’s squad jumped out to a 30-10 lead entering the second quarter and held on for a victory over Tokyo.
Darko Cohadarevic finished the afternoon with 16 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block for Gunma (3-15), and newcomer Sylvester Morgan matched the Serbian’s scoring output on 8-for-12 shooting. Kenya Tomori poured in 14 points, Trey Britton had 13 and Masashi Obuchi 12.
The Crane Thunders converted 26 of 51 shots from inside the arc.
For the Cinq Reves (6-12), Edward Morris notched a double-double (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Yuji Ide scored 18 points. Anthony Stover had 12 points, 11 boards and seven blocked shots.
Tokyo struggled with its outside shooting, missing 20 of 25 3s.
Lakestars 84, Hannaryz 78
In Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, opportunistic defense produced the winning recipe for the Lakestars against their Kansai rival.
Shiga improved to 9-9; Kyoto fell to 11-7. Each team won a game in the weekend series.
Four Lakestars — Marshall Brown, Yutaka Yokoe, Jumpei Nakama and Shelton Colwell — made three steals apiece.
Brandon Fields was the high scorer (20 points) for the Lakestars, including 11-for-12 at the line. Brown poured in 19 points, Colwell had 12 and Yokoe nine points and six assists.
Yu Okada had 19 points and six assists for Kyoto and Chris Holm added 18 points and 14 rebounds. Shun Watanuki scored 14 and Joe Werner had 13 points and 13 rebounds.