Based on recent success, the Kyoto Hannaryz and defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings are the high-profile powerhouse teams of the Western Conference.
Kyoto, a Final Four participant in each of the past three seasons, takes a 21-3 record into the last week of 2014; Ryukyu (18-4) is in familiar territory near the top of the pack.
And in between them, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (21-3) are off to their best start in several seasons.
Guided by veteran coach Tomoya Higashino, the Phoenix have the league’s longest current win streak, which stretched to 10 games on Sunday when they whipped the host Fukushima Firebonds, recording a 77-53 decision.
What has fueled Hamamatsu’s success, which includes successive sweeps of five sub-.500 clubs: Saitama Broncos, Tokyo Cinq Reves, Rizing Fukuoka, Yokohama B-Corsairs and Fukushima Firebonds?
Forward Mo Charlo, a University of Nevada alum, is at the top of the list.
The 31-year-old leads the Phoenix in scoring (16.8 points per game) and has team-high totals in rebounds (173), assists (79), steals (39), blocks (21) and minutes played (689).
Fellow newcomer Olu Ashaolu’s shooting skills are also a vital component of what has worked for Hamamatsu. The 26-year-old University of Oregon product checks in at 15.0 ppg. He’s converted 50 percent of his 3-point shots, 62 percent from inside the arc and 72.4 percent from the free-throw line.
As a dynamic one-two punch, Charlo and Ashaolu have spearheaded the Phoenix’s rise in the West.
Hamamatsu is one of the league’s better offensive teams, making 50.6 percent of their 2-point shots to go along with a 76.4 percent success rate at the line.
The productivity of veteran guards Nile Murry (11.6 ppg), Shinnosuke Oishi (6.7), Masahiro Oguchi (6.5) and Shingo Okada (6.3) has been consistent, and forward Jermaine Green (7.1 ppg) is another experienced player who’s done a little bit of everything to date.
At the other end of the spectrum, Eastern Conference cellar dweller Saitama (0-20) is on a season-long losing streak, Yokohama has dropped 11 straight and Tokyo has suffered nine consecutive defeats.
The West’s eight-place Takamatsu Five Arrows, meanwhile, take a 10-game slide into the weekend.
Weekly accolade: Shimane point guard Edward Yamamoto had 28- and 19-point games last weekend in a two-game sweep over Takamatsu.
Yamamoto is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP, it was announced on Christmas Eve. He is averaging 12.8 points per game.
Upcoming schedule: For the final weekend of the year, the following series are on the docket: Iwate vs. Kyoto, Akita vs. Aomori, Niigata vs. Shinshu, Gunma vs. Fukuoka, Saitama vs. Ryukyu, Yokohama vs. Oita, Hamamatsu vs. Sendai, Shiga vs. Gunma, Osaka vs. Toyama, Nara vs. Tokyo and Takamatsu vs. Shimane.
Lakestars talk: Shiga’s bounce-back, 74-71 road victory over Ryukyu on Sunday was an important accomplishment, a statement game, for first-year coach Koto Toyama’s team.
Or as Lakestars forward Jeff Parmer stated in an interview with The Japan Times: “It means that we’re capable of beating any team in the league no matter what the situation might be. They’re the defending champs so this weekend of games was something we were really looking forward to as a team.
“The keys in (the series finale) were to stay consistent on the defensive end, take the shots we wanted to take and attack the paint.”
He added: “I think we did a very good job in all three phases of the game.”
In the paint: Five of the top 10 scorers through Sunday are newcomers to the league this season: Sendai’s Kejuan Johnson (first, 23.6 points per game), Yokohama’s Warren Niles (third, 21.4 ppg), Tokyo’s Jemal Farmer (fourth, 20.2), Saitama’s Gary Johnson (sixth, 19.8) and Osaka’s Josh Dollard (ninth, 18.3).
Tyler update: Former Tokyo Apache and NBA big man Jeremy Tyler was named the Asia-basket.com Player of the Week for the Chinese Basketball Association on Saturday after a 36-point, 23-rebound game for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, who are in fifth place in the 20-team circuit with a 16-6 record.
Tyler is averaging 24.5 ppg and is the league’s seventh-leading rebounder (12.2 per game).
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5