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Ryukyu setting pace as final season winds down

Toyama, Sendai vying to clinch top spot in East

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Who’s hot and who’s not?

These trends may affect how the final two weeks of the final bj-league season shake out and how teams position themselves for the upcoming playoffs.

Let’s use the past 10 games as a measuring stick for each of the league’s 24 teams, especially those who have already locked up a postseason berth.

Many of the playoff-bound teams have continued to play solid ball, while others have had up-and-down stretches.

The Western Conference powerhouse Ryukyu Golden Kings (38-10) have matched a franchise record by winning 15 straight games. By doing so, they’ve ascended to the top of the league chart for victories. (The Okinawa-based team will also bring high expectations to the new three-tier B. League next season as a first-division squad.)

Through Sunday, Ryukyu doesn’t have a single player in the top 10 of any key individual statistical category (scoring, rebounding, assists, steals or blocks), but the three-time champion’s excellent roster depth and all-around play have set the tone all season.

At the other extreme, the Tokyo Cinq Reves have suffered 39 straight losses, while the Hiroshima Lightning dropped their league-record 40th in a row on Sunday, getting torched 112-61 by Ryukyu. Both teams are 1-45, and because of a scheduling quirk that will see them only play 50 games, neither squad can break the league’s single-season record for losses set by the Takamatsu Five Arrows in 2011-12, when they went 2-50. That said, they can win fewer games than Takamatsu did, setting another record for futility.

The Saitama Broncos (4-44) have lost 13 straight and 27 of its past 28. The Bambitious Nara (15-33), meanwhile, are riding a 10-game skid. The fading Yokohama B-Corsairs (18-30) have dropped six straight and nine of 10 to drop out of playoff contention.

But what about other red-hot teams? The Eastern Conference’s top two squads have played excellent ball of late. The Toyama Grouses (35-13) and Sendai 89ers (35-13) have won five and 10 straight, respectively. Toyama is 9-1 in its past 10 contests.

Three East squads have gone 7-3 in their past 10 games: Akita Northern Happinets (33-15), Iwate Big Bulls (28-20) and Aomori Wat’s (22-26).

The Niigata Albirex BB (31-17) have won four of their past five to give them a 5-5 mark over their last 10 games. The Tohoku rival Fukushima Firebonds (28-20) have gone 4-6 in that span, including four consecutive defeats to date, and the Gunma Crane Thunders (21-27) have the same win-loss record in that 10-game stretch.

Currently in seventh place in the East, the Shinshu Brave Warriors (24-24) have solidified their playoff position by winning four of their past five and six of 10.

Shifting back to the West, the title-contending Kyoto Hannaryz (37-11) and Shimane Susanoo Magic (36-12) have both gone 8-2 in the past 10 games, with win streaks of five and three, respectively, through Sunday.

The defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (33-15) remain a realistic threat to return to the Final Four as well, and seven triumphs out of its last 10 is a solid showing for coach Tomoya Higashino’s squad.

The Shiga Lakestars and Osaka own identical 32-16 records, with the former going 6-4 and the latter 5-5 over the aforementioned stretch. Both ride two-game win streaks into the penultimate weekend of the regular season.

The expansion Kanazawa Samuraiz (26-22), losers of three straight, are 6-4 in their latest 10-game stretch. On the other hand, the Rizing Fukuoka (17-31) are 3-7, but have won three of their past four to stake their current claim on the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.

And the Oita Ehime HeatDevils (16-32) are sitting on Fukuoka’s heels, victorious in five of their past six.

The Takamatsu Five Arrows (11-37) have dropped eight straight and will remain in 11th place in the 12-team West when the final standings are completed.

Arrest in Shikoku: Takamatsu rookie post player Nino Johnson on Wednesday was arrested by Kagawa Prefectural Police at his Takamatsu apartment on suspicion of violating the Cannabis Control Law, according to numerous published reports.

Police searched the 23-year-old Johnson’s apartment and found “a small amount” of marijuana on the same day, according to Kyodo News.

The 205-cm Johnson, a Southeast Missouri State product, has played in 48 games this season, averaging 12.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals with 64 blocks and 100 assists as well.

He scored 17 points on Sunday against the Phoenix.

Weekend slate: The Saturday-Sunday series matchups are as follows: Iwate vs. Shinshu, Akita vs. Aomori, Fukushima vs. Sendai, Gunma vs. Niigata, Saitama vs. Tokyo, Yokohama vs. Toyama, Kanazawa vs. Fukuoka, Hamamatsu vs. Ryukyu, Kyoto vs. Takamatsu, Osaka vs. Oita, Nara vs. Hiroshima and Shimane vs. Shiga.

League accolade: Aomori forward Jesse Perry played an instrumental role in the team’s weekend sweep of Fukushima.

He had 33 points, nine rebounds and two assists in the Saturday opener, and followed up that performance with 30 points, 10 boards and two assists in the Sunday rematch.

In the series, Perry went 12-for-12 at the free-throw line and drained 5 of 8 3-pointers.

Perry, a University of Arizona alum, is averaging 17.5 points per game.

Stat leaders: Heading into the final two weeks of the season, here are the top three in each of the major individual categories.

*Scoring — Fukushima’s Le’Bryan Nash (26.6 points), Sendai’s Wendell White (25.2) and Gunma’s Thomas Kennedy (24.1).

*Rebounding — Shimane’s Josh Davis (15.6), Hamamatsu’s Reggie Warren (13.6) and Toyama’s Sam Willard (12.9).

*Assists — Nara’s Tatsuya Suzuki (6.7), Sendai’s Takehiko Shimura (4.8) and Fukushima’s Masaya Karimata (4.5).

*Steals — Tokyo’s Andre Murray (2.4), Oita’s Chehales Tapscott (2.1) and Akita’s Richard Roby (2.0).

*Blocks — Shinshu’s Xavier Gibson (2.5), Yokohama’s Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (2.1) and Osaka’s Lawrence Blackledge (1.9).

Feedback: edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp