Before the B. League, a brand-new men’s top hoop circuit in Japan, tips off next season, the NBL launches its playoffs this weekend.
The Toyota Alvark and Link Tochigi Brex, who battled for the top spot in the standings throughout the regular season, are in the best positions to capture the title.
Toyota, the No. 1 seed with a 47-8 regular-season record, doesn’t have one signature superstar. But the team has the league’s best offense (82.8 points per game) and second-best defense (69.8). It also has the deepest bench in the NBL.
The Brex (43-11) led the league in defense (68.8) and was second offensively (80.5). A pair of Americans in Ryan Rossiter, who averaged 23.7 points (third in the league) and 12.5 rebounds (second) in the season, and assist leader Tommy Brenton, and veteran star guard Yuta Tabuse are the spark plugs for the Utsunomiya-based club.
The two are the most dominant teams at both ends of the floor and the question of who could provide a threatening challenge to them will be one of the most intriguing points this postseason.
The Alvark will take on the eighth-seeded Chiba Jets (22-33) while the Brex will host the seventh-seeded Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins (27-28) in the first round.
“We’ve posted the 47-8 record and in terms of the winning percentage, I suppose that’s the best ever in league history. We achieved that because our players worked as hard as they could, both in our practices and games throughout the year,” Toyota head coach Takuma Ito told the league website after his team’s final regular-season game.
Ito’s correct. The Alvark’s .855 winning percentage is the highest in the league’s three-year history, surpassing the Toshiba Brave Thunders’ mark notched two years before (.852).
“But we’ve never said that our goal would be to become the best team in the regular season, and we’ll continue to fight as if a brand-new season begins from here,” Ito added.
A brand-new season — that’s actually what all the postseason teams have on their minds.
“Oh, most definitely,” Mitsubishi head coach Reggie Geary said, when asked if he believes the cliche that anything can happen in the playoffs. “I’ve seen it as a player and then as a coach. Anything can happen. There’s injuries, there’s so many dynamics.”
The matchup between the reigning NBL champion and fourth-seeded Aisin SeaHorses (35-18) and fifth-seeded Hitachi Sunrockers (34-20) will perhaps feature the most competitive battles in the opening round. The SeaHorses have three American-born inside players in J.R. Sakuragi, Gavin Edwards and Isaac Butts, while they also have some top Japanese wing players. This makes the Aichi Prefecture-based team, which earned January’s single-elimination All-Japan Championship, a dangerous corps and Aisin might have the best chance to down Toyota and Link Tochigi.
The Aisin-Hitachi winner will square off against the winner of the Toyota-Chiba series in the second round.
The Brave Thunders (37-17), who feature the 2013-14 league MVP and center Nick Fazekas, will host sixth-seeded Levanga Hokkaido (28-27) in Yokohama in Round 1.
The first round will open with a 7 p.m. game between Toyota and Chiba at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2 on Friday.
The first two rounsd will be best-of-three series and the NBL Finals are a best-of-five format. The Finals will start on May 28 in Tokyo.