As the regular season marches toward the finish, two of the three division title winners — Kawasaki Brave Thunders (Central) and SeaHorses Mikawa (West) — can survey the other 16 clubs jockeying for position in the standings.
That still leaves the Tochigi Brex (40-9) and Alvark Tokyo (36-13) through Sunday in contention for the East Division title. The playoff-bound Alvark and Chiba Jets (34-15), are likely vying for either the East’s runner-up spot or an already secured wild-card berth.
To recap: Either the Alvark or Jets are certain to finish as the East’s runner-up, and elsewhere in the circuit there remains another competition: to nab the other spots.
So where does this battle stand?
The San-en NeoPhoenix (27-22) and Sunrockers Shibuya (24-25) are both looking to lock up the No. 2 spot in the Central, with the Niigata Albirex BB (21-28) facing even greater great odds.
In the West, meanwhile, it’s still a wide-open chase for at least the runner-up spot, and maybe a wild-card berth.
Looking up at the SeaHorses (39-10) are a quartet of West teams that are mathematically alive: the Ryukyu Golden Kings (24-25), Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (23-26), Osaka Evessa (23-26) and Kyoto Hannaryz (22-27).
A lot can happen between now and regular-season finales on May 7.
✹ Which of the playoff-chasing teams will get hot over the next few weeks?
✹ Which players will elevate their games?
✹ Which coaches will concoct the best strategies?
✹ Which teams will benefit from a bit of good luck?
✹ Which teams may be helped by playoff spoilers who help shake up the stands, a little or a lot?
All of these questions could play into what happens. It should be interesting and entertaining.
But SeaHorses mainstay J.R. Sakuragi, a former NBA and UCLA forward, said he expects Shibuya to find a way to reach the postseason.
“The Sunrockers,” Sakuragi told The Japan Times on Thursday evening, “(are) my pick. Although they have not had the best season, they’re still a very real threat with naturalized Ira Brown and above-average guard play. They beat us on our home floor by a lot because of Ira and their guard play.”
The launch of the Big3, the new 3-on-3-summer halfcourt circuit in the United States featuring a big mix of former NBA personnel, could also include at least two players who’ve been a big part of Japanese teams this decade.
Former NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who suited up for the Hannaryz during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 bj-league seasons, and current NeoPhoenix forward Josh Childress have entered the Big3’s draft.
Among the announced coaches for the new league are Allen Iverson (player-coach), Julius “Dr. J” Erving, George “Ice Man” Gervin, Clyde Drexler and Rick Barry.
The 10-week season is set to tip off on June 25.
Catching up with . . . Taj Finger
Former Niigata and Oita HeatDevils standout Taj Finger is a grad assistant coach for Georgia Tech.
Texas Christian routed Georgia Tech in the NIT final on March 30 in New York.
Finger, a Stanford University alum, is among the growing list of former pro players in Japan, both Japanese and foreigners, who have entered the coaching ranks in recent years.
Former Tokyo Apache assistant coach Casey Hill, in his fourth season at the helm for the Santa Cruz Warriors, is the NBA Development League’s March/April Coach of the Month, it was announced on Monday.
Under Hill’s leadership, the Warriors closed out the regular season with 11 wins in 13 games. Santa Cruz rolled to six consecutive victories to secure the Western Conference’s fourth seed for the D-League playoffs.
Hill led the Warriors to the 2015 D-League title.
After the Apache, who were piloted by Casey’s father Bob, folded in 2011, the bj-league set up a new team, the Tokyo Cinq Reves, to fill the void left by the capital city club. That team now competes in the B. League’s third division.
Did you know?
The Sunrockers’ Kenta Hirose is the league leader in steals, averaging 2.0 per game.
Here’s a rundown of first-division matchups for this week: Kawasaki vs. San-en starts on Friday, while Mikawa vs. Nagoya, Chiba vs. Tochigi, Osaka vs. Kyoto, Tokyo vs. Sendai, Shibuya vs. Yokohama, Toyama vs. Niigata and Shiga vs. Ryukyu tip off on Saturday.
On Monday and Tuesday, Hokkaido will play host to Akita.
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