Basketball / B. League

Brex eye back-to-back titles as B. League gears up for playoffs

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Tochigi Brex captured the inaugural B. League title last year, and needless to say they are the only team that has the chance to repeat as champions.

But their ace point guard, Yuta Tabuse, insisted Monday that the team will put that triumph firmly in the past and look upon the upcoming postseason as a whole new challenge.

“Last year is last year,” Tabuse said at a Tokyo news conference, attended by one player from each of the eight teams involved in the playoffs. “We are going to try to begin with an even stronger mind-set than last year.”

The Brex, who defeated the Kawasaki Brave Thunders in a one-off title game last year, will compete as the eighth seed (second of the two wild-card spots) and will travel to take on the SeaHorses Mikawa in the playoff first round.

All four first-round matchups will tip off at the home arenas of the higher-seeded clubs on Saturday. They will return to the same venues the next day, and if a series is tied after the second game, they will play a 5½-minute mini game to determine the winner.

The winners will play in the same format in the semifinals the following weekend, with the victors squaring off against each other in a one-game championship contest at Yokohama Arena on May 26.

Mikawa, which posted the league’s best record (48-12) in the regular season, will be looking for revenge against the Brex, who eliminated the Aichi Prefecture-based club in a decisive mini game in the semifinal round at home last year.

“We got beaten by them in a disappointing fashion,” SeaHorses guard Makoto Hiejima said. “But it’s the best possible situation for us to face the inaugural champions at our home. We want to avenge that loss at home.”

A series between the Chiba Jets Funabashi and the Brave Thunders is probably the most intriguing matchup of the round.

The Jets had a successful season, winning the tough East Division title with a 46-14 record (No. 2 seed overall). Back in January, they racked up their second straight title in the All-Japan Championship.

But Kawasaki could be a tougher customer because its ace big man and reigning league MVP, Nick Fazekas, has recently obtained Japanese citizenship and can play for more minutes in a game under current league rules. University of Nevada alum Fazekas and 3-point shooter Naoto Tsuji — a tandem known to fans as “Tsujikas” — are considered one of the league’s most formidable one-two punches.

“They always start their plays with those two and we are going to have to hold off their offense. Otherwise, we won’t win,” Chiba point guard Yuki Togashi said of Fazekas and Tsuji.

Meanwhile, the Brave Thunders (41-19, No. 7 seed), whose ownership will change from Toshiba Corporation to DeNA Co. Ltd. after this postseason, will begin the playoffs with a chip on their shoulders from last year.

“We posted the best record in the season and were called a favorite to win the championship, but we came up short in the final,” Tsuji said of the 2016-17 campaign. “I believe we’ve carried the biggest frustration and we want to win the title this year.”

In the other first-round cards, the Alvark Tokyo (44-16, No. 4 seed) will take on the Kyoto Hannaryz (34-26, No. 5 seed) at home. The Ryukyu Golden Kings (42-18, No. 3 seed) will host the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5