Just over half of the season remains, but it appears to be a six-team title race.
Those six all have at least five more wins than losses, while the other dozen first-division clubs don’t.
Atop the chart are the Tochigi Brex and Chiba Jets Funabashi (both at 24-5), followed by the Ryukyu Golden Kings (21-8), defending champion Alvark Tokyo and Niigata Albirex BB (identical 19-10 records) and the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (17-12).
The Jets entered 2019 with the longest current win streak in B1, collecting their sixth consecutive victory, 87-84, over the visiting Kyoto Hannaryz on Sunday afternoon at Funabashi Arena. Chiba improved to 13-3 at home with the win.
Coach Atsushi Ono’s Jets reached the title game last May, falling to the Alvark 85-60.
The disappointment of that defeat has been a motivational factor for the Jets ever since they regrouped to prepare for the ongoing season, according to power forward Gavin Edwards, one of the team’s veteran stars.
He described that loss as a springboard for the club.
“Yeah, that for sure helps because just knowing we were that close and we have that potential to win the championship again,” said Edwards, who played at the University of Connecticut from 2006-10.
“Obviously that gives you a lot of confidence as a team and having like pretty much the same core of guys come back and adding new players, I think that definitely just added to our chemistry. And just that boost of confidence always helps.”
After a stunning 98-46 victory on Saturday, Chiba faced a more competitive Hannaryz club a day later. Mainstays Ryumo Ono and Yuki Togashi and newcomer Shigehiro Taguchi were among the players who made clutch shots down the stretch. Michael Parker added a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds), while Edwards’ 22 points tied Kyoto’s David Simon for the game-high total.
Coach Ono told reporters on Sunday that having “trust in his players” to make timely 3-point shots is important, and that occurred in the series finale.
Asked about perimeter marksmen he admires, Taguchi, a noted 3-point specialist throughout his career, mentioned former NBA star Ray Allen. He cited Allen’s shooting technique, penchant for hitting clutch shots and ability to create space for himself in confined spaces as things that impressed him. He also noted that Golden State’s Stephen Curry is another favorite because of his speed and mental focus as shooter.
Taguchi said he’s “(always) looking for his shot.”
With Taguchi on the squad, the team has another key 3-point weapon to enhance the offense, which is led by Parker’s 15.6 points per game and Togashi’s 14.0. Edwards is third at 13.1.
Togashi leads the club in assists (5.2 per game, No. 7 in B1), with Edwards contributing 3.6.
Parker is among the league’s top 10 in blocks (1.5, sixth) and steals (2.1, third) while also pulling down 9.2 rebounds per game. Shooting guard Kosuke Ishii is 10th overall in steals (1.4) and is No. 2 in the circuit in 3-point shooting accuracy (46.0 percent). Togashi is No. 9 on 3s (37.5 percent).
The Jets thrive when the ball zips around the perimeter and guys hit open shots. Like other teams, they are at their best when turnovers create scoring chances at the other end, too, often in transition.
And like Parker, Edwards and Ishii, captain Ryumo Ono and frontcourt mate Aki Chambers both possess fast hands and quick feet, which helps disrupt opposing offenses, including slapping away the ball in the passing lanes.
“Overall we play pretty much the same,” Edwards commented. “We still like to get out in transition and run. We like to play hard and just kind of run-and-gun, I guess.
“For the most part, we are about the same because it definitely worked well for us last year. I think we had a pretty successful season. I think we are just trying to build off of that and just go from there.”
As the Jets prepare for the second half of the season, the team didn’t set any drastic New Year’s resolutions.
“We just need to go out and win,” Edwards said. “That’s always the goal, and we just need to keep focusing on that.”
Setting the tone for the Jets, Atsushi Ono, at the helm since 2016, doesn’t micromanage.
“I think he’s definitely a player’s coach,” Edwards said, “because he likes to get guys for specific things (such as shot blocking) and then he lets them do those things. . . . He doesn’t like to overly complicate things. He puts a lot of it on the players, so if you mess up it’s because of something that you did.
“He gives you the freedom to be who you are as a player and to make plays.”
The Jets, two-time reigning Emperor’s Cup champions, are right where they want to be performance-wise in the regular season and a week before the annual tournament’s quarterfinals. The title match is set for Jan. 13.
A look ahead
The first game of the year is set for Friday, with Mikawa playing host to Hokkaido in the teams’ series opener. A day later, it’s Shiga vs. Chiba, Kyoto vs. Niigata, Tokyo vs. Tochigi, Kawasaki vs. Akita, Yokohama vs. Nagoya, Toyama vs. Shibuya, Fukuoka vs. San-en and Ryukyu vs. Osaka.
Roby joins Shinshu
Veteran forward Richard Roby has joined the Shinshu Brave Warriors, the team announced last weekend.
The well-traveled star played in Venezuela last season. The 33-year-old has suited up for the Akita Northern Happinets (2013-16), San-en (2016) and Osaka Evessa (2016-17).
The University of Colorado alum was a bj-league Best Five Team selection in the 2014-15 season and helped Akita reach the now-disbanded league’s title game in each of his first two seasons with the club.
Shinshu (24-4), guided by bench boss Michael Katsushisa, owns the top record in the 18-team second division.
Retired big man Rick Rickert will be honored at Duluth East High School on Feb. 9. On Rick Rickert Day, the East High grad will have his No. 44 basketball jersey retired. Rickert, a double-double machine throughout his career, played his final pro game for the Ibaraki Robots last spring.
Before heading to the University of Minnesota, Rickert was selected as 2001 Mr. Minnesota Basketball. The annual award is issued to the state’s top schoolboy player.
Rickert spent nearly half of his 15-year pro career in Japan, earning a living playing for the Kyoto Hannaryz, Osaka Evessa, Wakayama Trians, Chiba and Ibaraki.
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IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5