Coping with a slew of injuries and inconsistent play, the Osaka Evessa face an uphill battle to make the playoffs.
It won’t be easy.
The Evessa (14-22) have lost five straight. The have five fewer victories than the Kyoto Hannaryz and SeaHorses Mikawa (both teams are 19-17 through Wednesday), while the playoff-chasing Toyama Grouses are 18-18.
Eight teams qualify for the first-division playoffs, and it’s likely that two of the three (Kyoto, Toyama and Mikawa) along with the Alvark Tokyo (24-12) will nab the final postseason berths. Therefore, the Evessa must climb passed at least one of these teams in the overall standings.
The Evessa’s 83-72 defeat on Sunday against the Alvark highlighted the team’s limitations and strong points. Big man Josh Harrellson came within a point of notching a double-double (nine points, 11 rebounds) and athletic wing Naoya Kumagae had 22 points, including 4 of 7 3-pointers. Young point guard Satoshi Nagano also showed flashes of stellar play in a nine-point, four-assist performance.
The Evessa never took the lead and couldn’t overcome the Alvark’s energy and athleticism.
Osaka is missing the veteran leadership of point guard Hiroyuki Kinoshita, who has been sidelined since late December, and backcourt mate Rei Goda. The 38-year-old Kinoshita is averaging 6.4 points and 4.4 assists per game. Goda is contributing 8.9 points per contest.
What’s more, Xavier Gibson also didn’t play against the Alvark. Gibson’s totals to date: 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds. Gibson underwent surgery to remove cartilage from his left knee on Jan. 18.
Without the services of Kinoshita, Goda and Gibson, Evessa coach Kensuke Hosaka pieced together a patchwork lineup against Tokyo while also giving the 23-year-old Nagano valuable experience off the bench, seeing court time alongside starters Shota Konno, Shunki Hatakeyama, Faye Pape Mour, Harrellson and Kumagae, among others. Nagano has played 12 or more minutes in three of the last four games. Earlier this season, he generally saw more limited playing time.
Hosaka said his team lacked a start-to-finish high-energy effort on Saturday in its series-opening defeat. For the rematch, he urged his players to “overcome this (problem)” by focusing on playing 40 strong minutes on offense and defense to “cut off the opponent’s momentum.”
Two defeats in two days didn’t deliver the satisfaction that the team sought, but Hosaka said it provided a path forward.
“The important thing is that both of the losses were firmly taken and how to overcome the rest of the season with the team is the task (at hand),” Hosaka told reporters.
In his post-game remarks on Sunday, Kumagae accentuated the positive but also addressed the team’s ongoing challenges.
“I was able to keep up. . .,” Kumagae said, noting his offensive production, which helped keep his team within striking distance. He lamented some missed shots and the defeat, but declared that his fierce desire to win remains.
“I would like to fight strongly with the team,” Kumagae commented, “with the good points of today as standards.”
With the Evessa still on his mind shortly after the series finale wrapped up, Tokyo coach Luka Pavicevic noted that the team is currently an incomplete product due to injuries and the loss of shooting guard Takuya Hashimoto this season, too. In August, Hashimoto was one four national team players banned for one year by the Japan Basketball Association for soliciting sex while in Jakarta during the Asian Games.
Pavicevic said, “Osaka is not a complete team; they are missing some important players. . . . But they are doing, in my opinion, extremely well considering how many (personnel) losses they’ve suffered. … They (also) have potential to shoot from the center position.”
Back to basics
With 18 consecutive losses through Sunday, the second-division’s Kagawa Five Arrows have fallen on hard times.
The Five Arrows (6-29) are tied with the Hachioji Bee Trains for the worst record in the 18-team second flight.
Last season, Kagawa finished with a 22-38 mark.
Team leader Reggie Warren, who first suited up for the Five Arrows in 2006 during the early days of the bj-league era, acknowledged that a victory is needed to right the ship.
“We just got to break through and get a win to have that feeling back of what it’s like to win a ball game,” Warren told The Japan Times on Tuesday. “We got to have more sense of pride on the defensive end. We need to learn the pattern on how to win.”
The Five Arrows’ deficiencies have been painfully clear, according to the veteran power forward.
“Our approach to the game has to change and we must learn to play each possession at a high level,” he insisted. “We got a really bad problem with doing the little things, like taking charges and boxing out and fouling to prevent fast breaks, the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”
Kagawa returns to action on Saturday against the host Earthfriends Tokyo Z.
All 18 B1 teams were in action on Wednesday night, and then they had a maximum of two days off before preparing for their two-game weekend series.
A quick rundown of the matchups: Yokohama vs. San-en, Nagoya vs. Toyama and Fukuoka vs. Tokyo, all starting on Friday. A day later, it’s Shiga vs. Hokkaido, Tochigi vs. Chiba, Niigata vs. Ryukyu, Shibuya vs. Akita, Kyoto vs. Kawasaki and Osaka vs. Mikawa.
On the rise
Asked to identify younger Japanese bench bosses in the second division who’ve impressed him with their overall coaching acumen, Warren didn’t hesitate to name three: Ryutaro Onodera (Yamagata Wyverns), Keita Iwashita (Ibaraki Robots) and Michael Katsuhisa (Shinshu Brave Warriors).
“I think they have the potential to be really good coaches for a long time,” Warren said of the trio.
Iwashita is only 30 years old, Katsuhisa is 35 and Onodera is 37.
An eye on the Excellence
The Tokyo Excellence, a B3 team, are playing sensational basketball under bench boss Takaki Ishida. They are a league-best 21-1 in the regular season, including 14-0 at home. Ishida is in his second season at the helm.
Former NBA center Hilton Armstrong made his Nagoya Diamond Dolphins debut on Wednesday, scoring 18 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and blocking four shots in a victory over Osaka.
Armstrong, a University of Connecticut alum, suited up for the Chiba Jets and Ryukyu Golden Kings in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, respectively.
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