With the popularity of Japanese basketball continuing to grow, it’s expected that arenas will be filled to capacity during the upcoming B. League Championship playoffs.

“On Feb. 24, the Japanese men’s national team clinched a berth in the World Cup, which gave us a spot at next year’s Olympics as well,” league chairman Masaaki Okawa said at a Tokyo news conference on Monday. “Especially during the final two months or so of the regular season, there were more arenas with full crowds and it feels like basketball in this country has heated up even more.”

Eight teams are set to compete in the quarterfinal round of the postseason, with both the quarterfinals and semifinals taking place in a best-of-three format. Until last year, the third game of a series was played directly after Game 2 and consisted of two five-minute halves. This year the third game, if needed, will be held on a different day.

The one-game final will be played on May 11 at Yokohama Arena. The Tochigi Brex and Alvark Tokyo hoisted the championship trophies in the last two campaigns, respectively.

The playoffs will kick off with a matchup between Tochigi (second in the East Division with a 49-11 record) and the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (second in the Central, 40-20) on Friday night at Brex Arena in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture. The other three series will begin on Saturday. The winners will advance to the following weekend’s semifinals.

The defending champions Alvark Tokyo (wild card, third in the East, 44-16) will open their quest for a repeat on the road against the Niigata Albirex BB (first in the Central Division, 45-15). By winning the divisional crown, Niigata punched its first-ever ticket to the B. League postseason.

“We’ve had good times and bad times this year,” Alvark star guard Daiki Tanaka said. “But we kept working hard to move forward and got to this point. Our head coach (Luka Pavicevic) tells us repeating won’t be easy. But all our players are hungry to make it happen. We would like to give everything with a challenger’s mindset.”

The Chiba Jets Funabashi will enter the postseason as title favorites. The East Division club, which finished runner-up last year, was the only team to finish with fewer than 10 losses, going 52-8 and claiming the East title in the regular season. They will take on the Toyama Grouses (wild card, third in the Central, 32-28), a playoff debutant, at Funabashi Arena.

Jets star guard Yuki Togashi said his team isn’t taking anything for granted, but wants to “take advantage of the confidence” that comes with having posted the best record.

The Jets, arguably the league’s most popular club, have accomplished a three-peat at the annual All-Japan Championship.

In another matchup, the Ryukyu Golden Kings (first in the West, 40-20) will host the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (second in the West, 33-27).

Under the league’s the playoff format, the lower-seeded teams will be forced to compete on the road for the entirety of the quarterfinal and semifinal series. But some of those teams look to eager to shock opposing fans by pulling off upsets.

“Tochigi is one of the best arenas in the league,” Kawasaki captain and point guard Ryusei Shinoyama said, referring to the home-court advantage the Brex get from their fans. “But it only raises our motivation higher. We want to silence the Brex fans.”

Okawa said he was happy to see Niigata and Toyama, two former bj-league teams, make a run into the postseason this year. A year ago, the Grouses barely managed to stay in the top division by winning the promotion/relegation playoff game.

“Three or four years ago, when we were deciding the divisions, those teams were barely on the first-division bubble” he said of the time the B. League was formed. “But it’s great that Niigata and Toyama have gotten into the playoffs this time.”

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