The Nagoya Diamond Dolphins endured a difficult December, winning just two of 10 games. They have lost six consecutive games, and veteran forward Justin Burrell challenged his team to improve its level of play when it returns to action against the visiting Kyoto Hannaryz on Saturday.
“At the moment, we are very far from where we want to be,” Burrell said on Sunday after the team’s latest loss, a 96-77 setback against the Sunrockers Shibuya. “We are not playing the level of basketball we are accustomed to. We are defensively a step behind, maybe a step and a half. Offensively, we’re not able to find the shots that we like consistently. Both of those, defensively and offensively, we’re (not playing) consistently to play at a high level.
“We ought to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out what’s going on from top to bottom. Consistently we’re not playing the style of basketball that we are accustomed to and the identity that we’re trying to build.”
At the same time, Nagoya had the most brutal schedule of any B. League team last month. The schedule makers somehow managed to arrange for the Diamond Dolphins to face all three of the league’s hottest — and winningest — teams in December.
Coach Shingo Kajiyama’s club dropped back-to-back games to the Utsunomiya Brex (now 22-4) to tip off a difficult month. Then, on Dec. 21 and 22, Nagoya lost a pair of contests to the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (23-3). Their Christmas Day opponent? The Ryukyu Golden Kings (18-7), who have strung together eight straight victories. The Brex and Brave Thunders take 15-game winning streaks into the first weekend of 2020.
Nagoya (11-15) sits in third place in the West Division, trailing the Osaka Evessa (16-9 and Ryukyu.
To turn things around and put themselves in position to contend for a playoff spot, the Diamond Dolphins can’t look too far ahead, according to Burrell, who was sidelined for two months due to a fractured fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand before returning to the lineup on Dec. 21.
“We’ve got to go game by game,” Burrell said of the team’s focus. “We have to look at improving game by game, and then see where we stand at the end of the season going into the championship rounds. So for now, against Kyoto, we need to improve by that game. We have to get stops, multiple stops in a row, close out those stops with rebounds. We rebounded poorly this weekend. We have to help the helper (on defense) in situations. We do a great job with the first rotation, but we’ve got to be there to get the second guy.”
Additional shortcomings were on display on Saturday in Nagoya’s 85-65 defeat to Shibuya.
“Offensively, we’ve got to take care of the ball,” said Burrell, who was the bj-league’s 2011-12 MVP as a rookie while playing for the expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs. “An uncharacteristic 18 turnovers in the first half of yesterday’s game. . . . You can’t win basketball games that way. I believe we shot it better than yesterday (47.7 percent in the series finale; 47.4 in the opener), but still not at the level that we’re accustomed to. We’re not getting as many assists as we usually do.
“So across the board we have to be better, including myself. I had four turnovers yesterday, four turnovers today. Some of those are all on me, and some of those guys got to be in the right position so everybody is held accountable in these two losses and we just need to improve.”
The Diamond Dolphins ushered in 2019 with a 106-99 road victory over Yokohama.
What’s in store for the team in 2020 remains to be seen. But clearly, Burrell’s all-around skills (he’s averaging 15.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists) are an important part of its formula for success.