Basketball / B. League

B. League reveals opening matchup for 2020-21 season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

STAFF WRITER

The two-time champion Alvark Tokyo and Kawasaki Brave Thunders will square off on Oct. 2 in the opening game of the 2020-21 B. League season, the league announced Monday.

The matchup, which is hosted at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi, will be the sole top-division contest that day, as the other teams will begin the new campaign on Oct. 3. The second division will tip off with three games on Oct. 4.

The 2019-20 campaign was called off in late March — with one-third of the regular season remaining — due to the coronavirus pandemic. No champion was named.

“Last season ended in a disappointing way, but our fans are looking forward to the new season and we want to display good performances,” Alvark guard Daiki Tanaka, last season’s league MVP, said at a Tokyo news conference. “But we can’t start the season by ourselves. We can do so because of the support of all the B. League people and everybody else. We want to cooperate with each other and enter the season in a positive way.” In other notable matchups for the opening weekend, the Utsunomiya Brex will take on the Ryukyu Golden Kings at Brex Arena Utsunomiya while the Chiba Jets Funabashi will face the San-en NeoPhoenix, who have acquired Filipino star Thirdy Ravena, at Hamamatsu Arena.

One of the biggest changes for the upcoming season is the format of the finals.

The league will switch from a one-game final to a best-of-three series, something it had been considering since its inception in 2016.

The Yokohama Arena-hosted finals are scheduled to begin May 29 with the decisive third game, if needed, to be held on June 1. The playoffs will start May 13.

Since there was no champion crowned last year, the league said if the Alvark, who won the 2017-18 and 2018-19 titles, captured this year’s championship, it would be considered a three-peat.

“We know how tough it is to win just one game at such a big stage like the finals,” said Tanaka, who also stars for the national team. “But now you have to win two and it makes it even harder. So I think a tougher team is going to become the champion. We would like to keep growing throughout the season in order to be deserving of being champions.” New B. League chairman Shinji Shimada, who officially assumed the position on July 1, said the league would have to open the season with a limited number of spectators because of the virus. He added that the circuit would follow the government’s guidelines.

The league also announced it would have players, staff and referees undergo PCR tests every two weeks while it will also prepare its own guidelines, which will be revealed later.

The league will also launch a virus task force consisting of medical experts. Clubs will be required to prepare thermography cameras and provide disinfectant at arena entrances.

“We would like to take all the measures so that our B. League can host games safely,” Shimada said. “It’s important for the players, staff and front office people to make sure they will prepare as best as they can to be able to host games. We also need to do the best we can in taking every single measure to protect our fans.” Meanwhile, the league announced this season’s All-Star Game will take place at Adastria Mito Arena, the home venue for the second division’s Ibaraki Robots, in mid-January.

The circuit also revealed that it would not stage the Early Cup, its preseason tournament, this year.

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