Midway through the second quarter of a home contest against the Chiba Jets Funabashi, Nick Fazekas, the Kawasaki Brave Thunders center, nailed a free throw to record the 6,000th point of his career in Japan.
Following the game, a 77-67 loss, Fazekas said the B. League Eastern Conference club had “been good to me” and “guys that have been with me are a big reason why I’ve got the 6,000.”
“It’s been a fun ride and something one day I’ll look back on,” said Fazekas, who was the MVP of the league’s inaugural season in 2016-17.
Fazekas, however, wasn’t exactly in a celebratory mood.
To be fair, no one smiles much after a loss. Fazekas’ demeanor was probably not just because of the game, but out of a sense of urgency for his team.
The loss left the Brave Thunders with a 20-13 record and stuck in sixth place in the conference standings.
The league switched to a two-conference system, as opposed to its usual three-conference setup, for this season, with the top three teams in each conference and the next two clubs, out of the remaining 14, making the playoffs. If the postseason began today, Kawasaki wouldn’t be in the picture.
The Brave Thunders haven’t missed the postseason since the league began — and were the runner-ups in the 2016-17 campaign — and most likely expected to start clicking at some point during the 60-game season.
Fazekas doesn’t want to just sit back and hope for that.
“I’ve talked to, not only (head coach) Kenji (Sato), but some of the other guys,” Fazekas said of his feelings about the team.
A notable sign of the team’s struggles to get on a roll is that it’s only swept a two-game series, which are usually played on weekends, three times this season. The last time it happened was at home against Levanga Hokkaido in early December.
“I think, as a team, we have to really believe that we can get a sweep,” said the 35-year-old former NBA player, who is averaging 20.1 points and 9.4 rebounds this season. “Time has started to run out as far as making the playoffs. Especially at home, I think we need to focus on sweeping. Otherwise, I think we are running out of time — running out of games, actually.”
Brave Thunders point guard and captain Ryusei Shinoyama also admitted the team’s place in the standings is disappointing. He shares Fazekas’ feeling that the team has to compete with a sense of desperation over the remainder of the season.
“Entering this season, we’d set our goal to win the Eastern Conference, so we’re obviously in a bad position right now,” Shinoyama said. “But we’re still 5½ games behind the first-place team (the Utsunomiya Brex, who are 25-7) and have a chance to bounce back. We still have head-to-head games (against teams above us). So it’s not like we are in a rush or anything.
“But we do have to have a sense of urgency. We have to make sure we’ll be able to do things we haven’t done in order to be better. We have a lot of new players this year and have had to try to create chemistry. That said, we still have room to improve.”
After an 86-73 win against the Sunrockers Shibuya on Jan. 27, Sato insisted his squad has the ability to compete on par with the league’s other elite teams.
“If we just keep focusing on developing our team, I believe we still have a ton of potential to be better,” Sato said.
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