The Alvark Tokyo, the two-time reigning B. League champions, have their backs against the wall in what has been by far the rockiest season they have experienced in their five years in the league.
The Alvark fell to 32-21 on the season after suffering a crushing 92-72 defeat against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders at Todoroki Arena on Wednesday.
The team is currently sixth place in the Eastern Conference and third in the wild card standings, leaving it on the outside of the playoff picture looking in — the top three teams in each conference and two wild cards advance to the postseason.
Tokyo won back-to-back B. League titles from the 2017-18 season and had the best record in the league last year when play was stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the league has said an Alvark title this year would be considered part of a three-peat, the powerhouse club’s window to even reach the postseason is closing fast.
Mathematically, the Alvark still have a slim chance of claiming the final wild-card spot. Tokyo has four games remaining, while the Toyama Grouses, who currently hold the second spot in the wild-card standings, have two. An Alvark loss or Grouses win shuts the door on the Alvark’s playoff hopes.
Because this year’s schedule is uneven — due to teams having to cancel games amid the pandemic — the final standings will be determined by winning percentage.
Following Wednesday’s loss, Tokyo head coach Luka Pavicevic said it had been a “difficult” season, which is putting it mildly.
The problems began before the season, with some Alvark players contracting COVID-19 during training camp. The team also had players infected during the season. Deshaun Thomas, a new import player, had his entry into Japan delayed by travel restrictions in place because of the virus. He missed the start of the season in early October and didn’t begin playing until November.
Then there were injuries to reigning league MVP Daiki Tanaka and American center Alex Kirk, with both missing a big chunk of the season. Tanaka was able to return, though at less than full strength, while a hernia ended Kirk’s season early.
Wednesday’s loss against Kawasaki, which appears to be on a roll and peaking toward the postseason, showed the Alvark isn’t the team that was among the league’s best in previous years.
Pavicevic said that his players were “motivated” and “played very hard” yet needed to have an “almost a perfect game” to beat the Brave Thunders, which they failed to do.
Tokyo guard and captain Seiya Ando admitted that reaching the postseason is a lofty goal but said the team needs to give maximum effort over the remainder of the season.
“Normally, we’re peaking going into the playoffs, but it’s getting difficult this year,” Ando said. “But regardless of where we are, we need to focus on every game we play and perform to the level and standard we have been asked to. I’ll lead by example and we will have to show what we’ve got.”
Pavicevic isn’t happy to have faced so many difficulties over the course of the season. Even so, he wants the Alvark to be professionals and give it their all on the floor like always.
“I felt that throughout the season we’ve kept our (composure), we’ve kept our (spirit). I want us to finish strong like that,” the fourth-year bench boss said. “And then, of course we will see and analyze what has happened and move on to the future.
“But it’s very important that we keep the integrity and structure and culture that we have. In the previous three years, we were the best team in the country.”
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