The B. League was forced to call off the final third of the 2019-20 campaign due to the coronavirus crisis and was still feeling the effects of the pandemic this year, with the virus forcing the cancellation of some games. Unlike last season, however, the league will be able to stage the playoffs this season.
Below are a few interesting things to watch out for during the eight-team postseason, which kicks off Friday.
The Brex shooting for another title
Utsunomiya, champion of the league’s inaugural season, had another great year, posting the top division’s best winning percentage at .817.
While the Brex have the B1’s top defense — allowing 70.8 points per game — the team also stands out for its relative lack of reliance on any particular star. Utsunomiya has 11 players who averaged at least four points and 10 who played at least 15 minutes per game during the regular season.
The Brex host the Sunrockers Shibuya in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal matchup against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders. The Brex were 1-4 (including a loss in the Emperor’s Cup final) against the Brave Thunders this year.
“You’ve got it right,” head coach Ryuzo Anzai said when asked if the team wants to go through Kawasaki on the way to a title. “We don’t really want to end our potential run on a bad note (against Kawasaki).”
Third time’s the charm?
Perhaps no team has experienced as much recent frustration trying to win a championship than the Chiba Jets Funabashi. The team has reached the B. League Finals in each of the last two postseasons only to lose to the Alvark Tokyo.
The Jets were forced into quarantine in April because of the coronavirus and lost three straight when they got back on the court. They won nine straight to end the season and finished behind only Utsunomiya with a .754 winning percentage.
The team beat Shibuya 104-83 in its final regular-season game on Monday. Following that contest, star point guard Yuki Togashi said that during the winning streak, it felt like the Jets were starting to look like the 2018-19 team that had a league-best 52-8 record.
“We were down by like 15 points against Ryukyu, but none of us thought about losing,” he said, referring to a 97-89 overtime win over the Golden Kings on May 5.
“It’s difficult to put into words, but the mood is becoming better as we head toward the playoffs.” Togashi said the team would not look too far ahead and focus on one round of the playoffs at a time.
“We need to think about winning two games in each round before we think about going to Yokohama Arena (for the finals),” Togashi said.
The Jets will host the SeaHorses Mikawa in a best-of-three quarterfinal series this weekend.
A shift in perception
The B. League had Eastern, Central and Western Conferences until this season, when the league’s teams were split into East and West. Before and after the split, the teams around Tokyo — especially those in what is now the Eastern Conference — have been title contenders more frequently than their counterparts in the other conferences. In fact, all of the previous league champions have been teams currently in the East.
Veteran Ryukyu guard Ryuichi Kishimoto, however, thinks it’s time to usher in a new era — namely by helping his team reach the title series in Yokohama.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware there have been more Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs,” said Kishimoto, whose Golden Kings were 40-16 and led the West with a .714 winning percentage. “But that image will be broken by us winning and that’s what our fans are also expecting us to do.”
With both wild-card spots occupied by teams from the East this year, the conference has five teams in the playoffs versus three from the West.
The Golden Kings will square off against the Toyama Grouses at Okinawa Arena, their brand-new, NBA-esque home, in the quarterfinals.
No boost for Osaka
The Evessa are in the B. League playoffs for the first time but won’t get a boost from their fans when they take the floor.
Because Osaka is one of the areas under the current state of emergency, there will not be any fans when they host the Brave Thunders at Ookini Arena Maishima in their quarterfinal series.
Rookie small forward Ryogo Sumino said that while it will not change how the team plays on the court, he admitted the players enjoy competing in front of a big crowd.
“The Osaka fans are enthusiastic and fanatical,” the Southern New Hampshire University alum said. “So I’ll be missing that because it’s a lot of fun to play with them cheering.”
While the situation would seem to be in Kawasaki’s favor, Brave Thunders captain Ryusei Shinoyama is not eager to see this type of scene in the playoffs.
“We didn’t earn the right to host the series, but competing in front of a crowd at a road arena is fun for players.
Ookini, one of the biggest B. League arenas, can hold up to 7,000 spectators.
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