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Friday, Dec. 8, 2006

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Albirex looking good, but season is still young


Staff writer

The 2006-07 bj-league season has reached the end of its metaphorical first quarter. And with each of the league's eight teams having played 10 of their 40 games, some patterns have developed.

News photo
Jeff Newton of the Osaka Evessa leads the bj-league in blocked shots this season with 2.5 per game. OSAKA EVESSA PHOTO

The first of which is this: League supremacy is still up for grabs.

The Niigata Albirex BB are the top team in the league. With an 8-2 record and a 4-0 mark on the road, they are the pace-setter.

But in second place, the Sendai 89ers (6-4 overall, 5-1 on the road) and the Tokyo Apache (6-4, 3-1) are keeping pressure on Masaya Hirose's boys from Niigata.

The Osaka Evessa and Takamatsu Five Arrows are both 5-5. The Oita Heat Devils (4-6) are in sixth. And the Saitama Broncos and Toyama Grouses occupy the cellar with identical 3-7 records.

Individually, Tokyo Apache's John Humphrey is No. 1 in scoring with 31.2 points per game.

Toyoma Grouses forward/center Jerod Ward (28.9) and Osaka Evessa power forward Lynn Washington, the league's reigning MVP, (22.0) round out the top three.

Takamatsu point guard Rasheed Sparks has dished out a league-best 4.8 assists per game, including back-to-back eight assist efforts last weekend.

Niigata swingman Antoni Wyche (4.7) and Oita's Mikey Marshall (4.6) are close behind.

Albirex center Nick Davis is tops in field-goal shooting accuracy (65.0 percent), while Saitama's Kazuhiro Shoji is first from 3-point range (45.2, or 19-for-42).

At the free-throw line, Tokyo's Kohei Aoki leads the league with a 95.2 percent success rate.

Davis is also controlling the boards game after game, pulling down every rebound in sight. His 15.3 boards per game lead the league.

Saitama's Gordon James is second (14.9), followed by Osaka's Jeff Newton (13.0). Tokyo's Michael Jackson is causing fits for opposing coaches, averaging a league-high 2.4 steals a game. Newton (2.3) and Sparks (2.2) are equally dangerous at forcing a turnover.

Newton is No. 1 in blocked shots (2.5 per game), which includes 13 swats in his last three games, while James (2.3) and Davis (1.8) are showing their knack for stuffing shots -- and defensive intimidation -- as well.

WEEK 5 FLASHBACK: The Apache split a pair of games against the visiting HeatDevils. On Saturday, Oita coasted to a 107-79 win, with Andy Ellis (28 points), Chris Ayer (40) and Justin Allen (19) leading the onslaught.

Humphrey had 40 for Tokyo.

In the Sunday rematch, Tokyo topped Oita 94-88 in overtime. Humphrey went off for 40 again and Jeremee McGuire chipped in with 20.

Yukinori Suzuki was the HeatDevils' high man with 21.

In Sendai, the Grouses recorded a 99-95 victory Saturday, getting 35 points from Jerod Ward and 27 from Nate James.

Ryan Blackwell had a cool 30 for the 89ers, while Michael Chappell chipped in 26.

Sendai bounced back for a 108-86 win a day later. Blackwell finished 9-for-13 from the field and put 26 points on the board, leading four Sendai players in double figures.

Ward's 33 led Toyama, which got double-digit scoring from five guys, including Okinawa natives Takanori Goya and Hirokazu Nema with 13 apiece.

Host Osaka produced a methodical, 98-87 win on Saturday over the Five Arrows.

Matt Lottich (25 points), Washington (23), Newton (16), David Palmer (13) and Haruhito Shishito (12) sparked the defending league champs.

Julius Ashby had a team-high 22 for Takamatsu and Yu Okada dropped in 18.

The Evessa completed the sweep with a 93-83 victory on Sunday.

Osaka's Big Three -- Lottich (27 points), Washington (24) and Newton (20) -- are closing into mid-season form, which, of course, is enough to give the league's other seven coaches insomnia.

Reggie Warren scored 20 in the loss for Takamatsu.

In Niigata, the Broncos outlasted the Albirex on Saturday, winning 97-85 in double overtime. Saitama ended the contest by outscoring the hosts 17-5 in the second OT.

Shoji had a team-high 19 points, while Marcus Toney-El and Gordon James contributed 16 apiece and Taishiro Shimizu had 14.

Davis had a huge game for Niigata, scoring 25 and pulling down 23 boards. Wyche played 49 minutes and teammate Naoto Kosuge endured 48 minutes.

Niigata returned the favor on Sunday, earning a 68-55 victory.

The Broncos were outscored 50-25 in the second half.

Wyche (22 points) and Jack Hartman (20) paced the Niigata offense.

James had 14 points and 20 boards, including nine off the offensive glass in the loss. The story of the game: Niigata took 36 foul shots to Saitama's six.

THIS WEEK: Sendai plays host to Niigata on Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m. and 1, respectively, while Toyama meets visiting Saitama at 6:30 and 1:30.

Tokyo looks to bounce back from its season-opening home sweep to Osaka as it travels to Kansai for Saturday's 7 p.m. tipoff and Sunday's 3 p.m. contest, while host Takamatsu takes on Oita at 7 and 2.



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