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Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Davis, Newton top pivots


Staff writer

Who is the bj-league's best all-around center?

You can make a strong case for either Nick Davis or Jeff Newton, a pair of All-Stars.

Both players led their respective teams to the bj-league championship game last spring, which was won by Newton and the Osaka Evessa.

Davis, though, helped the Niigata Albirex BB record a statement-making sweep on Nov. 25 and 26 over the visiting Evessa.

In the series opener, the 30-year-old Davis had 12 points, 17 rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots in a 92-64 win before 4,029 spectators. Newton, 26, had an off-game (three points, eight rebounds) on a day when his team's offense missed shot after shot (13-for-45 from inside the 3-point arc).

In their rematch, 4,421 basketball fans showed up for the Albirex's 89-84 triumph and saw a classic duel between the centers.

Davis finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, while Newton's arms were all over the place in a valiant effort (18 points, 14 rebounds, six blocked shots).

Two months later, the teams' rivalry resumes.

On Saturday night at 7, the first-place Evessa (19-9) take on the Albirex, who at 17-11 are tied for second in the league with the Takamatsu Five Arrows, in the first game of a pivotal series. They meet again on Sunday afternoon at 3.

Both pivotmen are having stellar seasons. Take a glance at their statistics:

Davis is averaging 18.4 points per game to Newton's 16.1.

Davis is the league's No. 2 rebounder with 13.9 boards per game, while Newton's 13.6 is the third-best total.

Newton is the league's top shot blocker with 2.2 swats a game to Davis' 1.5, which is No. 3.

Though both are terrific at setting screens for their teammates, Newton has been more adept at setting up his teammates' shots. He has 64 assists to Davis' 33.

And Newton has made 49 steals to Davis' 16.

Neither player will scare you from the free-throw line, though.

The 203-cm Davis has a headache-inducing 40.6 percent success ratio (73-for-180). The 205-cm Newton has made 64.8 percent of his foul shots (81-for-125).

In other matchups this weekend, the Toyama Grouses (9-19) play host to the Tokyo Apache (11-17) on Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m. and 1:30, respectively, while the Sendai 89ers (14-14) meet the visiting Oita HeatDevils (16-12) at 6 and 2 and the host Takamatsu Five Arrows (17-11) face the Saitama Broncos (9-19) at 7 and 2.

A COACH'S INFLUENCE: Sendai 89ers coach Honoo Hamaguchi was suspended for last Saturday's game against the Tokyo Apache, and his team dropped a 109-95 decision to the hosts.

Hamaguchi returned to the sideline for the series' second game and guided his club to a 100-83 triumph.

To a man, the 37-year-old coach's presence played a key role in helping his team return to .500.

"I think the big difference from last night to tonight was definitely having Honoo there," 89ers forward Michael Chappell said after his 22-point performance on Sunday.

"I think we really played together as a team for 40 minutes. Yesterday I think we played solid for the first half, and then once they (the Apache) made their run yesterday things kind of shifted."

Now Hamaguchi's club finds itself as the league's fifth-best team with 12 regular-season games remaining, a time when the teams are jockeying for playoff position.

"As far as seeding and all that, it kind of goes out the window, because it's a single-game elimination (format), Chappell said. "It really doesn't matter if you're seeded one, two, three or four. You just want to get there. Once you get there, anything can happen on any given night.

"We're (two games) behind Oita right now, so I think it's just a matter of us staying focused on what we need to do vs. paying attention to the rest of the league."

FLASHBACK: The HeatDevils pulled to within three games of first place by sweeping the Toyama Grouses last weekend, recording a 91-61 Saturday victory and an 88-86 triumph a day later.

Mikey Marshall and Andy Ellis had 20 points apiece to lead Oita to a series-opening victory.

On Sunday, Ellis led Oita with 30 points and Jerod Ward had 27 for Toyama.

In earning a split with the Apache, the 89ers got a big game from big Mamadou Diouf on Sunday. He scored 33 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter.

Tokyo's John "Helicopter" Humphrey, the league's leading scorer, had a 30-point outing on Saturday, a day in which Jo Kurino, who was traded earlier in the week from Oita, made his Apache debut and scored 12 points.

Kurino finished 0-for-5 from the field and scored zero points on Sunday.

Foul trouble plagued the Apache in crunch time, as Michael Jackson and Humphrey were both on the bench after picking up their fifth fouls.

The Albirex defeated the Five Arrows 89-71 on Saturday as Matt Garrison scored 26 points and Jack Hartman had 21.

In Takamatsu's 80-72 win in the rematch, power forward Reggie Warren (25 points, 13 rebounds) led the way, while Yu Okada scored 17, Julius Ashby had 16 and Kazuyuki Nakagawa 13.

The Evessa picked up their 18th win of the season on Friday, edging the Broncos 73-72.

David Palmer and Masashi Joho scored 19 points apiece for the victorious visitors.

Andrew Feeley's 23 points led Saitama.

Lynn Washington's double-double (23 points, 13 rebounds) and David Palmer's long-range shooting (4-for-7 on 3 pointers and 17 points) keyed Osaka's 75-66 win on Saturday.

Saitama's eight-point second quarter proved to be a difficult number to overcome. Marcus Toney-El had a game-best 19 points for the Broncos.



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