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Friday, March 23, 2007


Blackwell's return timely as Sendai bids for playoff berth

Staff writer

The Sendai 89ers have struggled without Ryan Blackwell in the lineup in recent weeks, and now they need a little dose of good fortune to continue their season beyond next weekend.

Here's the deal: They must win their four final regular-season games and hope the Oita HeatDevils lose their next four.

If that happens, Sendai will be the fourth team to clinch a bj-league playoff berth.

As of today, the Osaka Evessa (26-10), the Niigata Albirex BB (22-14) and the expansion Takamatsu Five Arrows (22-14) have qualified for the playoffs.

Oita is 21-15. Sendai is 17-19.

The HeatDevils, who swept the Tokyo Apache last weekend, face the reigning league champs from Osaka on Saturday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (2:30) in Kyushu.

Dai Oketani's club is 3-3 vs. the Evessa to date.

Sendai, on the other hand, has dropped all four of its games against Osaka. The Heat Devils wrap up their regular-season schedule next weekend at Takamatsu.

Sendai travels to Saitama Prefecture for a pair of games against Honoo Hamaguchi's Broncos this weekend. Both games tip off at 3 p.m.

The 89ers are 2-2 against Saitama, the team they'll also face next weekend at home.

In this weekend's other matchups, the Albirex play host to the Toyama Grouses on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. and 1.

The Tokyo Apache, coached by Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, hold their final home games of the 2006-07 campaign at Ariake Colosseum against the Five Arrows, starting at 6 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday.

Blackwell sustained an high ankle sprain on his left leg in the 89ers' game on Feb. 24 and has not played since then, but is expected to take the court this weekend. He last played in that 94-88 Sendai win, a game in which he scored eight points.

The 89ers are 3-4 without Blackwell in the lineup. Five of those games have been decided by six points or less, and they are 2-3 in those contests.

He had started in 27 of the previous 29 games before the injury and was showing game after game that he was one of the league's best all-around players.

Blackwell, a former Syracuse (N.Y.) University player, is averaging 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds a game.

Cerebral, nimble forward Mamadou Diouf has elevated his game in Blackwell's absence.

The big fellow, who's originally from Senegal and represented his nation at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, has put up scoring numbers that match a stretch of games that rival anything Shaquille O'Neal has done over a prolonged stretch.

In the past seven games, Diouf, a former University of Delaware player, has scored 33, 44, 28, 24, 21, 35 and 37 points.

FLASHBACK: Two games were blowouts and two went down the wire last Saturday.

The Albirex edged the Broncos 66-63, getting 22 points from Jack Hartman, a double-double from steady Nick Davis (10 points, 14 rebounds), seven assists from Antoni Wyche and 11 points from Wakayama product Daiki Terashita.

Toyama topped Sendai 93-88, a game in which Jerod Ward (26 points), Nile Murry (23) and Okinawa native Takanori Goya (17) carried the Grouses.

Diouf's 35 points and 20 boards led the 89ers.

Oita routed the undermanned Apache 114-78. Andy Ellis scored 39 points in the runaway win and Yukinori Suzuki's 11 assists ignited the offense.

Matt Lottich scored 23 points to lead six players in double figures for Osaka in a 109-70 win over the Five Arrows.

On Sunday, the tables were turned.

Tokyo played inspired, gutsy ball but dropped its ninth straight game, an 85-83 decision to Oita in overtime.

Ellis had 26 points for the HeatDevils in the win.

Dameion Baker (25) and Michael Jackson (24) had big outings for the Apache.

The Five Arrows jumped on the Evessa early, pulling ahead 34-11 after one quarter en route to a 76-58 victory.

Yu Okada, the team's resident long-range specialist, attempted 14 3-pointers and made four. He finished with a team-best 22 points.

David Palmer scored 19 for Osaka.

Niigata topped Saitama 88-82. Nick Davis (24 points, 16 rebounds) and Matt Garrison (22 points) paced the Albirex.

Power forward Gordon James, the league's No. 1 rebounder, finished with 12 boards and 22 points for Saitama.

Diouf had 37 points and Michael Chappell contributed 33 in the 89ers' 98-81 win over the Grouses.

Jerod Ward was the No. 1 scorer for Toyama, netting 32 points.

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