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Friday, Feb. 15, 2008

BJ-LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Evessa retain title as kings of the road


Staff writer

It takes all of two seconds to understand the biggest reason why the current bj-league leaders are, well, the league leaders.

News photo
Josh Peppers of Rizing Fukuoka leads the bj-league in scoring with 24 points per game. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Only two teams in the league — the Sendai 89ers and the Osaka Evessa — have winning road records, and these teams are both in first place.

The two-time defending champion Evessa, 21-5 overall, are 9-3 on the road. The 89ers (19-7) own an 8-4 mark in away contests.

Conversely, seven of the league's 10 teams have seven or more wins at home — good for winning records in front of their home crowds.

On the road is where defeat is the norm.

The law of averages, however, will probably alter this statistical oddity before the season concludes.

Last season, for instance, five of the league's eight teams (expansion brought that number to 10 in 2007-08) had .500 or better road records, led by Osaka's 13-7 mark and 11-9 efforts by Oita and Sendai.

Osaka's road success is nothing new. The team had a stunning .700 winning percentage away from home in 2005-06, posting victories in 17 of 20 contests.

Margin of victory is one measuring stick for why the Evessa remain a dominating force whenever they step onto the court for an out-of-town game. Kensaku Tennichi's club leads the league with a plus-10.8 point differential.

In the Western Conference, only one other team has a positive average point differential: the Five Arrows, who score a league-high 91.6 points per game and give up 86.2 (plus-5.4). This, however, has not translated into overall success on the road. Motofumi Aoki's team has lost seven of 12 road games.

Coaches from Tokyo to Topeka preach the importance of winning road games. Coming up with a strategy to make it happen is never easy, though, and is one reason why teams fail to become consistent playoff contenders.

Osaka clearly has found a way to make it one of the team's trademarks. And Credit Tennichi for giving his team this boost, game after game, season after season.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Toyama Grouses (4-24) play host to the Niigata Albirex BB (17-11) in a clash of Eastern Conference teams. The two-game series begins on Friday.

The Rizing Fukuoka (9-17) also begin their weekend homestand on Friday, taking on the aforementioned Evessa juggernaut.

The Saitama Broncos, meanwhile, are one team that can shake things up a bit this weekend in the Eastern Conference standings. The Broncos (13-13) are home for a pair of games against the 89ers starting on Saturday.

If the Broncos, with an ample supply of size up front in James Davis, Mamadou Diouf, Gordon James and Andrew Feeley and steady leadership from Taishiro Kazuhiro Shoji and Aaron Sakai Lawrence, can pull off the sweep, they would pull themselves within four games of first place.

In doing so, first-year head coach David Benoit would solidify his credentials as a Coach of the Year candidate.

But no one said beating Sendai twice in two days would be easy.

To do so, requires superb defense, which limits the 89ers spread-the-wealth approach on offense, led by Hikaru Kusaka at the point and savvy veteran Ryan Blackwell in the frontcourt.

Also Saturday, the Five Arrows (17-9) play the first of two games in front of their home fans, taking on the Ryukyu Golden Kings (9-17), and the Oita HeatDevils (11-15) meet the Tokyo Apache (14-12) and look to make up ground in the Western Conference race.

LEAGUE LEADERS: Through Sunday's games these players are No. 1 in the following statistical categories:

Rizing Fukuoka small forward Joshua Peppers (scoring, 24.0 points per game).

Oita Heat Devils point guard Tsubasa Yonamine (assists, 5.8).

Saitama Broncos power forward Gordon James (rebounds, 15.0).

Takamatsu Five Arrows power forward Rasheed Sparks (steals, 1.9).

Osaka Evessa center Jeff Newton (blocked shots, 3.3).

In addition, James is No. 1 in field-goal shooting accuracy, making 59.1 percent of his shots.

HeatDevils shooting Yukinori Suzuki is first in 3-point shooting accuracy, converting 50.6 percent of his attempts (42 for 83).

Osaka shooting guard Naoto Nakamura is first in foul shooting (92.1 percent), while rising star Reggie Warren, the Five Arrows' bulldog in the post, is atop the field in dunks (1.8 per game, he has 48 of them) and minutes played (974).



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