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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE

Apache prepare for tough homecoming schedule


Staff writer

After an awkward start to the season with more practice time than game time since mid-October, the Tokyo Apache now begin the full-scale busy portion of their nonsensical 2010-11 bj-league campaign.

News photo
Home straight: Bob Hill's Tokyo Apache begin a stretch of four consecutive home games starting Thursday. AP PHOTO

The Apache are 6-6 under first-year bench boss Bob Hill, who has guided four NBA teams during his lengthy coaching career. Their first league-designated "home" games were played Oct. 30-31 at two venues in Nagano Prefecture, and now after 12 straight games away from Tokyo, they'll begin a stretch in which they play 24 of their next 40 regular-season contests at home.

A busy January begins with four straight games Thursday through Sunday — the first time in the sixth-year league's history any team has faced this challenge — at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

The Oita HeatDevils (9-13), fresh off two road defeats against the Rizing Fukuoka on Sunday and Monday, visit Yoyogi for Thursday and Friday night's games. Both contests tip off at 7:15.

The HeatDevils feature three double-digit scorers: Matt Lottich (16.1 points per game), Damian Johnson (15.3) and Taj Finger (14.7). Lottich, who won three titles as a standout for the Osaka Evessa, and Finger both attended Stanford University.

Heat Devils coach L.J. Hepp is a former assistant coach at Stanford, and served as the direct of basketball operations for the University of South Carolina's men's squad last season.

Oita's top Japanese point-getter is Hiroki Sato (7.2 ppg).

Following the HeatDevils series, Tokyo shifts its focus to a pair of games against the expansion Shimane Susanoo Magic (8-14) on Saturday (6 p.m.) and Sunday (2 p.m.).

Former Japan national team coach and two-time Euroleague winner Zeljko Pavlicevic is the first coach in Susanoo Magic history. His club enters 2011 with four straight defeats and a 2-10 road record.

Forward Reggie Golson, who attended Southeast Missouri State, is Shimane's No. 1 scorer (16.7 ppg), followed by injured center Will Caudle (12.8), who is expected to be sidelined this weekend. Talented point guard Takumi Ishizaki, who played for the national team during the Asian Games in November, adds 12.1 ppg and 4.8 assists.

Tokyo, meanwhile, has not had enough games to develop the proper rhythm on either end of the floor, Hill admitted in a Dec. 26 interview with The Japan Times.

Case in point: The Apache have 196 assists and 197 turnovers.

The team's odd schedule created a situation where the players will now find out in a hurry — 10 games in January after 12 contests in all of October, November and December combined — what they need to improve in the next few months as they vie for a playoff berth.

Entering 2011, aggressive point guard Byron Eaton, an NBA Development League veteran, leads the Apache with 15.9 ppg, 55 assists and 89 free-throw attempts (65 makes).

Tokyo's other double-digit scorers include fellow D-League vet Kendall Dartez (12.2), former NBA big man Robert Swift (12.1), guard Jumpei Nakama (11.4) and NBA prospect Jeremy Tyler (10.0).

All-Star guard Cohey Aoki, on the other hand, is scoring 8.2 ppg, his lowest total since putting up 6.6 ppg in 2005-06.

The Apache's lone road series this month — Jan. 15-16 against the expansion Miyazaki Shining Suns — will be followed by four more home contests at Yoyogi: Jan. 18-19 vs. the Takamatsu Five Arrows, who feature ex-Apache point guard Rasheed Sparks but are one of three teams with a league-low six wins entering this week; and Jan. 26-27 against the Rizing, who are led by two-time scoring champion Michael Parker, who is again on top of the scoring charts (28.2 ppg).

For the Apache, fatigue and injuries could become big concerns in February, March and April, when the team plays eight, 10 and 12 games, respectively, after a hectic January.



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