Home Japanese warriors BASKETBALL | Niigata Albirex BB looking to rebuild after tough times

BASKETBALL | Niigata Albirex BB looking to rebuild after tough times



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Good team defense often relies on hard work and synergy on the basketball court.

Likewise, effort is important for success on offense, but lineup continuity can be an even more important part of a team’s ability to consistently score enough points to win games.

Only one Niigata Albirex BB player who averaged double digit points in the 2020-21 season has returned for 2021-22: Rosco Allen (18.1 points per game). The Reconstruction team’s attack is last among the 22 League B sides to score (70.4 ppg) this season, and their most recent game is a vivid snapshot of their woes.

The Albirex (2-26) suffered their 25th straight loss on Sunday January 23, an 89-59 loss to the visiting Shinshu Brave Warriors. They shot 31.8 percent, 31 of 66 from the field, in the blowout loss. Former NBA forward Jeff Ayres (17 points), Yuto Nomi (16, one shy of his season best) and Allen (13) scored the majority of Niigata’s points.

In 2020-21, then-Albirex coach Shogo Fukuda’s side went 16-38, the losing side’s second consecutive season. In 2019-20, Niigata went 13-28 in his predecessor Kazuhiro Shoji’s final season at the helm.

Three seasons ago, Shoji guided Albirex to a 45-15 record and the Central Division title.

The impact of notable veteran players and rising stars who have left the team in recent years, including scoring ace Davante Gardner for the SeaHorses Mikawa after the club’s best season of the League B era, he elite Keita Imamura for the Ryukyu Golden Kings and ground leader Kei Igarashi at the Gunma Crane Thunders, among others, contributed to the Albirex’s decline from title challenger to cave dweller.

Albirex’s new coach, Fujitaka Hiraoka, is on his second stint at the helm. A longtime Niigata assistant during the bj-league era (2005-13), he managed the show from 2013-15. From 2016-2021, he managed the Crane Thunders.

Hiraoka presided over an epic 33-game winning streak last season en route to a 52-5 aggregate mark in the B League Second Division. Gunma capped off his remarkable campaign with the B2 title and promotion to the top flight .

Instead of staying with the Crane Thunders, Hiraoka accepted a job offer from Niigata.

The team’s roster overhaul (seven newcomers to its roster of 13 players at the start of the season) has clearly contributed to its difficulties.

For Hiraoka, setting up his system and familiarizing his players with his coaching tactics takes time.

There was a jolt of positive energy around the club from the start. Albirex won two of their first three games before an 85-82 loss on the road to San-en NeoPhoenix began the losing streak on 10 October.

Last weekend, Shinshu took a 16-4 lead late in the first quarter and recorded a 76-64 victory on Saturday, January 22.

A day later, Niigata was held to seven points in the first quarter and trailed 38-26 at halftime. But starting keeper Nomi gave the home fans some excitement to close out the second quarter, nailing a long 3-pointer beating the buzzer.

In the Albirex’ 25-game losing streak, they have lost games by 20, 23, 26, 27, 30 and 31 (twice). They also suffered hard-fought defeats during the streak, including 77-75 against the SeaHorses on October 23, 79-78 on October 27 against Alvark Tokyo and 82-81 against the Kawasaki Brave Thunders on November 10.

Positive COVID-19 tests across the league led to game cancellations, including four series last weekend.

Albirex, meanwhile, had been sidelined since losing 84-83 to Sunrockers Shibuya on January 3 before facing Shinshu last Saturday. (A COVID-19 outbreak among Osaka Evessa players and staff forced the cancellation of the team’s Jan. 8-9 series against Niigata. Next, B. League All-Star Weekend , scheduled for January 14-15 in Okinawa City, was canceled due to the pandemic.)

Before the end of the month, the Hiraoka team will be looking to slam the door on their losing streak.

Up next: A road game Wednesday against Levanga Hokkaido (11-17) and a home series Jan. 29-30 against the Ibaraki Robots (5-23).

Despite his team’s ongoing struggles, Hiraoka remains grateful for the fans’ continued encouragement.

“We would like to thank all the boosters for their support even in this situation,” Hiraoka told reporters after the January 23 game. “We will do our best to be able to win a game as soon as possible…”

The Albirex bench boss also acknowledged that his team must continue to make adjustments and focus on improvements.

Against the Brave Warriors on Sunday, “We tried to make corrections both on offense and defense, but I felt there were a lot of games. [of the game] that we couldn’t take an easy shot and the strength of the defense was weak,” Hiraoka said.

Five teams vying for supremacy

Heading into the final week of games in January, five teams have amassed 20 or more wins.

The Ryukyu Golden Kings (23-3, 13 straight wins) and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (20-8) are the top clubs in the West Division.

In the East, defending champion Chiba Jets (21-6) and the Brave Thunders and Alvark (both with 20-7 records) are leading the division title race.

Alvark-Evessa Sunday Rewind

On Sunday, Alvark extended their winning streak to 10 with a comprehensive 99-71 win over Osaka Evessa at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi.

Tokyo registered 11 assists against a turnover in the first half and took a 51-33 lead at the break.

Coach Luka Pavicevic’s club used their deep bench to build a decisive lead. Ten Alvark players scored before half-time

Daiki Tanaka led the offensive attack before intermission with 12 points, Sebastian Saiz added eight and Zack Baranski had six.

Guard Jordan Taylor’s jumper and free throw scored for the final points of the third quarter, giving the Alvark a 76-58 lead early in the final stanza.

Saiz hit a double-double (18 points, 13 rebounds) to lead a balanced offensive offense. Tanaka had 14 points, Ryan Rossiter, Shuto Ando and Shohei Kikuchi added 11 each, and Taylor had 10 with six assists.

Led by Kikuchi’s 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, Alvark sank 10 of 21 3-pointers on an afternoon when their offense performed at a high level (20 assists, five turnovers).

DJ Newbill scored a game-high 29 points for the Evessa (13-15) and Ira Brown finished with 13.

Asked about Alvark’s strong attacking performance, Pavicevic credited his players for “good execution, good passing and good shooting”.

Pavicevic spoke about his team’s long layoff since their last game (January 3) and noted that “the physical, mental and tactical aspects [aspects], all three areas, were affected by this.

In the blistering victory, Pavicevic was not forced to use his key players for any important minutes. Only Rossiter (25:04) recorded more than 25 minutes.

“It took hard work to help give the guys some rest,” Pavicevic said, adding that the COVID-19 absences disrupted the normal training and timing he is used to.

Looking ahead, he said it was important for the team to get their groove back ahead of a busy streak of games ahead: Wednesday Jan. 26 vs. Nagoya, Jan. 29-30 at Mikawa (15-13), Feb. 2 in Hokkaido and February 5-6 against Chiba.

Six games in 12 days, a pivotal period of the season for the Alvark.

Outstanding performance

Promising goalie Yuki Kawamura had 26 points and nine assists off the bench in the Yokohama B-Corsairs’ 102-97 overtime win over the Akita Northern Happinets on Sunday. The 20-year-old made 8 of 10 free throws and had two interceptions.

Yokohama improved to 10-18. Akita slipped to 19-11.

Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sunday, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.