MANILA, Philippines – The Japan B. League playoffs begin this weekend with Ray Parks emerging as the only Filipino import still in the hunt for the title.
Eight teams remain from the starting cast of 22 squads.
Parks was an integral part of the campaign of the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins, who finished the regular season with a 34-15 record, good for third place in the West area behind the league-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings and the Shimane Susanoo Magic.
Nagoya will face in the final eight the Kawasaki Brave Thunders, who ended their regular season campaign at the second spot in the East area after registering 42 wins and 13 losses.
The two teams battled twice in the regular season. The Diamond Dolphins drew first blood in their initial encounter last March 26 as they eked out a come-from-behind 89-84 victory. Parks scored 15 points built on 3-of-5 shooting from three in just 20 minutes of action.
The Brave Thunders exacted revenge the next day and came out with a 103-95 win in a contest where they led most of the game. Parks was again a key contributor for the Diamond Dolphins as he posted 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals.
Parks has been one of the most efficient players for Nagoya all season long. Despite averaging just 22 minutes of play per ballgame, Parks filled up the stat sheets with averages of 10.6 points, 3.6 boards, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals.
What makes the Diamond Dolphins dangerous is that it relies on a balanced attack, making it difficult for any opponent to second guess where the production will be coming from.
Four other players are norming double-figure production for Nagoya. Cody Clark has been their main offensive threat even as he averages just 17.1 points per ballgame.
Slotman Scott Etherton provides both the offense and muscle down low with his output of 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Ovie Soko, who transferred to Nagoya last March from the Shiga Lakestars, has been a welcome addition to the Diamond Dolphins’ cause as he has been putting up 13.2 points in seven games.
Japan national team point guard Takumi Sato has been the steady hand orchestrating Nagoya’s fluid play. Sato is registering 11.5 points and is among the league leaders in assists with 5.8 per ballgame.
There are also five other players averaging at least 5 points for Nagoya, a clear indication of the depth in the bench of coach Shawn Dennis. Among them is another Japan national team stalwart, bullstrong power forward Tenketsu Harimoto who is contributing 6.9 points per outing.
Despite all these, the Diamond Dolphins will still be coming into the quarterfinals as the slight underdogs against a Kawasaki Brave Thunders squad that will have homecourt advantage. Kawasaki will also have momentum on their side, having won nine out of their last 10 games in the regular season.
Kawasaki actually mirrors Nagoya as the Brave Thunders also rely on their balanced offense. Five players in the Kawasaki squad average in double figures while four others are scoring at least 4 points per ballgame.
The Brave Thunders will also have a clear edge in size. Nagoya only has 6-foot-9 Eaterton to man the middle with the 6-foot-7 Soko and 6-foot-6 Harimoto helping out down low.
Kawasaki, meanwhile, will be bannered by three imports plus a naturalized big man who could all potentially cause matchup nightmares for the Diamond Dolphins.
Leading the charge for the Brave Thunders is long-time Japan national team center Nick Fazekas, who is sixth in the league in scoring with his average of 19.7 points.
The 6-foot-10 Fazekas, who has played in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks and the LA Clippers, is also one of the top rebounders in the B. League with the 8.9 boards he snares each game.
The Kawasaki frontline also boasts of 6-foot-10 center Jordan Heath, who has been with the squad since 2019, and 6-foot-9 Pablo Aguilar, a former member of the Spanish national team and a two-time EuroCup champion. Both Heath and Aguilar are averaging over 11 points and grabbing close to 15 boards combined per game.
One player that most likely Parks will be tasked to shut down is 6-foot-5 guard Matt Janning, a prolific scorer and a deadshot from downtown.
Janning, who is part of the Georgia national team as a naturalized player, is a proven winner who has bagged titles in the Italian, Turkish, and Spanish leagues. Janning is hitting 37% from beyond the arc and is scoring 12.9 points for Kawasaki.
Japan national team member Yuma Fujii, who is averaging 14.1 points, is the second-best scoring Japanese in the entire B. League. He is shooting an impressive 38.8% from three and also posting averages of 5.5 assists and 1.2 steals. Whoever is able to control the backcourt and wins the point guard battle between him and Saito could spell the difference in this series.
The Nagoya-Kawasaki quarterfinal battle could go down to the wire, similar to the two games they played against each other in the regular season, and perhaps also turn out to be one of the most intriguing duels in this season’s playoffs. – Rappler.com