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A Trio of B.League Playoff Spots Still Up for Grabs

Heading into the next-to-last week of the B.League season, the Chiba Jets (34-22 record) have the most wins among the wild-card contenders.

As the 2023-24 B.League regular season approaches its final two weeks of games, five of the eight playoff berths have been secured.

Among the Eastern Conference's squads, the Utsunomiya Brex (47-9) and the Alvark Tokyo (45-11) have qualified for postseason play. The Chiba Jets (34-22) are in the hunt for one of two wild-card berths. (The top two finishers in each conference plus two wild cards make up the playoff field.)

In the Central Conference, the much-improved San-en NeoPhoenix (44-12) ran away with the conference title, and the SeaHorses Mikawa (33-23), the Sunrockers Shibuya (32-24) and the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (31-25) all still have a mathematical shot at earning a trip to the postseason.

B.League
Ryukyu Golden Kings standout Keita Imamura in action on April 21 against the Nagasaki Velca at Okinawa Arena. (B.LEAGUE)

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings (40-16) and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (37-19) have also booked spots in the playoffs. Two West squads, the Hiroshima Dragonflies (33-23) and the Shimane Susanoo Magic (32-24), still hope to squeeze into the playoffs.

Top Wild-Card Contenders

To summarize the aforementioned quintet's wild-card quest succinctly, Chiba is first among these contenders with 34 wins. Mikawa and Hiroshima are both a victory behind the Jets. Shibuya and Shimane are a further win adrift and Kawasaki is sitting three wins behind Chiba.

After the penultimate round of games is completed on Sunday, April 28, the full playoff picture will likely be more clear. But the entire eight-team field may also not be determined until the last day of the regular season, May 5.

Starting on Saturday, four weekend series appear most significant based on the information reported above: Shimane vs Hiroshima, Chiba vs Utsunomiya, Kawasaki vs Shibuya and Mikawa vs the Saga Ballooners (28-28).

B.League
Sunrockers guard Anthony Clemmons shoots a 3-pointer in the series finale against the NeoPhoenix on April 21. (B.LEAGUE)

B.League Playoff Chase: The Sunrockers Playing Strong Late in the Season

Entering the next-to-last week of regular-season games, the Sunrockers, led by first-year bench boss Luka Pavicevic, own the current longest winning streak (three games) among the league's 24 teams.

Shibuya is coming off a two-game sweep of San-en on April 20 and 21, winning the two games at Aoyama Gakuin Memorial Hall by a combined eight points.

In the series opener, the Sunrockers triumphed 92-87, with backcourt mates Leo Vendrame and Anthony Clemmons both scoring 22 points to spark the offense. And the Sunrockers secured a 66-63 victory by holding the NeoPhoenix to 20 second-half points in the rematch.

B.League
Shibuya guard Anthony Clemmons receives the Most Impressive Player honor after a 29-point game against San-en on April 21. (B.LEAGUE)

Also noteworthy about Shibuya's win on April 21 was the fact that it overcame a 43-36 halftime deficit.

The Sunrockers held the NeoPhoenix to 4-for-14 shooting and nine total points in the third quarter.

By doing so, Shibuya pulled ahead 54-52 entering the final quarter.

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Clemmons Ignites the Sunrockers in the Fourth Quarter

Then, in the last period, Clemmons nailed two big 3-pointers and was 2-for-2 at the foul line to carry the Sunrockers offense. He finished with a game-high 29 points, matching his season-high scoring output.

Shibuya outscored San-en 12-11 in a tense fourth quarter.

B.League
Shibuya's Daiki Tanaka takes a long-range shot. (B.LEAGUE)

Jeff Gibbs and Josh Hawkinson both had 10 points for the hosts in the low-scoring game, and teammates Daiki Tanaka, Ryan Kelly and Kazuma Tsuya had five points apiece. Hawkinson also snared 14 rebounds to complete his 12th double-double of the season.

Ryusei Sasaki and David Dudzinski led the NeoPhoenix with 18 points apiece.

The hard-earned victory gave the Sunrockers nine wins in their last 11 games. They are making a spirited run at trying to beat the odds and clinch a wild-card berth.

B.League
Sunrockers coach Luka Pavicevic talks to reporters after the team's 66-63 win over the NeoPhoenix on April 21. (B.LEAGUE)

Pavicevic Analyzes Shibuya's Win in the Series Finale

Speaking to reporters after Sunday's game, Pavicevic admitted beating the NeoPhoenix on back-to-back days was not an easy feat.

Doing so without injured big man Kelly for most of Sunday's game made that task even harder, the coach noted.

"I would like to commend the players for winning two hard games this weekend against a strong and great team, San-en," Pavicevic said.

"In the course of a long B.League season, there are bound to be injuries at some point, or players who are not in good condition. [And] in today's game, Ryan Kelly was injured and was unable to play the second half, which was an unexpected situation, and we were not able to take advantage of this as we did [when he played] yesterday.

"It was difficult for us to create our own rhythm, but I think we were able to get the win because of the mental effort of the players, who never gave up fighting."

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Demoted to the B.League Second Division

The Toyama Grouses (4-52), who have lost 28 consecutive games, will play in the B.League second division in 2024-25.

Toyama had a 15-45 record in the 2022-23 season and went 24-35 in 2021-22.

The Hokuriku-based team issued an apology to its fans, sponsors and other stakeholders on Monday, April 23.

"Although we have been relegated to B2, we still have four games left in the regular season, two of which are at home, and we will strive to win as many games as possible to repay the support and encouragement we have received from all of you," read a portion of the statement.

The Grouses travel to play the NeoPhoenix on Saturday and Sunday before closing out the season on May 4 and 5 against the visiting Fighting Eagles Nagoya (30-26).

B.League
Altiri Chiba guard Yuta Osaki drives on Niigata Albirex BB guard Daichi Tomioka on April 21 in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture. (B.LEAGUE)

B2 Playoff Update

In the 14-team B.League second division, aka B2, the playoff quarterfinals are now set.

The four best-of-three matchups, scheduled for May 3-5, are as follows: Altiri Chiba (56-4 in the regular season) vs Veltex Shizuoka (29-31), Koshigaya Alphas (35-25) vs Kumamoto Volters (33-27), Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka (36-24) vs Yamagata Wyverns (31-29) and Shiga Lakes (44-16) vs Aomori Wat's (29-31).

In related B2 news, it was recently announced that the Iwate Big Bulls (20-40) and Niigata Albirex BB (7-53) will be relegated to the B.League third division for the 2024-25 season.

B3 Playoff Update

The best-of-three opening round of the B3 playoffs was held April 19-21. Four teams advanced to the upcoming semifinals.

The Fukui Blowinds, who had a B3-best 46-4 regular-season record, swept the Shonan United Basketball Club in two games, and the Saitama Broncos eliminated the Tokushima Gambarous in two games.

Elsewhere, the Kagawa Five Arrows swept the Tokyo United Basketball Club, while the Kagoshima Rebnise ousted the Yokohama Excellence in two games.

Which brings us to the B3 semifinal pairings: Fukui vs Tokushima, April 27-29 at Fukui Prefectural Gymnasium, and Kagawa vs Kagoshima on the same dates, at Takamatsu City General Gymnasium.

By virtue of having the best record in the B3 regular season, Fukui, guided by head coach Tsutomu Isa, has already secured promotion to B2 for 2024-25, an outstanding accomplishment in its first season of existence.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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