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Hiroshima Dragonflies Bolster Playoff Hopes with Stellar Play in April

In April, the Hiroshima Dragonflies, led by American coach Kyle Milling, went 8-2. They lead the B.League wild-card standings with two games left in the season.

The Hiroshima Dragonflies thrived in April to solidify their chances of clinching a wild-card berth for the upcoming B.League playoffs.

Head coach Kyle Milling's squad won eight of 10 April games. This run included four victories in a row heading into the final week of the 2023-24 season.

The Dragonflies (35-23) play host to the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings (40-18) to close out the regular season on Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5. Expect an intense two-game showdown from the rivals. With Ryukyu taking a season-high three-game losing streak to Hiroshima, it should add an extra layer of intrigue to the teams' final series of the regular season.

Hiroshima holds the slimmest of leads over the Chiba Jets (34-24) in the wild-card standings. The top-two finishers in the Eastern Conference, Central Conference and Western Conference and two wild-card entrants all qualify for the playoffs.

In the East, the Utsunomiya Brex (49-9) and Alvark Tokyo (46-12) have punched their tickets to the postseason, and the Central's San-en NeoPhoenix (46-12) are also in. That leaves the SeaHorses Mikawa (34-24), the Sunrockers Shibuya (33-35) and the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (32-26) still in the hunt among Central squads for the runner–up spot or a wild-card berth.

And in the West, the third-place Shimane Susanoo Magic (33-23) are also still in the mix, behind Ryukyu and the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (39-19).

Hiroshima Dragonflies
Hiroshima Dragonflies players celebrate late in the fourth quarter on April 28 after the team extended its lead to 61-49. (B.LEAGUE)

Hiroshima Dragonflies Record Back-to-Back Series Sweeps

How did the Dragonflies cobble together their current win streak?

After dropping an 89-78 decision to the Nagasaki Velca on April 17, Hiroshima rebounded with a series sweep of the Osaka Evessa on April 20-21 (91-77 and 83-71).

The Dragonflies then edged the Susanoo Magic 71-67 in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, on Saturday, April 27.

A day later, Hiroshima led 45-41 after three quarters and then dominated the fourth quarter, making 9 of 10 shots from the field to pull away for a 65-51 win.

American power forward Nick Mayo had nine fourth-quarter points on 3-for-3 shooting, including a 3-pointer, and a pair of free throws in the pivotal final period. Frontcourt mate Kerry Blackshear Jr and veteran small forward Seiya Funyu chipped in with six and five points, respectively, in the fourth. Blackshear, who played collegiately at Virginia Tech and the University of Florida, also dished out four assists in the last quarter.

On defense, the Dragonflies clamped down on Shimane star Seiya Ando, the B.League's third-leading scorer this season (20.6 points per game). Ando, who had 26 points in the series opener, was held to 11 points (and only three in the second half). He made 4 of 17 shots from the field and faced tight defense throughout the game.

Hiroshima Dragonflies
Shimane's Seiya Ando faced tight defense from Hiroshima, including center Tshilidzi Kawata. (B.LEAGUE)

After Shimane tied it at 46-46 early in the fourth, Hiroshima went on a 19-3 run, grabbing a 65-49 lead on a Ryo Yamazaki jumper with 58 seconds remaining.

Perrin Buford led the Susanoo Magic with 19 points. Blackshear had 19 points, six rebounds and six assists. Mayo poured in 13 points while Dwayne Evans had 12.

Hiroshima Dragonflies
Dragonflies center Tshilidzi Kawata finishes off a slam dunk. (B.LEAGFUE)

Center Tshilidzi Kawata, a naturalized Japanese citizen who was born in South Africa, made a solid impact with seven points, nine rebounds and a block in 23-plus minutes.

Reaction to Sunday's Victory

American-born coach Milling is in his third season at the helm. He led Hiroshima to a 41-18 record in 2022-23 and a trip to the playoffs. The Dragonflies went 29-28 in 2021-22.

After Sunday's game, Milling summarized the team's upbeat mood. 

"First of all, it was a very nice win," Milling told reporters. "I am really happy because it is not easy to win two games in a row away. All of us were able to carry our thoughts and spirit all the way to the very end, which led us to victory."

Hiroshima Dragonflies
Hiroshima Dragonflies head coach Kyle Milling (B.LEAGUE

Looking ahead to the weekend series against the Golden Kings, Milling added, "As the season draws to a close, the players are becoming more and more focused. We all want to fight hard until the very end."

Funyu, who has started 26 games in his three seasons with the Dragonflies, was pleased with the team's effort in the second half.

"It was a hard battle from the start. But we made good [progress] from the third quarter and were able to get a result in the fourth quarter," Funyu said. "We had to be patient for a lot of time. But I think it was a battle of wills in the end. I would like to win the remaining two games with everyone on the team, and grab a berth in the playoffs by our own hands."

Hiroshima Dragonflies
Dragonflies point guard Takuto Nakamura shoots a jumper over Susanoo Magic point guard Seiya Ando on April 28. (B.LEAGUE)

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Hiroshima Dragonflies Deal with Adversity

Hiroshima starting point guard Ryo Terashima collided with a Chiba Jets player in the second quarter on March 3 and had to be carried off the court on a stretcher. He sustained a medial collateral ligament injury to his right knee and other leg injuries, including a proximal tibia (shinbone) fracture, in the Dragonflies' 88-80 loss.

On March 4, the Dragonflies issued an update on the 26-year-old playmaker, saying he needed 8-10 weeks to heal the various injuries.

Since he joined Hiroshima in 2021, Terashima started in 153 of his 154 games. He's averaging 10.6 points and 3.6 assists this season in 39 games.

Without Terashima for the final two months of the season, Milling turned to Takuto Nakamura, 23, to fill a void in the starting lineup.

In the team's very next game the Dragonflies triumphed 85-66 over the Saga Ballooners. Nakamura led the club with five assists.

"I don't think I can replace Ryo-san, but I believe that I can contribute to the team with [the skills] I have," Nakamura told reporters.

After the game, Milling recalled his challenge to Nakamura.

"With Terashima, one of the mainstays of the team, out, I asked Nakamura to be the starter and told him before the game, 'Takuto will remain as Takuto and do the best you can do,' " Milling said at a news conference. "I think everyone, including Nakamura, played a good game today and we were able to get a good victory."

In Nakamura's 17 games as a starter, Hiroshima has won 14 times. His preparedness after Terashima got hurt became one of the defining traits of the 2023-24 Hiroshima Dragonflies season.

A Look Ahead 

In addition to the Hiroshima-Ryukyu series, here's the rest of the busy Golden Week schedule:

Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4: Levanga Hokkaido (17-41) vs Alvark Tokyo.

Saturday and Sunday, May 4-5: Akita Northern Happinets (29-29) vs Chiba Jets, Osaka Evessa (23-35) vs Shimane, Ibaraki Robots (12-46) vs Utsunomiya, Gunma Crane Thunders (30-28) vs Sendai 89ers (26-32), SeaHorses Mikawa vs San-en NeoPhoenix, Yokohama B-Corsairs (23-35) vs Kawasaki Brave Thunders, Sunrockers Shibuya vs Shinshu Brave Warriors (10-48) and Toyama Grouses (4-54, a current 30-game losing streak) vs Fighting Eagles Nagoya (31-27).

Sunday and Monday, May 5 and 6: Kyoto Hannaryz (17-41) vs Nagasaki Velca (25-33) and Saga Ballooners (29-29) vs Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.


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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