Shiga Lakes Snap 18-Game Losing Streak, Focus on Improvement
The B.League's Shiga Lakes have had three head coaches this season. Current bench boss David Gomez is aiming to build a more consistent team.
A combination of injuries, coaching changes, departed players and a slew of poor performances have taken a toll on the Shiga Lakes this season.
But the Lakes had a rare opportunity to celebrate ― a sigh of relief, a possible reset of sorts ― on Sunday, February 5, when they halted an 18-game losing streak in the B.League.
Trailing by four points after the opening stanza, the second quarter was the difference for Shiga, which outscored the visiting San-en NeoPhoenix 21-11 in the 10-minute period. That gave the Lakes, who were known as the Lakestars from 2008 until the end of last season, a 42-36 halftime lead. And the point differential in the second half was one point (in the NeoPhoenix's favor).
Shiga won, 89-84.
When was the Lakes' previous victory? A 69-67 home triumph over the SeaHorses Mikawa on December 10.
Newcomer DeQuan Jones and Kelvin Martin paced the hosts with 19 points apiece. Martin hauled in 11 rebounds and made four steals. Big man David Doblas, who hails from Spain, snared eight rebounds.
Shiga's Kiefer Ravena finished with 15 points, knocking down 4 of 7 3-point attempts, and dished out three assists. Backcourt mate Kai Toews had 13 points and seven assists.
Kazuki Hosokawa led the NeoPhoenix (16-20) with a season-high 29 points, including 8 of 11 from 3-point range.
Shiga (5-31) is tied with the Niigata Albirex BB for the worst record in the 24-team B.League first division.
The Mood After the Win
After their victory in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, Lakes head coach David Gomez effectively expressed what the streak-stopping triumph represents to the franchise.
"I think this victory has released the stress and pressure that the whole team has been carrying," Gomez told reporters after the game.
Looking ahead, the Spaniard said: "I think it is important not to be trapped in the past, but to focus on the moment in front of us and fight."
Filipino playmaker Ravena and Teppei Kashiwagura, the team's two captains, agreed with Gomez that the win changed the team's mood a bit.
"This win is very meaningful for the team after the losing streak," commented Ravena, who joined the team in 2021. "And I hope that we can use this as an opportunity to play the rest of the season with a good rhythm and finish the season on a good note."
Kashiwagura acknowledged that the 2022-23 campaign has been a stressful experience for the team's coaching staff.
"I am really happy with the victory that we won as a team," the 28-year-old guard said.
Kashiwaguara added, "I think that the coaches were also suffering more than we were, so we trusted the coaches and that was the result, and the boosters warmly supported us in any situation."
The Lakes are back in action on Friday and Saturday, February 10-11 against the host Kawasaki Brave Thunders (21-15), who are tied with the Yokohama B-Corsairs for the best record in the Central Division.
Shiga Lakes' Coaching Carousel
Gomez, who turns 34 on March 4, joined the Shiga coaching staff as an assistant during the past offseason.
The Lakers were coming off a 14-43 campaign in fellow Spaniard Luis Guil's first season at the helm. Guil had previously led the Saga Ballooners in B3 and B2 in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
Shiga and Guil parted ways by mutual agreement after a poor start in October.
When Guil's departure was announced on November 16 during the international break for 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers, Takayuki Yasuda was promoted to acting head coach.
The Lakers were 2-7 when Yasuda assumed the top coaching post.
At that point in the season, Shiga was without Croatian center Ivan Buva, who had suffered a left ankle medial malleolus fracture on October 16 against the Hiroshima Dragonflies. Seven days earlier, Buva scored 39 points in the Lakes' second straight win over the Albirex. (Buva underwent surgery and started physical rehab in November in preparation to return to the court.)
After Buva's injury, 10 straight losses followed.
Yasuda also saw the recent departure of former NBA small forward Jordan Hamilton on loan to the B2's Nishinomiya Storks on January 31 for the remainder of the season. Hamilton averaged 18.0 points in 14 games with the Lakes.
Under Yasuda, Shiga was winless in five games in November and went 2-10 in December. After an 0-6 start in January, including an 84-69 loss to the visiting Shimane Susanoo Magic on January 22, Toshihiko Kabuchi, the Lakes' president and general manager, decided to make another coaching change.
Yasuda was relieved of his leadership duties on January 26, and Gomez was promoted to head coach.
Working to Put His Stamp on the Team
Gomez worked his first game as bench boss on January 28 against the host Sendai 89ers. The Lakes fell 74-68 in Gomez's debut, then dropped the next day's match 81-64. Shiga went winless in January.
Despite the Lakes' many disappointments this season and frustrations that escalate loss after loss after loss, Gomez has tried to maintain a positive outlook.
After the win on Sunday over the NeoPhoenix ― a day after Shiga dropped the series opener 87-79 ― Gomez spoke about the challenges of overhauling the team.
"It's really not easy to change things in a short period of time," Gomez told reporters. "So while I have ideas, I start with the simple things, such as pressure on the ball, how to protect the court narrowly, and how to defend while [blocking] the opponent."
The players' overall attitude is the primary building block of Gomez's plans.
Or as he explained in his post-game remarks on Sunday: "The first approach was to change the players' mental mindset. Once that changes, it becomes easier to set up the rules for what we have to do."
Transforming the Lakes from a cellar dweller to a playoff-caliber team can't happen overnight.
Clearly, across-the-board improvements will be needed. Shiga is 21st in scoring (73.8 points per game) and 22nd in points allowed (87.3), 18th in rebounding (31.6) and 23rd in assists (17.3).
These four statistical categories are a snapshot of the team's underwhelming performance this season.
Jones Energizes Lakes
But the recent arrival of Jones, a former University of Miami player who made his Shiga debut on February 4 helped reinvigorate the Lakes at both ends of the floor. He had 25 points and six rebounds in his first Lakes game.
Gomez recognizes that Jones, who averaged 20.1 points for the Storks in 2021-22 and 16.2 points this season before his move to Shiga, has already made a sizable impact for his new club. He is on loan from Nishinomiya for the remainder of the season.
"His skills and high IQ are part of what makes him a good fit for the team," the coach said of the 32-year-old former Orlando Magic forward adding that he has "excellent scoring ability."
Playing physical defense and providing leadership on the bench are also important characteristics that Jones provides, according to Gomez.
Speaking during a courtside interview after being named MVP of Shiga's losing streak-busting game on February 5, Jones said: "It was a hard-fought game. I think I've got to give my teammates and the coaching staff credit. I mean, it was very difficult. We only practiced [for] three or four days."
He added, "I think that's a credit to the good guys we have in the locker room and our coaching staff, so I've got to give them all the credit."
Jones' all-around dynamism should help Toews, Yusuke Karino and others get more good looks on offense.
If Buva can return and play productive minutes over the final few months of the season, it could further boost Shiga's frontcourt rotation.
Coaching Change in Hokkaido
The Levanga (8-28, worst record in the East) announced on Tuesday, February 7 that head coach Kenichi Sako's contract has been terminated.
Assistant Ryutaro Onodera has been named acting head coach. His first game in charge will be against the Utsunomiya Brex (19-17) on February 11.
Sako had coached Hokkaido since the start of the 2021-22 season. The Levanga went 21-35 last season.
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Author: Ed Odeven
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