It goes by quickly, doesn’t it? After a week-long Spring Festival break, the Chinese Basketball Association’s 34-round regular season will come to a close this Sunday. And while Guangdong, Shandong and Beijing have already locked up the top three spots, there’s still plenty of stuff going on below them. To help everyone out, let’s go over what everyone should be watching for over these last two games.
Playoff Seeding: No. 4 and No. 5
Xinjiang at 19-11 currently sits at the four spot, while Liaoning at 18-12 is one game behind them at the five. The two are already guaranteed a first-round matchup, but who comes down with the all important home court advantage will be decided in these next three days. Considering the two teams split the season series, playing at home in a decisive Game 5 would be a big edge.
Xinjiang, who plays Zhejiang away tonight and DongGuan at home on Sunday, controls their own destiny and can lock it down with two wins. But if there’s any slip up, Liaoning, who owns the tiebreaker on head-to-head point differential, would supplant them in the standings. Though it’s always difficult to win on the road, Liaoning finishes up the season with the easier schedule, two away games at Bayi and at Shanghai.
Though there will be cause for mild celebration for whoever clinches that four spot, it will likely be short lived as they’ll be in the drivers seat for a semi-final matchup against
the Chinese National Team Guangdong. Which won’t be fun.
More Playoff Seeding: Nos. 6-8
As has been the case in recent years, there’s a huge logjam for the few remaining playoff spots as DongGuan (16-14), Guangsha (16-15), Zhejiang (16-14) and Shanxi (15-15) are all vying for three positions.
The magic number looks to be 17 wins. DongGuan has an excellent chance to get to that number tonight when they host last place Qingdao. It’s essentially a must win, as they go on the road to play in the notoriously unwelcoming Hongshan Stadium in Urumqi on Sunday. Zhejiang will play at home against Xinjiang tonight, while Shanxi — who would be out of the playoffs if the season started today — play at Jiangsu. Guangsha will be watching everything from their television tonight; they have a bye.
That will all set up a wild Sunday, where Zhejiang and Shanxi will play a potential do-or-die match in Taiyuan to decide who plays post-season basketball in March and who goes home early to get ready for the National Games. Guangsha, who’s been tremendous at home this year, will play against Jiangsu in arguably the round’s most winnable game. If DongGuan can take care of business tonight, all eyes will be on that Shanxi-Zhejiang game for that final spot.
The Battle for the Bottom Four:
Qingdao and Shanghai have already assured themselves an Asian import next season (you know, if the rule remains beyond the inevitable summertime rumors). But Jilin, Tianjin and Fujian — all of whom are at 10-20 — still have everything to play for, or everything not not to play for depending on you’re looking at it. So while you’re watching Guangdong and Shandong tonight on CCTV-5, or whatever’s on your local broadcast, keep an eye on Fujian’s home game against Tianjin tonight; with the former playing at Shandong on Sunday and the latter playing at Foshan, it just might be each team’s last opportunity to get a win.
And if watching teams with poor records play each other strikes your fancy, you’re in luck as Jilin can also guarantee an Asian import for next year if they lose their final game of the season tonight at Shanghai.
Norman de Silva’s quest to .500 in Foshan
Since 27 year-old Norman de Silva, who started the season in Foshan as an assistant, took over the reigns unexpectedly for Joe Whelton after he returned to the United States for family reasons, the Long Lions, who were already off to a franchise best start, have kept it going. Winning his first three games against Shanxi, Guangsha and Jiangsu, de Silva accomplished the first three-game win streak in the three-year history of the Long Lions to put them right in the discussion for a playoff spot. The team has cooled off since then, but with a 6-5, de Silva stands a chance at becoming the first head coach in club history to record a .500 record.
Yes, we know: At 13 games, it’s not even half of a season. But still, something worth mentioning for a team that has finished among the league’s basement in each of the last two seasons. A loss looks less likely than usual tonight against Beijing, with Stephon Marbury set to see limited minutes and Ji Zhe is to be out of the lineup all together with a minor injury. A season finale at home against Tianjin is totally winnable, which means not only does de Silva have a good chance at making individual history, but the team could get to 15 wins for the first time since the league switched to a 32-game regular season in 2009-10.
Randolph and Douby’s battle for the scoring title
One huge reason for the aforementioned Foshan’s relative success this year: Shavlik Randolph. Averaging 32.8 points and 14.7 rebounds, Randolph has been absolutely stellar in his second season in China. His point per game average puts him at the top of the pile heading into the last two games, just 0.5 points up on Mr. 75 points, Quincy Douby. With no post-season to play for, Randolph may hold an edge as shot selection won’t be put at a premium. We’re not counting out Douby though because… well, yeah.