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Tag Archives: Aaron Brooks

Monday Morning Jianbing

January 7, 2013

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jianbing

Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links…

  • More from said Peak: As of December, the Chinese shoe company has partnered up with the Toronto Raptors. With the deal, “Peak will be exposed to Raptors fans who will see the company’s branding all over the Air Canada Centre where home games are held. Peak’s merchandise will also be available to Canadian consumers at the Raptors Team shop at the Air Canada Centre.” That should work out nicely for the Raps’ Kyle Lowry, who endorses Peak.
  • From Beijing Cream, the story of a one-legged basketball player who plays better than a lot of two-legged basketball players. Amazing within itself, but even more so when you consider that he’s catching, rebounding and handling the ball with one hand, too. Plus, if dude is a natural righty — and he very might well be judging from the fact that he makes exactly zero shots from outside three feet during the course of the video — that means he’s doing all that with his off-hand. Very impressive.
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Extended season – CBAers in the NBA

April 7, 2012

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Lester Hudson is one of a growing number of players who have signed in the NBA after playing this season in China. (Photo: AP)

With a 2012 CBA season that was filled with rabid fanaticism, deception, fighting girlfriends, redemption, and even a playoff upset officially in the books, most foreign imports have returned to their native lands. But just because the CBA season is over doesn’t mean that it’s time for a vacation – there is still a month left in the NBA. Teams are either making their playoff push or preparing for next season by offering 10-day contracts auditions.

A handful of this season’s CBA players are now playing in the NBA. Let’s see how they’re fairing:

Kenyon Martin (Xinjiang)– Along with Coach Bob Donewald, Martin was Xinjiang’s prize free agent acquisition last summer. With the NBA lockout in full force, Martin, who has missed considerable time with injuries the last few seasons, was merely looking for some run until the NBA season started. But, Martin impacted the season far more after he left China: First, Xinjiang bought out his contract shortly before Christmas, which gave him a stress-free return back to the United States. On top of that, he was able to get his FIBA release thanks to the CBA’s 10-day annual Spring Festival break, despite the league’s strict no-opt out policy that forbade players from returning to the NBA mid-season.

Past his early and mid-2000s prime, Martin is now better served playing off the bench. The L.A. Clippers started the season with rookie Trey Thompkins and Brian Cook backing up Blake Griffin. Ouch. With a gaping hole behind Griffin, the Clippers inked Martin to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. He is now the first big man off the bench and plays 20 minutes a game averaging 5 points and 4 rebounds.

NYTimes.com – Kenyon Martin beats the China trap with the old Lunar New Year play

Wilson Chandler (Guangsha) – After watching his former teammate Kenyon Martin bolt for the NBA, both Wilson Chandler’s effort level and the Guangsha Lions’ record took a nosedive starting in January. Ultimately, he left the CBA just before the beginning of the playoffs in search of a large, multi-year contract.

After a month of posturing, he scored a five-year, $37 million deal with the Denver Nuggets (I’m sure his Guangsha teammates understand).  In his seven games with the Nuggets, he is averaging 11 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal per game. He is currently nursing a groin injury but should be back on the court soon.

HoopsWorld – Wilson Chandler Struggles to to Re-Adjust to NBA
ESPN TrueHoop - Wilson Chandler, Back at Last 

J.R. Smith (Zhejiang) – With his roller-coaster season in China complete, Smith returned to the States and fielded multiple offers. He spurned the Lob City Clippers to get in on the Linsanity with the New York Knicks.

With the Knicks, Smith is doing what he does best: shoot threes. While he still hasn’t found his stroke (37% FG) or put up one of his patented 40-point explosions, Smith is averaging 10 points off the bench. He’s also carried a lot of the controversy that followed him in Zhejiang to New York, where he’s been fined for posting “inappropriate pictures” on his Twitter account, ejected from a game for a flagrant-2 foul (which has since been downgraded to flagrant-1) and criticized by head coach, Mike Woodson, for sagging his shorts.

With Jeremy Lin and Amar’e Stoudemire likely out for the season, there won’t be any shortage of shots for Smith in the near future; nor does it seem there will be any shortage of Smith headlines.

NYPost.com – Knicks coach tells Smith he wants ‘his shorts pulled up’
Posting and Toasting – J.R. Smith got fined 25,000 for his photography
NiuBBall.com – J.R. Smith fined a million dollars for missing practices?

Aaron Brooks (Guangdong) – As a restricted free agent, Brooks is in the same boat that Wilson Chandler was in when he returned from China. Brooks’ rights are owned by the Suns, who are the only team he can negotiate with until this summer’s free agency period starts. That being said, he might decide to sit out the remainder of the season until he can field contract offers from other teams, which would give him negotiating leverage. The Suns aren’t going anywhere this season and prefer allowing Steve Nash to ride into the sunset, John Wayne style, rather than signing Brooks.

But after giving up a first round pick and Goran Dragic for Brooks, the Suns would look awfully foolish if they are unable to come to terms on a contract this summer.

Arizona Republic – Suns face some tough decision on Aaron Brooks
Suns.com – Lance Blanks checking in from China
NBA.com – Suns GM Headed to China to Visit Aaron Brooks

Ivan Johnson (Qingdao) – Johnson had a cup of tea in Qingdao this year before he was replaced by Olumideye Oyedeji, despite putting up some really good numbers. After he went back to the States, he was quickly snapped up by the Atlanta Hawks, who needed some size in the interior due to an injury to Al Horford. To a lot of people’s surprise, Johnson, playing his first year of NBA ball at age 27, has stuck and played some key minutes off the bench.

In 46 games, he’s averaging 15 minutes, 5.3 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Associated Press: Hawks’ Ivan Johnson making good as rookie at 27
Atlanta Journal Constitution – Hawks’ other Johnson making a name for himself

Cartier Martin (Jilin) – Martin has dabbled in the NBA for a few seasons now and was most recently signed to a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards. After trading one of the NBA’s most notorious chuckers, Nick Young, the Wizards suddenly needed a SG to backup Jordan Crawford.

Martin has answered the call. In only his second game with the team, the former Jilin star scored 20 points on 12 shots while helping the Wizards snap a 5-game losing streak. In his six games with the team, he is averaging eight points and four rebounds. With the Wizards out of the playoff hunt, look for Martin to get some serious run down the stretch if he’s signed to another contract. If he continues his early success, Martin might be lucky enough to find himself on the Wizards opening night roster next fall.

Wizards Insider – Cartier Martin ‘excited’ to be back with Wizards
Truth About It – Cartier Martin. Back. (And why Martin is immediately the Wizards’ best 3-point shooter) 

Lester Hudson (Qingdao) – Qingdao’s mighty mouse, Lester Hudson was narrowly beat out by J.R. Smith for the CBA’s scoring crown.  The little man can fill it up, although he is the definition of a volume shooter.

Nonetheless, his successful CBA season got the attention of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who in turn signed him to a 10-day contract. The Cavaliers lost backup PG Daniel Gibson for the season and now their pending rookie of the year Kyrie Irving could be out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. What does that mean?  Hudson and little-known Donald Sloan will be the only ones competing for minutes in the Cavs’ backcourt. If Hudson can make a good impression on the rest of the league this season, he could find his niche as a Nate Robinson-type energy man and land a longer contract.

Akron-Beacon Journal: Lester Hudson escapes past, takes long road to NBA
The News-Herald: Lester Hudson picking up offense as quickly as he can

Gerald Green (Foshan) – Of all CBA imports, Gerald Green’s NBA success is the most impressive. Drafted out of high school by the Boston Celtics in the 2005 NBA draft, an immature Green entered the league knowing how to do two things: jump and shoot. Unfortunately, the jumping only won him a slam dunk contest and his poor shooting found him jobless.

He’s been a basketball vagabond the past few seasons and was on Foshan’s roster opening night. Green only lasted 4 games before being released, but averaged a robust 26.5 points.

After his departure from China, Green signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers, who were looking for some athleticism on the wing. Things didn’t pan out in Hollywood and Green was once again on the move, this time to New Jersey. The Nets signed him to two consecutive 10-day contracts before signing him for the rest of the season. In New Jersey, Green has found his role as a scorer off the bench. For the season, he is averaging 12 points on 49% shooting in nearly 24 minutes. He has scored 20 or more points 5 times this season.

If this impressive extended audition continues, Green will probably find himself a multiyear deal this summer with an NBA team.

SI.com – Green Energy: After humbling fall, ex-dunk champ rises again in NBA
NY Daily News – Gerald Green’s 3-month roller coaster
New Jersey Examiner - Gerald Green continues to defy the odds

James Singleton (Guangdong) – It was a short turnaround for Singleton, who just a week ago was bounced from the CBA finals by the Beijing Ducks. Fortunately, he doesn’t have much time to dwell on Guangdong’s finals disappointment, as he was awarded with a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards. It’s not his first stint in Washington. Singleton was sent over to D.C. as part of the trade that sent Caron Butler to the Mavericks in 2010. He impressed enough in 32 games to get a one-year deal, but elected to sign a more lucrative contract in China the next season.

With Trevor Booker and Nene Hilario battling injuries – and who knows if they will return this season with the Wizards already eliminated from the playoffs – Singleton played 14 minutes in his first game with the Wiz. The results? Not like his CBA numbers — he had zero points, two rebounds and a whopping five personal fouls. Anyone who’s made the China-to-America trip knows a thing or two about jet lag, however and with another day and some more hours of sleep under his belt, he rebounded tonight with a 13 points and nine rebounds.

Bullets Forever – James Singleton Is Returning To The Washington Wizards

Patty Mills (Xinjiang) — The Australian point guard was embroiled in a controversial break-up with Xinjiang this season after the team accused him of faking a hamstring injury, a claim with Mills vehemently denied. Like Martin, Mills left China mid-season; unlike Martin, however, he was unable to get his FIBA release and was forced to sit in the U.S. while the Flying Tigers finished out their season.

But once Xinjiang was swept out of the semi-finals by Guangdong, Mills faced another obstacle towards getting back onto an NBA court — the Portland Trail Blazers, who still held his rights. With a full roster, a new coach and a front office in transition, it was unclear what Portland was going to do with Mills. In March, they ultimately decided to renounce Mills and after weighing offers from a couple of teams, he signed a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs. After working out his work visa papers, he suited up for his first game on March 27th at Phoenix.

Mills, who will represent the Boomers this summer in London, is in an excellent situation in San Antonio. Not only is he getting some much needed game reps before the Olympics, he’s also playing under Australian National Team head coach, Brett Brown, who works as an assistant on the Spurs staff. It may have been a long road back to the League, but it looks like Mills has landed in a good spot.

NBA.com – A Bright Light from Down Under

Alan Anderson (Shandong) – Anderson signed a 10-day with the Toronto Raptors on March 26th and was good enough to earn another one. It’s his second stint in the League — he spent two years with the Bobcats in 05-06 and 06-07. He has appeared in six games for the Raps, averaging 5.8 points and two rebounds in 16 minutes.

Raptors HQ – Raptors Re-Sign Uzoh and Anderson, Ink D-League PG Dentmon
National Post – Raptors’ Alan Anderson finds another soft landing in Toronto

Follow Edward Bothfeld on Twitter @bothfeef

 

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Beijing – Guangdong Game 4: Ducks move one win away from CBA title

March 29, 2012

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Randolph Morris’ excellent performance on offense, which included three big dunks, was key in Beijing’s Game 4 victory. (Photo: cfp.cn)

Guangdong – 98 @ Beijing – 107

The Beijing Ducks are one win away from their first ever CBA championship and the biggest upset in CBA history.

Stephon Marbury scored 28 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds, Randolph Morris hit for a double-double with 32 points and 12 boards, and Zhai Xiaochuan came up big with 17 points as the Ducks pasted the Southern Tigers inside to pick up a huge Game 4 win.

After struggling to cope with their opponents’ Game 3 adjustment, the Ducks answered to their opponent’s small ball lineup last night by pounding the ball inside to Morris, who responded with arguably his best game of the series. All too aware that Guangdong was switching on all of his screen-and-rolls, Marbury called Morris over almost exclusively to run the two-man game in the second half with excellent results. When Marbury’s man, Zhou Peng, switched on to the much bigger Morris, Marbury gave up the ball let the center go to work on his physically overmatched opponent. Isolated with little help behind him, Zhou hardly stood a chance as Morris either drove by him or shot over him with equal ease.

And when Marbury wasn’t dishing off, he was scoring it himself, often it key moments. In the fourth quarter with Beijing down one, Marbury hit a deep three and a tough lay-up in quick succession to put the score at 87-81. Later, with Beijing up four in the closing minutes, Marbury hit another big three to put the game at 99-92 and effectively out of reach for Guangdong.

Committed to going small from the beginning, starting Dong Hanlin over Su Wei, Guangdong elected to focus their offense on the perimeter. And while Zhu Fangyu got many open looks, neither he nor anyone else was really able to get it going from the outside. Guangdong as a team shot 8-34 from three, including 1-6 from Zhu, 1-7 from James Singleton, 3-12 from Aaron Brooks and 1-4 from Wang Shipeng. Wang, who has been awful this series, reached a new low in Game 4. He went 1-5 from the field, with his lone make coming on a meaningless three-pointer in the game’s final minute. Unlike in last year’s Finals against Xinjiang, he has been unable to get his own shot  off or create for teammates and is in a total funk.

Singleton finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds and Brooks has 28 points and six assists.

Game 5 is on Friday night.

Box Score

Other notes:

  • Before the game and at half-time, Beijing played a video featuring Chen Lei, Min Lulei, Marbury, Morris and members of the front office urging fans to keep their language under control and behave properly. On Tuesday, the CBA threatened to move Game 5 to another stadium or city if fans continued to act “uncivilized.” Minutes before tip-off, Chen Lei grabbed a microphone to personally ask fans to keep themselves in check. Unlike Game 1, there were no incidents and fans refrained from cursing and throwing things onto the court.
  • Zhu Yanxi went down hard midway through the second quarter after a big collision with Chen Jianghua at mid-court. Zhu stayed down for several minutes before laboring to the sidelines with an apparent injury to his midsection, where he remained on the floor for quite some time. He did not re-enter the game and was later driven to the hospital after the game. Doctors declared the injury as not serious. He was back at practice today and is expected to play tomorrow.
  • Su Wei, who has become public enemy number one in Beijing after his much publicized on-court spat with Marbury in Game 1, played only four minutes and was serenaded by mocking chants of huan Sui Wei – sub Su Wei — the entire night. Fans also chanted shang tui in reference to Li Chunjiang’s order to ”sweep the leg,” also from Game 1.

 

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Beijing – Guangdong Game 3: Guangdong goes small to win big

March 26, 2012

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Beijing – 93 @ Guangdong – 111

Using a variety of smaller lineups for most of the game, Guangdong was able to limit Stephon Marbury from getting into the paint while completely shutting down Beijing’s bigs from getting good looks on the perimeter. Putting James Singleton at the five and Li Yuanyu at the four for large parts of the second half, Guangdong switched many of the pick-and-rolls that have become the staple of Beijing’s Marbury-centric offense. And although Marbury hit 7-10 from the three-point line, the strategy worked at both keeping him away from the basket and from keeping his passes out of the hands of wide-open teammates.

For Guangdong, the return of Zhu Fangyu’s scoring touch helped things as well. So did Aaron Brooks’ decrease in turnovers. Zhu scored 26 on 8-13 shooting to record his best game of the Finals, while Brooks put in a team high 30 points on only three turnovers. Singleton also enjoyed his best game of the Finals, scoring 21 points, grabbing 19 rebounds and generally making life difficult for everyone he guarded.

The key in this game, however, was Guangdong’s adjustment to go smaller. Su Wei, who missed several easy looks at the basket to go 3-11 from the field en route to an all-around awful performance in Game 2, only played 12 minutes and Wang Zheng never got off the bench. Against more traditional back the basket bigs, like Xinjiang’s Mengke Bateer, Su Wei is at his best. But, against an agile Beijing Randolph Morris-Zhu Yanxi-Ji Zhe rotation of bigs who can all shoot the ball, the lumbering seven-footer is simply not the answer on defense, either in pick-and-roll defense, help-side rotations or in close out situations.

Li Yuanyu, however, looks to be better suited for all of that. He scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in nearly 24 minutes before fouling out in the fourth quarter, all of which are playoff highs. He hasn’t received much playing time this season — only 23 appearances at an average of seven minutes per game in the regular season — but, with him and Dong Hanlin as the only two mobile Chinese bigs on the squad, it’s quite likely that coach Li Chunjiang will be calling his name more often as this series progresses.

For Beijing, Marbury finished with 39 points and three assists, and Morris had 21 and 14 rebounds. Nobody else finished in double figures.

Once again though, this game was plagued by fouls. 65 of them were called all together with Ji Zhe, Zhu Yanxi, Li Yuanwei and Zhou Peng all finishing the game on the bench with six apiece. For such an exciting series on the final scoreboard, we have yet to really see good, flowing basketball from start to finish.

Box Score

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Beijing – Guangdong Game 2: Beijing takes 2-0 lead behind steady Morris, clutch Marbury

March 24, 2012

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Beijing – 109 @ Guangdong – 106

Winning on the road at Guangdong? Tough. Coming back from 10 points in the fourth quarter? Also tough. Taking a 2-0 lead against four-time defending CBA champs? Even tougher.

But, toughest of all? The Beijing Ducks, who managed to check off all three last night during Game 2.

Randolph Morris had a game-high 33 points to go along with 12 rebounds as the Ducks stole home court advantage away from the Southern Tigers last night in DongGuan. Stephon Marbury added 23 points — 21 of which came in the second half — and nine assists, while three other players Chen Lei had (15 points), Zhu Yanxi (14) and Lee Hsueh-lin (13) all chipped in with double figures. It’s only the second home loss of the season for Guangdong with both coming at the hands of the Ducks.

Heading into the fourth quarter down 10, things looked like they were getting back to to normal for Guangdong. But Marbury had other ideas, scoring two buckets in the paint before leading a three-on-one break that ended with a Morris dunk. He’d keep coming until Beijing took the lead 94-93 with just over seven minutes left: A three from the corner, a driving lay-up to the left, two free-throws and a driving lay-up to the right. Zhou Peng would give the lead right back for Guangdong, but that’d be the last time the champs would be ahead.

A steal by Marbury and a turnover on Aaron Brooks gave four easy points to the visitors, and with the score 100-98 with Beijing inbounding under Guangdong’s hoop, Chen Lei got free on the baseline for an and-one to make it 103-98. After a bunch of missed threes by Guangdong, Morris hit a shot from the elbow to push the lead up to seven. Marbury then got it to nine with under two minutes left on a pull-up jumper to seemingly put the game away.

But for the second game in a row, the Ducks were the ones who nearly gave the game away. Marbury handed three points to Brooks after he fouled him on a three-point shot. Two possessions later, Morris traveled and James Singleton answered with a three on the other end to cut the lead to three. On Beijing’s next trip, Morris was called for an offensive foul and Guangdong had a chance to tie the game. Zhou Peng’s three missed as did Zhu Fangyu’s, so Marbury went to the line with 14 seconds left to ice the game. He missed both, and Guangdong had a third chance to tie the game. Brooks’ pass to Zhou Peng bounced off his chest, however and Beijing came away with a 2-0 series advantage.

Once again, Guangdong will point to turnovers and volume three-point shooting. They coughed up the ball 20 times and shot 7-28 from downtown, which were enough to counter the 22-8 advantage on the offensive glass. Brooks scored 25 for Guangdong, but also had seven turnovers. Singleton had 18 and 10, and Zhu Fangyu had 15.

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Beijing-Guangdong Game 1: The night the CBA was at its best and worst

March 23, 2012

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Zhou Peng and Stephon Marbury exchange words midway through the third quarter. Moments before, Zhou intentionally took Marbury out while he was in mid-air shooting a three-pointer. (Photo: cfp.cn)

Guangdong – 101 @ Beijing – 108

Box Score

As I settled into my seat, took my coat off and looked around MasterCard Center (formerly known as Wukesong Arena) last night shortly before tip-off for Game 1 of the CBA Finals between the Beijing Ducks and Guangdong Southern Tigers, two thoughts immediately entered my head:

First, this nice cushy seat is way better than anything in Shougang Gymnasium.

Second, holy schnikes! There is not an empty seat in this entire arena!

The latter made me forget where I was for a second. Whoa, whoa, whoa. 18,000 seats totally sold out? The 2008 Olympics, of course. NBA China Games, ditto. But, the Chinese Basketball Association? The running joke of China; the league who’s mere mention typically elicits a scoff and a laugh from most Chinese?

The CBA? The NBA is waaay better. I don’t watch that…

But last night, people were watching that. A packed house of 18,000 people were watching to be exact — the most amount ever for a single CBA game.

And it was awesome. There was an atmosphere. It felt like basketball should feel. It felt like the Finals should feel. Whereas most CBA games typically are played over the staccato backdrop from fans — good play, let’s cheer! Poor turnover, let’s groan! Bad call, let’s throw water bottles! – this game had ebb and flow. Fans roared during Beijing’s player intros. They shut up when Guangdong’s Wang Shipeng splashed a three to open the scoring. Once at a rolling boil, they simmered when the visitors took 14-8 lead on a Zhu Fangyu three from the corner. They worked themselves back up when Ji Zhe knocked first knocked down a three, then drove by James Singleton baseline for a lay-up. They exploded when Lee Hsueh-lin cashed a three to give Beijing their first lead of the night. And they became flat-out delirious by the end of the quarter when Beijing was going into the huddle up 37-22.

Last night even the in-game DJ, the man every team employs to play horrible, loud music during every second of every game, couldn’t ruin what was going on. The slow buildup that starts from a dribble-drive and ends with a loud, satisfied cheer of appreciation when the play ends off of a made three from the kick, swing-swing that came after it; Wukesong had that last night. Instead of artificial noise being pumped in through the speakers, fans were actually chanting FANG-shou (de-FENSE). Instead of being instructed to cheer their team on, fans did it instinctively. Instead of loudly chorusing the Southern Tigers with sha bi (stupid cunt), they were instead just booing them loudly chorusing the Southern Tigers with sha bi.

Some things never change, I thought to myself.

Little did I know that my state of awesomeness would be soon interrupted by that same thought.

Guangdong managed to cut the lead to eight by the half, but after numerous turnovers and defensive breakdowns, they quickly found themselves down 71-52 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter. Coming down on offense, Guangdong’s Wang Shipeng drove right from the left side, ran into three defenders, stumbled and lost the ball. Wang felt like he was tripped (he was). The ref called a travel. Wang stamped up and down, ran to the official, pointed at the official, kicked the air, pointed to Marbury (the tripper), then stood incredulously at half court with his mouth open and his hands on his hips.

After the tantrum, Wang was called for T and Guangdong’s head coach, Li Chunjiang, called a time-out. Now down 20 after Marbury split the free-throws, stopping the game to calm the seven-time champs down seemed like a good idea. With 17 minutes left in the game, there was still plenty of time to stage a comeback.

But Coach Li didn’t do any calming. He did the exact opposite. He poured gasoline.

First, he ordered his two imports, Brooks and Singleton, to sit; a strange move considering nobody ever sits their two imports in the third quarter of a CBA game, nonetheless a Finals game. Maybe he was sending a message to his foreigners? Maybe he was sending a message to the league and the refs? Maybe he was throwing in the towel?

From my seat, it was obviously difficult to figure this one out. About a minute later, however, when Marbury was flat on his butt outside the three-point line, Li’s intention became quite clear — he had sent them out to hurt someone.

(YouTube people, go to Beijing Cream)
Amazingly, Zhou Peng stayed in the game. Even more amazingly, Marbury was called for a technical for his candid discussion with Guangdong center, Su Wei (Marbury hit two of three free-throws, Zhou Peng hit two of two).
Yet the most amazing was that Coach Li, a man who has won seven CBA championships, was the one who ordered the hit.
One good thing about CBA telecasts (and there are few, trust me), is that they don’t cut to commercial during time-outs. Instead, they go inside each team’s huddle so viewers can listen (and sometimes see, when players aren’t blocking the camera) what the coaches are saying. When the cameras went into Coach Li’s huddle, here’s what they recorded.

Shang tui! Shang tui!
“Sweep the leg! Sweep the leg! Do you understand?! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!” (H/T China Sports Review for that excellent translation).

Zhou Peng, one of four Guangdong players who represented the National Team in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, understood perfectly. Hence, the sweeping of Marbury’s leg and the attempted elbow to his face that went extra. Unable to stop Beijing from winning fairly, Guangdong had resorted to its Bill Lambier catalogue.

And with that, all the night’s awesomeness was ruined. The chant of sha bi from the 18,000 strong fans rained down, as did a couple pieces of debris. The game resumed, albeit very sloppily. Guangdong came back in the fourth and Wang Shipeng even had a chance to tie the game late with a three. It clanked, and Beijing ultimately took the game 108-101. It didn’t matter, though. By the final whistle, 73 fouls had been called. 79 free-throws had been shot Four players, Zhou Peng, Su Wei, Ji Zhe and Randolph Morris had all fouled out. And Guangdong, winners of seven out of the last eight championships, had been exposed as a dirty, classless team.

It’s the last point that makes me the most disappointed. Don’t confuse it for surprise, though. Cheap shots like the one on Marbury are common in Chinese basketball. In combination with terrible officiating, they’re often the cause of the many in-game brawls, National Team, Bayi Rockets and second-tier leagues included, that have occurred within China over the last few years. Instead of letting your game do the talking, you let your elbows do it for you.

The thing about this particular incident, however, is that the refs had the game in control for the most part. As evidenced by the high number of fouls, the game was being called with a tight whistle. This wasn’t a situation where things kept escalating until they hit Code Red. The only other pre-sweep the leg incident came in the first quarter when an in-air Marbury planted his knee onto the face of an on-ground Brooks while Marbury was going up for a lay-up right outside the charge circle. Marbury thought it was a dangerous play on Brooks; Brooks thought it was an unnecessary collision given that the whistle had gone off about two seconds before. Both got in each other’s face about it, but it didn’t carry over and affect the game in any major way.

Guangdong was just plain frustrated. Were the refs giving Beijing some home cooking? Maybe. Did Guangdong have a right to be aggrieved about the trip on Wang Shipeng, and a few other calls as well? Maybe, but that’s true of any game. Refs are always going to make mistakes.

In this case, the blame lies squarely on Guangdong and on Coach Li. And to be honest, I’m probably even more disappointed with Zhou Peng, who is by far China’s best and most versatile perimeter defender. Guys who take the challenge of guarding each team’s best outside scorer every night should have more pride in their craft. No matter if you’re getting torched; nobody should have to stoop to that level.

Yet, too often does Chinese basketball stoop to that level. Five years from now, people won’t remember Beijing and Shanxi’s semi-finals series because it went the maximum five games, the first time that’s ever happened in CBA history. They’ll remember it because Shanxi’s fans blocked Beijing from leaving their stadium and baselessly accused Marbury of hitting a fan… after Shanxi won Game 4. Five years from now, nobody will remember that outside the 2008 Olympics and possibly the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship last summer, last night was arguably the best in-game atmosphere in Chinese hoops history. They’ll remember Zhou Peng and sweep the leg.

And as rode back to my home on the subway after the game, it made me think: What a waste.

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2012 CBA Finals Preview

March 21, 2012

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Considered underdogs against seven-time champions Guangdong, Beijing will be looking to Stephon Marbury even more in the Finals. (Photo: cfp.cn)

The best CBA Finals ever?

With two hours away from Game 1′s tip-off, it’s obviously tough to answer that question.

Most anticipated CBA Finals ever?

Now that’s something we can answer more definitively.

Yes, yes and yes. Yes, 18,000 times over. With tickets in such high demand this Beijing-Guangdong match-up, the league agreed to take tonight’s opening game out of dumpy Shougang Gymnasium and into the world-class 18,000 seat MasterCard Center (formerly Wukesong Arena). Given that some CBA games sometimes struggle to draw 18,000 television viewers, everybody figured the arena would offer plenty of room.

At 8:00pm tonight, however, there will hardly be any room to put your elbows. On Monday, tickets sold out in eight minutes.

Outside China-United States’ opening group stage game during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Game 1 of the 2012 CBA Finals will undoubtedly be the most electric atmosphere in Chinese basketball history. And the series itself, despite its end result, will be the most talked about and watched CBA Finals of all time.

Since things in China come in threes, we thought we’d add to the most in-depth English language preview on the CBA Finals to make a nice trio of “best ofs.”

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers vs. #2 Beijing Shougang Ducks

Regular Season Series:
(1/4) Beijing – 104 @ Guangdong – 92
(2/10) Guangdong – 112 @ Beijing – 99

How They Got Here:
#1 Guangdong over #8 Fujian, 3-0
#1 Guangdong over #4 Xinjiang, 3-0
#2 Beijing over #7 Guangsha, 3-0
#2 Beijing over #3 Shanxi, 3-2

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 8:00 pm, @ Beijing
Game 2: Friday (3/23) 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Sunday (3/25) 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Wednesday (3/28), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 5: Friday (4/30), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)
Game 6: Sunday (4/1) 7:30pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)
Game 7: Wednesday (4/4) ) 7:30pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

In seven game series, Game 1 is always an important game. So

But in the CBA, the 1-2-2-2 Finals format puts even more importance on Game 1. As in must-win importance. A win tonight by Beijing would not only put them up 1-0, it would ensure two more home games, which would be good consolation in the likely event they’re heading back for Game 4 down 2-1. A loss, however, and Beijing is looking at a potential 0-3 hole and the end of their title dreams.

So while Beijing can talk all they want about having nothing to lose and being the underdogs, there is considerable pressure tonight. In front of 18,000 of their fans, they’ll have literally the biggest home court advantage anyone’s ever had. What they’ll do with it remains a mystery: Not only is it Beijing’s first time in the Finals, it’s the first time for most of their players playing in this big of an arena. Will they freeze up under the bright lights? Or will they feed off the energy and play better as a result?

There is one thing that’s not a mystery, however — Guangdong has been to the Finals eight times and they’ve won it seven times. They’re not scared of this stage. And with their stable of National Team players, they won’t be scared of playing in Wukesong. Beijing will have to go out and win this one, because Guangdong certainly isn’t going to play like it’s their first time doing this.

Winning will be tough, not just because this is Guangdong, but because this is the best Guangdong team ever. Their regular season doesn’t indicate how good they really are, but when does it ever? Aaron Brooks is a legit NBA player and James Singleton is too. Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Su Wei, Zhou Peng and Chen Jianghua are all going to be in Beijing in a few weeks for National Team training camp. There simply has never been a more talented roster in Southern Tiger history.

The counter to that is that Beijing has never had a more talented import than Stephon Marbury. Wins for Beijing start and end with him, and he’ll to play just as well if not better than he did against Shanxi for his team to have any shot at pulling this off. Seeing how he was near perfect, it’s difficult to see how that’s possible. It’s even more difficult when you consider the waves of defenders that come his way this series. Guangdong can throw Wang Shipeng, Chen Jianghua, Aaron Brooks and even Zhou Peng at him if he really starts to go off. Heck, they might even throw Zhou Peng at him right away and deploy him in the same defensive-stopper role Coach Li Chunjiang used him at against Xinjiang’s Quincy Douby last year. 50+ points will be tougher for Steph to come by in this series.

Life will be a a lot little easier for Brooks, however. Lee Hsueh-lin and Marbury are the only two who will be considered to check him and both will have a tough time of executing their assignment. Nobody can stay in front of in the NBA; nobody can stay in front of him in China. He’ll get into the lane whenever he wants and once he’s there, it’s pick your poison for Beijing.

The 12 day layover may be a factor tonight for Guangdong, which is why I see a Game 1 win for Beijing. But, I don’t see them winning four against the champs.

Prediction: Guangdong in 6

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Wednesday Morning Jianbing

March 14, 2012

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Starting your day right with China’s favorite street breakfast and a bunch of links
  • As the popular saying goes, sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, which explains why we’re late on all the Shanxi-Beijing-Marbury fallout from Game 4 on Sunday. We promise we have some stuff coming up, but in the meantime go and check out Anthony Tao’s excellent coverage over at Beijing Cream here, here and here.
  • Shark Fin Hoops’ Andrew Crawford holds court with 2012 NiuBBall.com CBA Coach of the Year, Dan Panaggio.
  • Fans who wish that Jeremy Lin would cut down on his turnovers, this could be good news: Lin and Volvo are seriously discussing teaming up for future endorsements in China. Maybe associating with Volvo’s line of ultra-safe vehicles will rub off on Lin’s sometimes chaotic, turnover-inducing drives into the lane?
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Marcus Williams Interview

March 10, 2012

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Thanks to slicing drives like this, Marcus Williams has been putting lots of numbers and wins in his first season for Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

Sometimes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

After learning that lesson midway through last season, the Zhejiang Golden Bulls are having to re-learn it from the comfort of their home living rooms as they watch their former star, Marcus Williams, carry one of their rivals deep into the post-season. For Williams though, who is starring for the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons this season, the success in his new digs is just the continuation of the pattern he’s set for himself over the last three years: winning games, putting up huge numbers and establishing himself as one of the CBA’s best import players.

At 25 years of age, Williams has had a unique road to CBA stardom. A high school star in Seattle, Williams chose to attend the University of Arizona, where he spent two years before being drafted in the second round by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. After spending most of 2007-08 season in the D-League with the the Spurs’ affiliate, the Austin Toros, Williams was signed by the Los Angeles Clippers for the rest of the season in March 2008. Unable to secure a deal in the NBA, he spent the next season back with the Toros and earned himself All-NBDL First Team honors and an NBDL All-Star selection.

But feeling the need for a change, Williams went in a totally different direction with his career — he went across the Pacific Ocean to China where signed a contract with Zhejiang in the fall of 2010. Younger and less experienced than most of the league’s older import players, the then 23 year-old Williams bucked the trend and averaged 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists while nearly pushing the Golden Bulls into the playoffs.

That apparently wasn’t good enough in the eyes of Zhejiang management, however, and the team opted to bring in longtime NBA veteran Mike James to replace Williams. Like many NBA-to-CBAers last season, James didn’t last long and Williams was brought back a mere nine games into the season. With Williams in the lineup, Zhejiang erased their 2-7 start to finish the year 17-6. By year’s end, the Golden Bulls were back in the playoffs and Williams had amassed averages 29.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

After the mess that Williams cleaned up, you’d think the team would have learned their lesson by signing him in the off-season. They didn’t.

Despite two great seasons, Zhejiang felt once again that the grass was greener over by the NBA fence and elected to sign a locked-out J.R. Smith over Williams. No longer wanted in Yiwu, he skipped to Taiyuan to sign with the Brave Dragons. By the time the smoke cleared on the 2011-12 season, J.R. and the Golden Bulls went 15-17 and missed the post-season. Williams and the Brave Dragons went 20-12, made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and are now playing for a trip to the CBA Finals.

Not surprisingly, Williams has been a huge part of Shanxi’s historical season. Improving on what was already an extremely refined and versatile offensive game, Williams has become even more dominant than before to become arguably the best player in the entire league. A 6-7 walking triple-double, he averaged a CBA career high 31.9 points per game this season in addition to 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals. What he shoots from the field is somewhat of a mystery as different websites have listed his three point percentage anywhere from 50 to 90 percent. So while we don’t know the exact number, we do know this: Boasting excellent balance and shot selection, he doesn’t miss too much and his field goal percentage is definitely over 50 percent.

And in the post-season, he’s been missing even less. In Shanxi’s seven playoff games, he’s hit for 35 points in four of them. In the semi-finals alone, he’s averaging 38 points on over 60 percent from the field and 95 percent from the free-throw line. Down 2-1 against Beijing, Shanxi will need a win and some more of the same from Williams on Sunday night to force a deciding Wednesday Game 5 in Beijing.

Yet, his biggest bucket came off the court when the two-time NiuBBall All-CBA First Teamer sat down with NiuBBall to discuss the playoffs, his development as a player in the CBA, life in Taiyuan and more.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk first about your series with Beijing. In some leagues, the pace of the game really slows down in the playoffs in comparison to the regular season. But with you and Beijing, especially the last two games, it seems like the pace has actually gotten faster. What are some of the differences you’re noticing in this series versus the regular season or even your first round series against Shanghai?

Marcus Williams: Our first playoff series was against Shanghai, and they totally slowed the pace down. Once we were able to advance and get to Beijing, we were so anxious to speed the game up and play at a fast pace. I think everyone is being really aggressive, we’re shooting more free-throws. I just think that’s our style of play. But at the end of the day, we need to get stops, especially at the end of games, and I think that’s what hurt us in Game 2 and Game 3. We just weren’t able to focus on the defensive end and they had two big nights.

NiuBBall: You mentioned the defense already, what were some other differences between Game 1 and the last two games in Beijing?

MW: Well, in Game 2 Stephon [Marbury] got going really early and I think that gave the rest of their team a lot of confidence. He got into the paint, he was able to kick to shooters and those guys were making shots. It makes it a lot harder because now instead of worrying about one player, you’re worrying about three or four players. Number #20 [Zhai Xiaochuan] had a good game. Stephon obviously had 25 in the first quarter and I think in our first game it was something like 12. So, that’s something that hurt us. He’s the leader of their team and when he goes, they go.

Game 3 was a tough game we fought back from down 15 points in the second quarter and it was a close game all the way until the fourth. I think we ran out of gas a little bit. Having to come back from 15 took a lot out of us. There is definitely some things we can improve for next game. We need to rotate on matter to their shooters and do a better job keep Stephon out of the paint. But, Game 4 is in Taiyuan and obviously it’s a win or go home for us, so I think we can bring it next game and send it back to Beijing. And in Game 5 anything can happen.

NiuBBall: Obviously he’s put two huge nights back-to-back on you guys. When you’re game planning for him, are you trying to limit him or limit his teammates? Or is it a combination of the two?

MW: It’s going to be more of keeping him out of the paint so that he has to do it more himself. He wants to get in there, draw the help and kick out. That’s what he prefers. I think he’d rather be a facilitator than go out and score 40 a night, so we definitely want to close out on their shooters. But if he’s being aggressive, then you have to focus on him because he can have big nights.

NiuBBall: A lot of your team’s offense is geared towards getting you and Charles [Gaines] the ball. It’s certainly worked, you guys scored the most points in the league this year, but do you ever see it as a challenge to get your teammates involved on that end of the floor?

MW: With me and Chuck playing together for a while, obviously we played all of this year and then we played some D-League together [in Austin], I’m real familiar with him. But, no I don’t really see it as hard to get our teammates involved. We have Lu Xiaoming at the point, he can run the show. I think it was hard at the beginning of the season. I think they hadn’t really gotten used to having us both there. But, as the season progressed and once the second-half of the season began, they got a lot more comfortable and started to trust us and I think that really helped our team, it allowed us finish up the regular season really strong.

NiuBBall: You first played with Chuck in the D-League with the Austin Toros, now you’re teammates again in Shanxi. What’s it been like reuniting with  him in China this year?

MW: It’s been great. Me and him both live in Houston back in the States, and I was talking with him this summer to figure out what he was going to do this season. It’s a big key to have an American on your team who’s game you’re at least a little bit familiar with. And he’s a good friend of mine, so it’s made it really easy just coming to Shanxi and having the quick transition, to be able to build a relationship with him and build an on-court chemistry with him. I know he’s the type of player who goes after it every night, so that makes my job a lot easier. If I have an off night, he can fill in for me and vice versa.

NiuBBall: Playing in China, how important do you feel that foreigner-foreigner relationship is?

MW: I think it’s really important, at least on the court. Obviously, you can’t control the other things, but on the court you have to have a foreigner who you can feed off of or at least you can play decently with because it’s just you two out there. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with him, he’s probably the only other guys on the team who can speak English, so you just need kind of a comfort level. Then, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on both of you to perform, so to be able to help each other is key.

NiuBBall: The last two years, you were with Zhejiang, now you’re almost done with your first year in Shanxi. Talk about both teams and how they differ from one another.

MW: In Zhejiang, we definitely played a slower game. As far as the basketball, it was all good. Obviously my first year, we weren’t able to get into the playoffs, but my second year we got better and advanced to the playoffs and we played really well. Shanxi is really fast paced. Both teams are really young, both had good players. In Zhejiang we had Ding [Jinhui] and Cao Fei, in Shanxi we have Lu Xiaoming, Duan [Jiangpeng], Zhang Xuewen and the kid from Guangdong [Ren Junhui]. So both teams are kind of similar as far as their makeup. That’s why I think it was a pretty easy adjustment.

NiuBBall: Shanxi is a little unique in the fact that the team hired a Chinese head coach at the beginning of the year and then brought in an American assistant, Beau Archibald. How has that dynamic worked and what’s it been like to have Coach Archibald around?

MW: It’s been great, Beau has really helped on the defense as far as picking up on the schemes and adjusting to what teams are doing. Also, it’s been good to talk to a coach who has his eyes out there on the floor, who can see something and come directly to talk to you and say “Hey, this is what I’m seeing out there.” And he’s familiar with the U.S. style of basketball, so the things I’m comfortable with he can help to put into the offense. It’s just been really good.

NiuBBall: You came to the CBA when you were pretty young. For various reasons, I think it’s tough for younger players to adjust to this league. How were you able to come in as 23 year-old and not only adjust, but play at a high level?

MW: I’m not going to lie, my first time here was hard. That first year I think is the one that’s going to tell you if you can make it here or not. My first year, I got really sick out here, I got some kind of virus. I think I missed two or three games. Then there’s the food. I just tried to tough it out because I think the basketball was good for me. I was able to come out and get a lot of minutes. Coming from the NBA and the D-League, in the D-League I was able to get a lot of minutes, but the money’s not there. In the NBA, I wasn’t really playing a lot. But to come here, you’re able to play your game freely and you can take that leadership role. For me, as long as the basketball is good, I’m good. That’s how I roll.

NiuBBall: This year, obviously the big story was all of the NBA guys coming to China during the lockout. What kind of impact do you think it had on the CBA this year, and how do you see it affecting the league’s development in the long-term?

MW: I think it was great. I think a lot of attention was brought to the CBA. Having guys like Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, these aren’t small-time NBA players, these are legitimate NBA guys who have logged years and have had success. The talent level really went up this year. And I think it just brought a lot of eyes from really everywhere. I think some big time players in Europe might start coming over, like [Will] McDonald. I think a lot of players are really going to start wanting to come out here and play. There’s a lot of freedom out here. The CBA tries to mimic the NBA a little bit, so the basketball is not bad. So I think for guys who are similar to me, as long as the basketball is good they’ll be good. In Europe, it’s a slower game, you don’t get as many minutes and you don’t really get to shoot the ball as much. So, I think the CBA is only going to keep going up.

NiuBBall: You just mentioned the freedom and the minutes as some of the positives about playing in the CBA — your numbers have gotten better every year, do you think this league is a good place to come and improve? Do you feel like you’ve improved over the last three years?

MW: I do. I think the only way you get better is by playing. If you’re sitting on the bench and you’re not getting a lot of playing time, sure you can work on your game away from the court, but eventually it’s going to have to translate to game situations. Obviously, the competition level in the CBA is lower than the NBA, but if you’re a guy that wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, I think you can come here and play and you go on and play somewhere else, like the NBA, I think you’ll be more confident in your game and I guess just more tricks up your sleeve just because you’re able to show all of that in this league.

NiuBBall: One thing that you’ve improved on, at least on paper, is your three-point shooting. Every website has a different percentage, on the CBA official stat tracker you were shooting a perfect 100% for a while. So let me ask: Do you know what you’re shooting from the three point line this year?

MW: [Laughing] No, I really don’t. I know the last two years I was between 45 and 50 percent, so I would guess around there. I remember when they had me shooting 90 percent [earlier in the year] and people were calling me saying they couldn’t believe it. I missed two threes in 10 games. It was too unrealistic, but it gave us some good laughs though.

NiuBBall: Mike Harris said in a recent interview that he felt you are the best import in the league and that you have NBA talent. I know in talking with other players and coaches around the league, he’s not the only person who feels that way. Is the NBA on your radar at all, getting back a goal for you?

MW: I don’t really think about the NBA too much. I had times where I was in the NBA and tried it. But, I love playing basketball. I like to be out there and play, that’s what I’ve loved to do ever since I was a kid. I would obviously love, best case scenario, to be in the NBA playing minutes. But if that doesn’t happen I’d rather be playing somewhere else and getting minutes. That’s just who I am. Now if an opportunity came along, if I couldn’t pass it up, I have a son and a family and I’d love to be home, I’d take it. But until that happens, I’m happy in the CBA.

NiuBBall: You’re a China vet, what’s your favorite city in China?

MW: I like Hangzhou. While I’m in China, I definitely want to feel like I’m in China. In Shanghai or Beijing, you kind of get lost in the ambiance, it’s still kind of like the States. But Hangzhou, they have some pretty nice restaurants, the lake is real nice… It’s kind of between Beijing and a more traditional Chinese city.

NiuBBall: So you like to go out and go see the different cities.

MW: Yeah, I like to go out and see a city and explore a little bit. I don’t really go out, but while I’m out here I might as well.

NiuBBall: What do you do in Taiyuan?

MW: Well, we’ve been really busy during the season, but there’s a couple of restaurants I go to. Pizza Lovers and 1950 are two good restaurants. But as far as sight-seeing in Taiyuan, I haven’t really had the chance to go out and do that. I’ve heard of a couple of places, I think they have a real famous temple out there about an hour away, but we’ve been really busy once the season kicked off so I haven’t really had the time.

NiuBBall: Marcus, thanks for the chat and good luck with the rest of the playoffs.

MW: Thanks.

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 3

March 10, 2012

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Xinjiang – 102 @ Guangdong – 120

Four the fourth straight season, Guangdong has eliminated Xinjiang from the post-season.

Looking like they had already given up from the start, Xinjiang went down 11 in the first quarter before entering the locker room at half down 18. Five players for Guangdong finished in double figures: James Singleton (21 points and 16 rebounds), Zhu Fangyu (20 points), Zhou Peng (20), Aaron Brooks (16 and seven assists) and Wang Zheng (11). Guangdong is a perfect 6-0 this post-season and now enters the Finals for the eleventh time in their franchise’s history.

For Xinjiang, Xu Guochong finished with 23 points, while Ike Diogu and Meng Duo each scored 22.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanxi – 115 @ Beijing – 128

Two nights after scoring 52, Stephon Marbury scored 53 points as Beijing took pivotal Game 3 in front of their home crowd to take a 2-1 series lead.

Reverting to the strategy they used for part of the regular season, Shanxi opted to sit both Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines during the first quarter so that they could play the rest of the game together. Rudderless on offense and totally lost on defense, Shanxi gave up 35 points in the quarter and entered the games’s second frame down 15.

With Gaines and Williams on the court together in the second though, Shanxi made up some ground despite Randolph Morris’ solid offensive effort to cut the score at halftime to 61-55. In the third, Shanxi’s good run continued behind their foreigners and the scoring of Lu Xiaoming, taking the lead for a moment until Beijing grabbed it back to head into fourth quarter with Shanxi down two.

With Morris on the bench in foul trouble to start the quarter, it looked like Shanxi had the game for the taking. Then, Starbury hit. For Beijing’s first 13 points of the quarter. Hitting contested threes in between his forays into the paint, Marbury’s personal 13-2 run broke all of Shanxi’s momentum and turned the game permanently in the Ducks’ favor. He finished the game 7-8 from three and 14-15 from the free-throw line while also dishing out four assists. Morris finished with 31 points and seven rebounds, Zhai Xiaochuan had 11, and Lee Hsueh-lin and Zhu Yanxi each finished with 10.

For Shanxi, Charles Gaines finished with 34 points and 21 rebounds, Williams had 32 and nine boards and Lu Xiaoming had 17. Game 4 is in Taiyuan on Sunday.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 2

March 8, 2012

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Shanxi – 123 @ Beijing – 132

After delaying his own scoring until the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s Game 1 loss at Shanxi, Stephon Marbury made his point early and often in Game 2 to lead Beijing to a decisive victory that was much more dominant than the final score indicated. Aggressive from the start, Marbury scored 25 points in the first quarter as the Ducks scored 40 by the frame’s final buzzer. With Marbury on the bench for most of the second, the Ducks built off the momentum to build a 64-49 at half.

Playing at a frenetic pace on both ends, Beijing went out and pushed the lead out to almost 30 points behind a number of steals which lead to easy transition baskets. Mabury finished with 52 points, just short of his CBA career high, as well as 10 assists and seven steals. Randolph Morris had a double-double with 27 points and 10 boards, Zhai Xiaochuan was a perfect 8-8 from the field to hit for 20 and Ji Zhe had 17.

Though Charles Gaines finished with 27 and 15 rebounds, most of it came too late as the Ducks made an concerned effort to cut off his spin moves and force him into turnovers. Marcus Williams had 42 points and six rebounds, but didn’t get any help from his Chinese teammates — 10 points from Makan and 11 from Xing Zhiqiang.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangdong – 97

Zhu Fangyu scored a game high 25 points, Aaron Brooks added 21 points and Guangdong came away with a big Game 2 victory to put them one win away from punching their fifth straight ticket to the CBA Finals. Ike Diogu had 18 points and 9 rebounds and Tim Pickett scored 17. Xirelijiang, who re-injured his sprained ankle in Game 1, did not play.

Up 78-77 in the fourth quarter, Xinjiang let the game slip away after Guangdong grabbed multiple offensive rebounds on not one, but two possessions in the last three minutes. Wang Shipeng was the first to make them pay for their ineptitude on the defensive glass, cashing a three 93-88 with 2:48 left in the game. With 1:29 left and up two, Su Wei was the next to step in and extend Guangdong’s possession, pulling down the board and drawing the foul. He made one of two, Xinjiang couldn’t convert on the other end and for the second time in as many games, the defending champs beat their longtime rivals.

Game 3 is on Friday in DongGuan and a sweep is looking very likely.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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2011-12 NiuBBall Awards

March 7, 2012

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Stephon Marbury is understandably fired up upon being awarded as the 2011-12 NiuBBall CBA Most Valuable Player. (Photo: Osports)

It’s a most wonderful time to be a basketball fan in China: While the NBA season continues post-All Star break and the NCAA’s big boys are starting up their conference tournaments, we China folk are three weeks into our own Chinese Basketball Association’s post-season. With two excellent semi-finals match-ups getting ready for Game 2 tonight, we here have plenty to look forward to in the immediate while also knowing that our TVs will be flickering with March Madness (if you don’t mind staying out or getting up at insane hours) and the NBA Playoffs very shortly.

Call it an embarrassment of riches if you want — with Slingbox DVR coming soon to the NiuBBall residence, we’re just going to call it Niu Bi.

Since we’re always in the giving mood, we’re going to share the Niu Bi feeling with the release of our second annual NiuBBall CBA Awards. Please, do comment. But know that all selections were based solely on the regular season; whatever’s already happened in the post-season had nothing to do with anything written below.

Enjoy.

Most Valuable Player: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang

It was close. As in really, really close. So close in fact, that we even debated calling it a tie.

There are, of course, no ties when declaring the highly prestigious NiuBBall Most Valuable Player award, so that inner-debate didn’t last too long.  But that we even considered calling it a split speaks to how painfully difficult the decision ultimately came.

More importantly, it speaks to the consistent excellence that Marcus Williams and Stephon Marbury displayed over the course of this season.

For a while, it was easy to put the two already been-there-done-that established Chinese Basketball Association stars out of mind — after all, the entire world’s eyes were completely fixed on the league’s shiny new box of locked-out NBA players who opted to seek refuge in cash-rich China. And though you won’t get us to deny that the NBA-to-CBA exodus was the hands-down story of the year, you will hear us say this:In the year that saw Wilson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Aaron Brooks, Josh Powell, Rodney Carney, Dan Gadzuric, Cartier Martin and Mardy Collins all start the season in the Middle Kingdom, perhaps the just as big story that emerged was that Marbury and Williams have more than enough talent to follow them back to the League.

Yes, they’re that good.

Virtually everyone already knew that about Marbury, who after all spent 13 seasons in the NBA before making his trans-continental journey to China in 2010. (Likewise, virtually everyone knows that he has no desire to return.) Yet, there is something to be said about the now 35 year-old guard who just completed Beijing’s transformation from a fringe playoff squad into the second best team in the league.

Though he came up just short in his bid for NiuBBall MVP, Marcus Williams had a dominant season in Shanxi. (Photo: Osports)

At that age, most players would be allowed to take a more secondary role and allow their younger teammates to do most of the heavy-lifting. Not in China though, where foreigners, both young and old, are depended to put up big numbers with a win every game. He’s done just that, averaging 24.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The well-rounded numbers and the 21 wins add up to his finest season in China.

After spending his debut half-season in Shanxi followed by a full one in talent-bereft Foshan without any taste of the post-season, Steph came to the capital city this season with the all-around expectations that the Ducks were going to be a top-tier team. And as we all know, he didn’t disappoint in delivering. Finding the perfect balance between calling his teammates’ number and calling his own, Marbury has reinvigorated a perennially mediocre franchise while simultaneously embedding himself and every Beijing game into the city’s culture. Already a favorite for his well-documented affinity for China and its people, he’s endeared himself even more to fans by playing with pedal-to-the-medal maximum effort in every game — which in this league, isn’t always a given when it comes to foreigners.

His adeptness at balancing the two responsibilities have had positive effects on more than just his own personal popularity, however. Steph gets love from just about everyone in Beijing, but the two guys who should be showing the most are Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, who before teaming up with their Coney Island point guard were two relatively unknown and unproven first year CBA players. Now, after a season running the floor and spotting up for open shots alongside him, both are very likely to be invited to National Team camp this spring.

Couple that with Ma Bu Li’s counseling of J.R. Smith, keeping up with a weekly China Daily column, running a shoe business and coping with injuries to key players Lee Hsueh-lin and Chen Lei, and you can really understand that he pretty much did it all and then some the Ducks this season.

To Williams’ credit, he’s done more than his fair share in Taiyuan as well. In his junior season in China, the silky point-forward had an even better campaign in Shanxi than he did with Zhejiang Chouzhou last year when he was throwing up triple-doubles on the regular. Showing almost no weaknesses in his offensive game, Williams put up 32-5-4 while shooting a staggering 60% from inside the three-point line and somewhere between 40-100% from outside it. Previously famous for their eccentric owner and object-throwing fans, the 6-7 former Arizona product now has people talking about the Brave Dragons’ first ever post-season berth. After scoring 40 points to pace Shanxi’s Game One semi-finals win over Marbury and the Ducks, he has them only two games away from an even bigger first — a trip to the Finals.

In the end, it’s Marbury with the slight edge. Even if the Ducks’ 13 game win streak to start the season — the best start in franchise history, we add — was somewhat soured by their late season swoon, we’ll push it aside for all of the things Marbury has sweetened in Beijing this season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS

On Sina and hoopCHINA, Zaid Abbas is the league’s leading rebounder. On NetEase and Sohu, he’s second behind Donnell Harvey. The lesson: No matter how mundane the question, there is hardly an easy answer in China.

The CBA’s best defensive player, though? An exception to the rule.

You can say xie xie to Abbas for that, who either averaged 14.5 or 14.9 rebounds per game this season in Fujian, the highest of his three year career. Relentless, tireless and tough on the defensive end of the floor, Abbas is a perpetually in-motion nightmare that opponents have to live with for close to 41 minutes per game. His teammates and coaches on the other hand can’t live without him — he does the defensive dirty work (actually guarding opposing imports, sprinting back on D, diving for loose balls) that nobody else wants to get close to.

Sure, maybe he gambles a bit too much for some people’s tastes. For us though, even if he misses a wild steal or falls for a pump fake, his always running motor means he’s getting right back into the play. And in a league where good defense is still pretty hard to find, that’s more than good enough for us.

Coach of the Year: Dan Panaggio, Shanghai Dongfang

No matter who thought what about the triangle offense coming to Shanghai this season (or Guangsha and Fujian for that matter), one thing was always going to be certain: Dan Pannagio was going to teach it and he was going to stick with it, no matter how bumpy the initial process was going to be.

And oh, were there bumps. Seven of them in the Sharks’ first nine games, to be exact. Not deterred by a slow start, however, Panaggio remained patient and maintained his faith in his players and his three-sided offense. The long-term approach paid off. By season’s end, Shanghai had an 18-14 record and was in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed after missing out the year prior.

Despite a number of obstacles, Dan Panaggio successfully installed the triangle in Shanghai. (Photo: Osports)

Though people point to their big away win at Bayi as the turning point in the season, the improvement within the team didn’t happen overnight. Pannagio’s hard work in establishing an offense that demands high-IQ spacing and reads started well before the season in the long months of September and October, when he went to work teaching the basic principles of the offense. To assist in the process, he brought in Phil Jackson disciple, Kurt Rambis, in pre-season to help lay the groundwork. As the record indicated, it wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but as anyone who watched Shanghai-Shanxi last week can attest to, the Sharks can and do run the triangle effectively as their primary offense.

Getting his players comfortable and successful enough in the offense was just one part of the challenge this season, however. Arguably just as tough was convincing his very much set-in-his-ways team captain/National Team starting point guard, Liu Wei, to buy into an equal opportunity offense that basically takes the ball out of his hands for most of the shot clock. On top of that, a season ending injury to Ryan Forehan-Kelly in January, whose leadership, knowledge of the triangle and fourth quarter clutchness were all major factors in Shanghai’s progression, had the potential to totally ruin the Sharks’ year.

Though some adjusting on both parts, Liu Wei was eventually brought around. Due to some solid homework on RFK’s replacement, Marcus Landry, Shanghai never missed a beat after the injury. And thanks to Panaggio’s other main point, Shanghai’s lead leading defense, the team was able to build an identity that they’ll continue to develop next season when he comes back to take the reigns for a second year. With the already noticeable improvement in Shanghai’s Chinese players from Year One, it’s tough not to feel good abou what may come in Year Two.

Panaggio’s not the only coach with a long-term vision on our mind, though. Brian Goorjian deserves serious props for the job he did this in DonGuan. Picked by some idiot to finish out of the playoffs before the season started, Goorjian righted a potentially disastrous 0-4 start to the season to steer the Leopards to a 19-13 record. A coach who is completely committed to developing Chinese players, he’s doing wonders down in Guangdong province with an improving young core that will likely comprise a good chunk of the Senior National Team later this decade.

For a country that likes to talk about developing its own players, but still hasn’t found a way to successfully find a way to do it yet, the Shanghai-Panaggio and DongGuan-Goorjian combos are two examples that the CBA should look to if they are indeed truly serious about improving Chinese basketball.

Most Improved Player: Zhang Zhaoxu, Shanghai Dongfang

This award didn’t exist last year, simply because in our first season of really following the league, we didn’t really know the players well enough to confidently declare someone “most improved.” Upon completing our second season, however, our feeling on that matter has changed quite drastically. As has our opinion of the guy who’s taking away this award, Zhang Zhaoxu.

Known to many by his English name “Max,” the 7-3 center’s biggest claim to fame where the three years he spent in the Bay Area playing for Cal. Last season, with his eye on a National Team spot for the 2012 London Olympics, he decided to forego his senior season and sign in the CBA with the Sharks, who at the time were coached up by Team China’s head coach, Bob Donewald. Expected to come in and be a presence in the paint, Max was slow to adjust from college to the pros.

Based on what we saw from last season and this summer, it was tough to really be excited about him this year.In his second season though, Max has improved in every facet of the game to become one of the best domestic big men in the PRC. Defensively, he was good at protecting the basket and discouraging easy looks around the basket — one of the reasons behind Shanghai’s league leading defense. Now a nightly double-double threat, he’s improved his numbers almost across the board, including his free throw percentage which jumped up from 60% to 72%. And though his hands are still a major work in progress in addition to his offense which remains a bit rough around the edges, he’s developing a solid jump hook to go along with a useful turnaround jumper that is practically unblockable.

And if he can continue his development this summer, his dream of playing in London will become a reality.

Rookie of the Year: Zhu Yanxi, Beijing Shougang

It was a long, strange road to the CBA for Zhu Yanxi, but his rookie season for the Ducks was well worth the wait. (Photo: Osports)

If you like Jeremy Lin’s overnight sensation story in New York, then we’ve got a feeling you’re going to like Zhu Yanxi’s very similar tale here in Beijing.

Originally a soccer player as a youngster growing up in Chongqing, Zhu Yanxi was pushed towards basketball by his mother at the age of seven after she realized he was growing faster than his classmates. After showing a lot of promise at youth summer and winter camps, Zhu pulled out of school at 13 to board a train to Beijing with the intention of signing professionally. His first tryout was with Bayi, but due to the team’s already fulfilled quota for youth players, they declined to put him on their youth team and told him to come back next year. Already in Beijing, Zhu went to go see the Ducks who quickly snapped him up after seeing him and his sharp shooting from the perimeter.

By the time he was eligible for Beijing’s senior team, though, management felt that he was too raw and sent him down to China’s second-tier professional league, the NBL, to hone his skills. Known and liked by Jiangsu Tongxi head coach, Cui Wanjun, who had coached him during a national training camp earlier that year, Cui rented him out for the season as his ideal stretch big man. Cui’s scouting was on point — playing for Tongxi last season, Zhu lead the team to a championship and also earned himself an NBL All-Star selection.

Satisfied with his performance with Jiangsu, the 6-10 power forward got the call up this year and simply exploded onto the CBA scene, putting up 23 points, three rebounds and four assists on 4-5 from three in his debut game against Jilin. He’d go on to score double-figures in Beijing’s next seven, including 18 against Guangdong and 15 against Xinjiang, both wins.

Zhu ended the regular season with averages of 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds on 36% from three, all of which were good enough to earn him another All-Star selection, this one being the CBA variety. And here’s another honor for his troubles: NiuBBall Rookie of the Year.

All-CBA First Team:

Guard: Stephon Marbury, Beijing Shougang
Guard: Aaron Brooks, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Marcus Williams, Shanxi Zhongyu
Forward: Charles Gaines, Shanxi Zhongyu
Center: Will McDonald, Fujian SBS

All-CBA Second Team:

Guard: Lester Hudson, Qingdao Double Star
Guard: J.R. Smith, Zhejiang Chouzhou
Forward: Mike Harris, Shanghai Dongfang
Forward: Zaid Abbas, Fujian SBS
Center: P.J. Ramos, Zhejiang Guangsha

If Steph and Marcus’ MVP race was a struggle, the First Team selection was a cool breeze. Like almost every high scoring guard that comes into Guangdong, Brooks initially had trouble meshing with his high scoring Chinese teammates before figuring it out by January. By far the most talented player they’ve ever had, this year’s Guangdong team is hands down the best Guangdong team ever and will win yet another title at the end of this month. Williams’ foreign teammate in Shanxi, Gaines, was just as dominant statistically — no surprise to anyone who’s kept up with the league over the past three seasons. McDonald, in his first year in China, took his highly skilled, highly versatile inside-outside game from Spain and pretty much abused everyone who was thrown his way. If he opts to come back next year, he’ll be in high demand.

From start to finish, Aaron Brooks was the best NBA-to-CBA import in 2011-12. (Photo: Osports)

On the Second Team, Smith and Hudson, the league’s number one and two leading scorers, round out the backcourt while Abbas and Harris comprise the two forward spots. Initially on the bubble, Harris nudged out a couple of competitors he after tore it up with some huge performances during Shanghai’s regular season stretch run. One of those guys who was bumped out, Donnell Harvey, another player who runs through brick walls every game, deserves special mention for the 24-14 he threw down in Tianjin.

The most noticeable name left off these two teams is Wilson Chandler, who couldn’t get his name up above despite averaging 26.6 points and 11.5 rebounds. Why, you ask? Once the NBA resumed and it became clear that he potentially had a potential $30-40 million contract waiting for him when he got back, Chandler pretty much shut it down in order to prevent an injury. Once in second place at 13-4, Guangsha went 2-9 over their next 11 before squeaking into the playoffs as a No. 7 seed at 18-14. His overall unwillingness to get into the paint during that stretch wasn’t the only reason why the Lions slipped down the standings, but it certainly played a role. And to be honest, we don’t really blame him. If we had that much loot back in the States, we’d probably have done the same.

NiuBBall adheres to the laws of Sir Issac Newton, however: Actions have reactions. So while his conservative on-court approach may have guaranteed him a big payday, it did cost him a NiuBBall All-CBA selection.

All-CBA Chinese Team:

Guard: Lu Xiaoming, Shanxi Zhongyu
Guard: Wang Shipeng, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Zhu Fangyu, Guangdong Hongyuan
Forward: Li Gen, Qingdao Double Star
Center: Wang Zhizhi, Bayi Fubang

Williams and Gaines have had a lot to do with Shanxi’s great season, but Lu Xiaoming’s steadiness at a position that has plagued the team in years past has been another key element to their historic season. Thought to be too old after a few lackluster seasons in Fujian, Lu was released by the team he spent the last five years with in the off-season. At the invitation of Shanxi’s infamous owner, Boss Wang, he ended up in Taiyuan as the squad’s starting point guard. Responsible for pushing the ball out after both makes and misses, the 33 year-old Lu had a resurrection this season averaging 8.4 points, 5.9 assists and only 1.9 turnovers. Without his frenetic pace, Shanxi wouldn’t have averaged a league leading 110.3 points per game, nor would they have won 20 games.

Li Gen, who lead all Chinese players with 17.5 ppg, gets on here too, as do Wang Zhizhi, Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu who despite their advancing years are still among the CBA’s best domestic players. We’ll see how long that lasts, especially for Da Zhi, who has Liaoning’s Han Dejun breathing down his neck for best center in the country.

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Semi-Finals – Game 1

March 6, 2012

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Guangdong – 95 @ Xinjiang – 92

Different year, same Guangdong match-up… and unfortunately for Xinjiang, the same result.

The Flying Tigers failed to grab a key defensive rebound that would have given them the chance to take the lead with under a minute left, but their inablity to box out James Singleton, who grabbed two straight offensive rebounds in the game’s most important possession, cost them the win and likely the series.

Up 91-80 with about three minutes left in the game, Guangdong seemed to have a comfortable win in the books until Xinjiang roared back with a 12-2 run to cut the lead to one with 1:20 remaining. A Guangdong miss was Xinjiang’s for the taking, but Singleton tracked down the loose ball to give his team another shot. Another miss gave way to another opportunity for Xinjiang to come down with a defensive rebound, but Singleton again got his hands on the ball to give Guangdong yet another chance. Xinjiang intentionally fouled Zhu Fangyu, who calmly sank both shots to push the lead up to three. When Tim Pickett’s three-pointer came up empty, Guandong ran off the court knowing that two straight wins at home will punch their ticket for the CBA Finals.

Singleton, who frustrated his old team the whole night with his signature combination of athleticism and activity, finished the game with 12 points and 16 rebounds while holding Ike Diogu to a ho-hum 17 points and five rebounds. Wang Shipeng finished with a team high 23 points, Aaron Brooks had 21 and Zhu pitched in 14.

For Xinjiang, Pickett scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 45 minutes. Mengke Bateer ended up with 17 and 10, and Sun Weibo had 15.

With the loss on their home floor, Xinjiang now has to win a game in Guangdong to force the series back to Urumqi for a Game 4. That’s tough enough as is, but it looks like it’ll be even tougher after Xirelijiang re-injured the ankle that he sprained in Game 5 of Round One against DongGuan. If he the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship gold medalist can’t go, expect Sun Weibo to get the majority of his minutes off the bench.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Beijing – 119 @ Shanxi – 122

Marcus Williams was dominant in his first ever CBA semi-finals appearance, finishing with 40 points, seven rebounds and four assists, as Shanxi defended their home court to came away with a close three point victory against Beijing.

But for Shanxi, the game was probably closer than it had to be. With the Brave Dragons up five with less than half a minute left, the win looked all but locked up until Zhang Xuewen was called for a flagrant foul after he followed through with both arms to thwart Stephon Marbury’s breakaway layup attempt with 17 seconds left. The call was questionable, but Marbury hit both freebies to cut the lead to three and head coach Min Lulei called time-out to draw up the last play. Like in Game 1 against Guangsha in Round One, the ball was swung to an open Lee Hsueh-lin with the game on the line. But this time, Lee’s three-point attempt came up short and by the time the ball was done bouncing around the floor, Shanxi had escaped with the win.

Marbury finished with a playoff career high 42 points, most of which game in the fourth quarter when his scoring was needed most. Randolph Morris, had trouble keeping Charles Gaines off of the foul line, as did Ji Zhe and as a result, both fouled out midway through the final frame. Gaines finished with 25 points on 9-10 from the free-throw line and 18 rebounds, eight of which came on the offensive end. Ren Junwei had a very active 14 points and 11 rebounds and was a key reason why Shanxi managed to outrebound their opponents by 21.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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Previewing the CBA Semi-Finals

March 4, 2012

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Both semi-finals match-ups are oozing with storylines, but none top Stephon Marbury’s Playoff return to the place where his China career got its start, Taiyuan, Shanxi. (Photo: cfp.cn)

Well, the age-old “There is no parity in the CBA” rule lived up to its rather boring reputation in the first round of the CBA playoffs… but, at least in our minds, that’s actually for the better it’s set up two very intriguing semi-finals that should be anything but yawn-inducing.

And really, “boring” isn’t exactly the right adjective to describe what we just saw in the first round. Sure, Guangdong and Beijing swept out their opponents with very little effort, but Shanxi-Shanghai went through four extremely entertaining games before the favorites eventually prevailed and Xinjiang-DongGuan went the entire five game distance to determine a winner. The latter is a rather impressive feat: Up until Friday’s do-or-die in Urumqi, there had only been three series in CBA history that went the full limit.

Hey, it might be slow progress towards some level of parity, but it’s progress nonetheless.

And to continue the slow, methodical movement forward in the league’s journey to build a competitive league, NiuBBall is coming out with our slow-to-come-out Final Four Preview with just minutes to spare before the two series kick off tonight. Let’s get to it.

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers vs. #4 Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers

Regular Season Series:
(12/25) Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangdong – 109
(2/10) Guangdong – 110 @ Xinjiang – 106 (OT)

How They Got Here:
#1 Guangdong over #8 Fujian, 3-0
#4 Xinjiang over #5 DongGuan, 3-2

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 2: Wednesday (3/7), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Friday (3/9), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Sunday (3/11), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday (3/14), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

It’s not what we thought it was going to be, but we got it nonetheless: Yet another rematch between Guangdong and Xinjiang.

We all know how the story goes here — the Southern Tigers have beaten the Flying Tigers the last three years in the CBA Finals. Understandably frustrated, the Flying Tigers pulled out the big bucks this summer to upgrade their squad in almost every aspect. 11 games into the season, management decided that their main off-season acquisition, Chinese National Team head coach, Bob Donewald, wasn’t doing a good enough job and the team entered a period of upheaval that resulted in a string of losses before the team ultimately bounced back to clinch a #4 seed — their lowest playoff position in five years.

So although the teams are the same, the cast is quite different. Instead of James Singleton and Quincy Douby, Xinjiang’s rolling with a foreign combo of Kenyon Martin Gani Lawal Ike Diogu and Patty Mills Tim Pickett. Meng Duo and Tang Zhengdong are also new to the rivalry.

Yet despite all of the new faces, the result promises to be the same as its been in years past. Singleton, who left Urumqi for DongGuan during the off-season after the Xinjiang management deemed him spare parts, has blended perfectly with Guangdong’s National Teamers. And like every year, it’s those National Teamers that cause the biggest problems for their opponents. In addition to Wang Shipeng, who torched Xinjiang in the Finals last season, Guangdong also has a healthy Zhu Fangyu, who has enjoyed a bounce-back season after basically limping around the court in 2010-11. The two are essentially interchangeable depending on who’s hot on a given night and will be tough for the Xirelijiang-Xu Guochong-Meng Duo trio that Xinjiang will likely throw at them.

The biggest problem for Xinjiang though? Four years into this thing and they still just don’t match-up that well with their rival. Xinjiang’s size, their biggest advantage over all their other opponents, simply isn’t an advantage against Guangdong. Mengke Bateer struggled to push the immovable Su Wei around down low last year, and Tang Zhengdong didn’t fare much better in the two teams’ regular season match-ups this year. Guangdong also has another large man up their sleeve, Wang Zheng, who will throw himself around when Su Wei either gets tired or gets into foul trouble.

And then there’s Aaron Brooks — the only NBA-to-CBA player left in China currently — who is even more of a blur in this league than he is in the NBA. No matter who Xinjiang tries on him, Brooks will get into the lane and cause havoc.

If Guangdong wins tonight, and we think they will (which means they probably won’t), expect them to take care of business when they go back to Southern China to make this a quick, rather painless series.

Prediction: Guangdong in 3

#2 Beijing Shougang Ducks vs. #3 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons

Regular Season Series:
(12/4) Shanxi – 97 @ Beijing – 121
(1/13) Beijing – 111 @ Shanxi – 114

How They Got Here:
#2 Beijing over #7 Guangsha, 3-0
#3 Shanxi over #6 Shanghai, 3-1

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 2: Wednesday (3/7), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 3: Friday (3/9), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 4: Sunday (3/11), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi (if necessary)
Game 5: Wednesday (3/14), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)

If it’s pretty easy to pick a winner in Guangdong-Xinjiang, it’s almost impossible to feel really good about a prediction in this one.

We’ll get to that prediction, but first let’s just break down everything that’s in play in this one. The biggest story obviously is Stephon Marbury’s return to his laodongjia of Taiyuan, the city where he started his CBA career in 2010. But where most other players would be hissed at for not coming back, Marbury is still loved by his old Brave Dragon fans and his Shanxi tour will be greeted very warmly, at least until the ball goes up. And even after that he may be cheered. Simply, it doesn’t get any better: Marbury, who has transformed Beijing from a barely-Playoff team into a legit contender, coming back to the team who let him go precisely because they thought he wasn’t capable of leading a top-tier squad… with a trip to the Finals on the line.

In the background rests what we think is just as big of a story, though: The individual match-up between the league’s two best foreigners, Marbury and Marcus Williams. Both went neck-and-neck for the NiuBBall MVP award during the regular season, and though the honor — yet to be officially handed out, we might add — is amongst the highest in the basketball world, we’re confident that both would rather take the chance to win a CBA title. With weaker Chinese teammates, Williams will have to be more dominant scoring the ball, but Marbury as he’s done all year will have to run the entire Beijing show before taking over offensively in the fourth.

The former of Steph’s responsibility is made easier by Beijing’s ability to space the floor, with bigs Zhu Yanxi and Ji Zhe capable of stepping out and letting it rain from distance. As is Williams’, who has the just-as-dominant Charles Gaines to shoulder to the statistical load. Shanxi’s notoriously off-and-on Duan Jiangpeng has been very on from three the last two games, and if he can keep up his shooting stroke it’ll help out with the pressures that Williams and Gaines have to live with every game.

But, Beijing is hitting their stride at the right time. Chen Lei and Lee Hsueh-lin (who will be doing pint-sized point-guard battle with Shanxi’s Lu Xiaoming, yet another interesting sub-plot) are finally healthy enough to take the court, and with Zhu Yanxi, Ji Zhe and Zhai Xiaochuan up front, Beijing has arguably five of the top seven Chinese players in the series. Add that to Randolph Morris, who like Gaines will get his while not playing a lick of defense, and Beijing should have the edge. Whatever the result, expect a lot of great games in a series that should be the fifth in CBA history to go the distance.

Prediction: Beijing in 5

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Games 2 and 3

February 27, 2012

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(2/24) Game 2: DongGuan – 82 @ Xinjiang – 93

Xirelijiang came up with one of the games of his life, scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 45 minutes to help lead Xinjiang stave off a 0-2 deficit. In his second game in China, Ike Diogu looked much more comfortable shooting 12-19 from the field to finish with 29 points and nine boards. Tim Pickett added 12 and Mengke Bateer had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: DongGuan – 115 @ Xinjiang – 121

With Tim Pickett feeling the effects of a hamstring injury that caused him to miss morning shootaround, Ike Diogu took the reigns and then some, pouring in 42 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to give Xinjiang a 2-1 series lead over DongGuan. Showing a well-rounded offensive game, Diogu displayed an array of spins, drives and post-ups to score while also showing his ability on the perimeter by splashing 4-7 from three. Mengke Bateer added a double-double of his own with 15-10 and Xirelijiang scored 24.

In a furious fourth quarter that saw both teams score 37 points, Josh Akognon did his best to try and will his team to a win. But his 42 points ultimately came up short as DongGuan could never get over the hump. Down 2-1 in the series, they’ll have to win the next one in Guangdong to keep themselves from crashing out of the post-season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Shanghai – 95 @ Shanxi – 99

Despite a furious fight back in the final stages of the game, the Shanghai Sharks fell to their hosts, 99-95, meaning that Shanxi are now a game away from the playoff semi-finals. The Dragons owe tonight’s win to Charles Gaines, who emerged from the shadow of Marcus Williams to illustrate how important he was to Shanxi’s championship aspirations. The no-nonsense forward was a willing battering ram for the home side, who had to hold on for dear life in the dying seconds of the game whilst Shanghai, for the second successive game, just didn’t have the rub of the green that could have otherwise gifted them victory.

The middle stages of the game were controlled by Shanxi until, with barely two minutes left on the clock, Shanghai got themselves within a basket of tying the game and the Dragons were staying ahead of their guests only through some generous calls from the officials. The game went back and fourth until, with less than twenty seconds on the clock and Shanxi leading 96-95, Charles Gaines, who had been the Brave Dragons most dependable player, missed a set of free-throws and suddenly things got really chaotic. The Sharks, taking a time-out, restarted on the halfway line and whipped the ball over to Marcus Landry, who was creeping around by the Shanxi perimeter. With the game up for grabs, time seemed to stand still as the American’s shot hung in the air only to clip the front of the rim and bounce away to safety. Shanghai, desperate to get the ball back, fouled Pan Jiang and sent the guard to the free-throw line, where the Chinese converted his first attempt before scuffing the second one. Gaines, eager to finish the game on a high note, then acrobatically collected the rebound and whilst still in the air, forcefully jammed the ball home to the delight of the home crowd.

Gaines’ 31 points and 17 rebounds were critical in ensuring victory for the Dragons whilst his American team-mate, Williams, scored 28, and point guard Lu Xiaoming got 15. For the Sharks, Landry stood out with a fantastic 31 point haul whilst Harris picked up a 20 point, 10 rebound double-double as Shanghai came close to snatching victory but must now win the next game between the two sides or their season is over.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Shanghai –  101 @ Shanxi – 99

There are big games, there are huge games and then there are games where you are two-nil down in a playoff series and come back to win in the final seconds having been down by almost twenty points down at half time. Tonight was in the third category and the result means that the Sharks will be taking Shanxi back to Shanghai for Game 4 of this topsy-turvy series following an absolutely HUGE second half that saw the visitors find themselves with their backs to the wall only to respond with a performance of the highest order

It would be well into the fourth quarter but the Sharks eventually reached daylight and from that point onwards, an increasingly nervy Brave Dragons side looked awestruck by what was going on around them. Though Charles Gaines was chipping in with lay-ups, Marcus Williams looked like he was in pain after an earlier collision with Meng Lingyuan. In the meantime, the Sharks had not only tied the game, but taken the lead when Marcus Landry coolly dispatched a three-pointer with less than a minute to go. Gaines dispatched a set of free-throws shortly afterwards but with less than twenty seconds left, the game was tied at 99-99 and the Sharks, with momentum on their side, had the ball.

The moment of truth was now upon the Sharks and having restarted on the halfway line after the obligatory time out, the Sharks dished the ball out to Landry, who let the clock run down for as long as he could before charging into the paint, drawing the foul and dispatching the two free-throws. 101-99, Shanghai. Following the Dragons’ own restart, Shanxi then implausibly chose to put the ball in the hands of Williams, who hadn’t looked like himself all night as opposed to the red-hot Duan Jianpeng, who had already buried eight shots from downtown. The American’s effort clipped the edge of the rim and then fell into the hands of Harris, who held it for the final second or two to confirm the Sharks’ improbable victory.

Landry scored 24 points, whilst Liu  Wei (23), Mike Harris (22), Zhang Zhaoxu (12) and Wang Yong (11) all made crucial scoring contributions to the Sharks’ last gasp victory. Despite, Duan’s game high haul of 36 points that included eight three-pointers, the Dragons must now come back to Shanghai for Game 4 of this series against a suddenly rejuvenated Sharks outfit.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Guangsha – 87 @ Beijing – 104

Zhu Yanxi and Randolph Morris each scored a team-high 20 points and Stephon Marbury, Chen Lei and Zhai Xiaochuan all put down double-figures as the Ducks used a team effort to comfortably handle the visiting Lions in Game 2. 21 Lion turnovers contributed to the lopsided scoreline, six of which where commited by Wang Zirui.

Rodney White was better than his Game 1 performance with 23 points and 10 and P.J. Ramos had 22-10, but Guangsha’s Chinese players weren’t able to offer much in support.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Guangsha – 91 @ Beijing – 105

After six years since their last appearance in semi-finals, Beijing is once again a Final Four squad. Beijing raced off to a big lead in the first quarter and gave it up in the second before putting the game away with a huge run in the third to sweep Guangsha out of the playoffs. Randolph Morris finished as the game’s high scorer with 31 points and Stephon Marbury had 24.

Starting Rodney White, Guangsha managed just 13 points in the game’s first frame and found themselves down 11 by quarter’s end. But with Ramos on the floor in the second quarter, Guangsha looked much more balanced and in control on offense, fighting back to take the lead heading into half-time. Beijing took the lead again in the third, but waited until midway through the quarter to make their big move. With the score at 60-55 with a little over six minutes to go, the Ducks stormed to a 20-11 run to make the score 80-66. They never looked back — now they’re looking forward to a semi-finals series against either Shanxi or Shanghai.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/24) Game 2: Fujian – 104 @ Guangdong – 116

Seven Southern Tigers scored double-figures as Guangdong used its familiar home court to take a commanding 2-0 lead against Fujian. Adding to Anthony Roberson’s injury that will keep him out for the remainder of this series, all-around defensive ace Zaid Abbas missed this one with an ankle. Will McDonald tried to carry the Sturgeons with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but this game was pretty much over before it started after Guangdong hung up 37 in the first quarter to take a 15 point lead into the second quarter. Aaron Brooks lead all Guangdong scorers with 23.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

(2/26) Game 3: Fujian – 106 @ Guangdong – 137

Guangdong picked up the brooms, scored 137 points and swept Fujian to an early vacation. The 137 points stands as the second most amount of points scored in the CBA this season. The only team who scored more this season was Jiangsu, who won 142-127 against Jilin on February 15th. (H/T hoopCHINA)

Down one heading into the locker room at halftime, Guangdong outscored their opponent by nine in the third and 24 in the fourth to get the big win. Injured, both Anthony Roberson and Zaid Abbas missed the game, which forced Will McDonald to deal with the four-time defending champs basically on his own. With all attention on him, he scored 13 points. Aaron Brooks finished with 31 points, James Singleton with 21 and Zhu Fangyu 25.

Guangdong awaits the winner of Xinjiang-DongGuan.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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