Tag Archives: Lee Hsueh-lin

New sponsorships bring new complications to CBA

December 6, 2012

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Beijing’s Lee Hsueh-lin has been one of 12 players to be fined by the league for not wearing Li-Ning shoes during games. The fine comes as a result of the CBA’s new sponsorship deal with the Chinese shoe brand.

It’s been an exciting start to the season, to say the least. Amidst all the ongoing stories, however, the most important to the league long-term are the new deals that the CBA has signed this past summer. After inking a five-year contract with Infront Sports and Media, now the official marketing partner of the CBA, the league scored 23 new sponsorships, headlined by Li-Ning’s massive CNY 4 billion (US $721 million) commitment.

With these contracts comes an unprecedented windfall for the league’s 17 teams. Having previously received a comparatively measly CNY 2 million from the association, each of the league’s 17 teams will now have around CNY 10 million to spend on salaries, stadium improvements (heating comes to mind), and anything team higher-ups decide on. You don’t need us to tell you this is a boon for the league: money means better imports, more experienced coaches, nicer facilities, and by extension, elevated quality of play and a more refined basketball product for all.

Of course, all this good news does not come without its complications. More sponsors means more advertisements, from CCTV-5 broadcasts to on-court exposure. Whether it be the new Li-Ning apparel, advertising boards, or even the Tsingtao Beer cheerleading squads, you can be sure that these sponsors will make their presence known. Taking on these sponsors also means less autonomy for individual clubs, as teams are now left with only two sections near the courtside audience seats of ad space for sale. Apart from ticketing revenue and individual sponsorships like those on some team’s uniforms, all of the CBA is now dependent on the league to cover their operating costs, a questionable practice at best. Another problem is that of rising costs: even with this injection, with some of their revenue producing avenues cut off, teams may still find it hard to produce a profit.

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Five things to take away from last night’s CBA opener

November 25, 2012

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One of many flops from last night’s Beijing-Shanghai CBA regular season opener.

The lights went out, bad music was sung, championship rings were passed out and with that, the 2012-13 Chinese Basketball Association regular season finally got underway with a result that happened frequently last year: A Beijing win.

Playing in their first game since winning the title last year, the Ducks avoided a ring ceremony hangover by running over the visiting Shanghai Sharks, 94-78. Randolph Morris lead the Ducks with 23 points, Ji Zhe had 19 and Stephon Marbury ran the offensive very effectively for 16 points and eight assists.

D.J. White lead all scorers with 24 points and also grabbed 17 rebounds.

In a game rife with storylines, the most hyped-up being the Gilbert Arenas-Marbury individual matchup, the game’s luster was decreased dramatically when Arenas left the game midway through the first quarter with a groin pull. He did not return for the rest of the game and the Sharks were thus forced to play agains the defending champs with one import player.

Yet despite that relative disappointment, we’re keeping it positive in here and giving everybody five observations we took note of while we took in the game last night inside Shougang Gymnasium.

Box Score

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After all of that Finals MVP controversy jibber jabber, Lee Hsueh-Lin now has a golden sneaker

November 13, 2012

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Almost eight months after the 2011-12 CBA Finals, Beijing guard, Lee Hsueh-lin, finally has his MVP trophy… er, sneaker.

Remember when Stephon Marbury should have won CBA Finals MVP, but didn’t because he’s a foreigner? Seems like a while ago, right? Well, that’s because it was a while ago. Almost eight months to be exact.

Remember who won the award instead? No? Well up until this very day, neither did anybody else.

Whether it was to allow almost three-quarters of a year to let the public backlash against the anti-foreigner rule cool off, or because the decision was just that difficult, the powers that be at the Chinese Basketball Association held off in officially handing out the award… for eight months. As in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Like, count-that-on-two-hands eight. Or one if you know how to count Chinese style. You know what I mean. A long time.

Of course within that amount of time, the league refused to do the one thing in which it should have done — change the rule — but did you really expect that to happen?

Instead, the league settled on Beijing’s Taiwanese guard, Lee Hsueh-lin. And we’ll give out some credit: If foreigners are ineligible, Lee is the right call. Dubbed “Mr. 48 Minutes” by Chinese media because dude practically never came out of the game during the Ducks’ magical Finals run, Lee  averaged 11.4 points, 3.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals and a three-point percentage of42% over five games against the Guangdong Southern Tigers. All while playing with a back injury.

For his troubles, he gets a golden sneaker that according to this NetEase article made out of 270 grams of gold. Another interesting factoid: Lee becomes the first Taiwanese player to win a CBA MVP. So that’s cool.

…But Stephon Marbury still should have won.

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Beijing signs 2011-12 CBA Chinese scoring champ, Li Gen

August 19, 2012

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Beijing Ducks fans will be hoping Li Gen’s career season last year in Qingdao will carry over to the capital city in 2012-13. (Photo: CFP.cn)

Beijing’s boosted their chances for a successful title defense by officially signing one of the most explosive scorers in China, Li Gen. According to reports, the contract, originally said to be worth close to CNY 2 million per season, is over three years. Beijing general manger, Yuan Chao, denied that the deal was worth that much.

Last year for Qingdao, Li averaged 18 points a game to lead all Chinese players in scoring. He scored a career high 41 points in a win against Beijing on February 5th. He also won the CBA All-Star Game MVP, scoring 31 points to lead the North All-Stars over the South in Guangzhou.

The 24 year-old was a free-agent after spending the last two seasons on the coast of Shandong province. He made his senior level CBA in 2008-09, where he averaged 9.5 points over 23.5 minutes a game for last-placed Shanghai. The next season, however, he saw a sharp drop in playing time and production as then newly arrived head coach, Bob Donewald Jr. felt his defense needed vast improving. Li was ultimately shipped to Qingdao in 2010-11.

For Beijing, the signing speaks volumes about both their short and long-term ambitions. In the immediate future, the burly 6-5 guard/forward gives them an added scoring punch and a player who can create offense for himself. With Stephon Marbury getting up there in age, Li’s ability to get his own shot will take some of the pressure off of the American point guard to do pretty much everything on the perimeter. Li will also allow Chen Lei, who has also battled age and injuries in recent years, to take a step back in minutes.

Long-term, Beijing now has a very promising trio of young Chinese players to build around. 19 year-old Zhai Xiaochuan and 22 year-old Zhu Yanxi were both critical elements to Beijing’s title run last year as rookies, and both look to have long careers as top-level domestic players with the team. Teamed with Li, the three immediately become one of the best group of young, senior level teammates in the league.

It’s impossible to know where Guangdong fits into the CBA title picture as their import situation is still up in the air, but with Li coming on board to join Marbury and Randolph Morris, both of whom have re-signed for next year, as well as Zhai, Zhu, Chen and Lee Hsueh-lin, Beijing — at least for now — looks as the favorite to repeat as champions.

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Allen Iverson on playing in China next year: “Why not?”

April 27, 2012

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Allen Iverson is in China right now, but the question is: Will he be back here next season? (Photo: Osports)

Allen Iverson captured headlines in China yesterday after arriving in Shanghai has part of an exhibition tour that will travel around China for the next two weeks, but he has captured the imagination of media and fans after indicating he’s open to the idea of playing in the Chinese Basketball Association next season.

Iverson is currently in China for the next two weeks as part of an NBA Legends Tour that will play seven exhibition games in six cities across central and southern China. Shorty after getting on the ground from the U.S. yesterday morning, he fielded questions from Chinese reporters and when when asked if he’d consider playing in the CBA next season, he replied: “Why not?”

Iverson has been out of professional basketball since January 2011, when he left Turkish outfit Besiktas after he injured his right calf muscle.

This is not the first time Iverson has been linked with a move to the CBA: He flirted with the idea of playing in China in the summer/fall of 2010 and had several serious offers, including a reported $4 million contract from Foshan. Iverson ended up declining Foshan and all other teams, and signed a two-year deal with Bestikas shortly after in October.

At this point, there is no indication as to which teams Iverson would be open towards joining.

Though the 11-time NBA All-Star rejected Chinese overtures in 2010, things could be different this time around if he is indeed serious about playing basketball. After an inconsistent stint in Turkey, big money European offers are likely off the table which means the best spot for a large contract would be China, where he is beloved by fans and widely recognized as one of the most popular NBA players of all-time.

But maybe more importantly, Iverson has a valuable ally in his Chinese corner this time, Stephon Marbury.

Fresh off of leading the Beijing Shougang Ducks to their first ever CBA championship, Marbury has grown into a bonefied superstar in China and has been called a hero of Beijing by the city’s millions of inhabitants. Due to a CBA rule that limits both the regular season and Finals MVP award to Chinese players, popular Chinese basketball website, hoopCHINA, has lead a campaign to build Marbury a bronze statue that will commemorate his season in Beijing, a project that has garnered the support of more than 1 million people in China.

How that relates to Iverson’s potential career in China isn’t hard to guess. Marbury continues to sell his Starbury line of apparel to the Chinese market. With Iverson likely keen on the idea branding himself to China’s estimated 300+ million basketball fans, Marbury would be the ideal example for the 36 year-old to follow if he indeed ended up playing here next season.

Marbury, who will play against Iverson for the Legends Tour’s first thee games, returned to Beijing yesterday after a short trip to the United States and was immediately supportive of Iverson joining up with a Chinese team next season.

“I think [Iverson] will be rejuvenated if he played in China,” Marbury said on his Sina Weibo account (Chinese Twitter). “He would love the fans here if he played basketball here. I hope he can feel the love when he plays here in the coming games.”

Besides Iverson and Marbury, the tour includes Dennis Rodman, who also landed with Iverson in Shanghai yesterday, as well as Clyde Drexler and Shawn Kemp. The Legends team will play the first three games against Marbury and the Beijing Ducks, the first of which is tomorrow night in Cixi, Zhejiang province. They’ll then play their next three against the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, who lost to Beijing in the semi-finals this season, before playing the Chinese U-23 Olympic National Team in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, for the finale.

The Ducks will be short of their other import player, Randolph Morris, who elected to remain in the U.S., Lee Hsueh-lin, who is back in his native Taiwan, as well as Zhai Xiaochuan and Zhu Yanxi, who are in Sanya training with the China Senior National Team.

In 14 seasons, Iverson averaged 26.7 points, 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals. His accolades include an NBA Rookie of the Year award, an NBA MVP, an NBA Finals appearance, four scoring titles and  seven All-NBA Team selections. He is currently the 17th all-time leading scorer in NBA history with 24,368 points.

The Legends Tour schedule is as follows:

April 28th: Cixi (vs. Beijing Shougang)

April 30th: Wuxi (vs. Beijing Shougang)

May 3rd: Shenhen (vs. Beijing Shougang)

May 5th: Linyi (vs. Shanxi Zhongyu)

May 7th: Dongying (vs. Shanxi Zhongyu)

May 9th: Taiyuan (vs. Shanxi Zhongyu)

May 11th: Taiyuan (vs. China Olympic National Team)

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The looming question of CBA Finals MVP

March 29, 2012

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Ask, and no one would question that Stephon Marbury has been the best player in the Chinese Basketball Association this season. And nobody would question that he’s been the best player in the first four games of the Finals.

But, thanks to two CBA rules, Marbury won’t be officially recognized by the league as such. Forget for a minute that at 3-1, the Finals aren’t over and with Games 6 and 7 both to be played (if necessary) in DongGuan, they are far from over if Beijing doesn’t finish the job tomorrow night at home. No matter who wins this, no foreigners will be officially etched into the CBA history books. Both the regular season and Finals MVP awards are only handed out to Chinese players.

If that seems unfair given Marbury’s mastery over the last four games, sit down, take a deep breath and repeat the three words that often can provide oneself with some closure in these situations: mei ban fa. There’s nothing that can be done to change it for now, and probably forever. For the last 17 years, that’s way the rule has always been.

Which means the chants of “M-V-P!” from the 18,000 strong at MasterCard Center are falling on deaf ears. No matter how much the people want it and no matter how much Marbury deserves it, the player standing on the podium at the end of this series will be Chinese.

“The rules on selecting our Finals MVP award  are all written in this season’s official league handbook,” said a CBA spokesperson earlier today. “They’re not the result of somebody just coming out and specially changing them. If someone has a suggestion, we’ll consider it after the season.”

In the handbook, the rules stipulate that the award can only be handed out to one of the top three Chinese scorers on the winning team. Heading into Game 5, those are Zhai Xiaochuan (11.5 points per game), Lee Hsueh-lin (9.9) and Zhu Yanxi (8.5).

So who wil it be? First, let’s go with who it probably won’t be. Lee Hsueh-lin, who in our eyes has been the most deserving due to his averages of (almost) 10 points, four assists and two iron lungs, likely won’t receive the award for political reasons. Remember: Lee is from Taiwan, a country China doesn’t recognize. And since the CBA is run by the government, I highly doubt Lee will get the trophy over his Chinese teammates.

And if that is indeed the case, that leaves us with either Zhai Xiaochuan or Zhu Yanxi. Zhu missed most of Game 4 with an injury, but has otherwise been pretty solid. Zhai has better numbers, but hasn’t been as consistent — in Games 2 and 3 on the road in DongGuan, he only managed a combined 10 points and three rebounds, and looked out of his element for large parts of both contests.

Obviously, there’s still some games to play so there’s still time for people to separate themselves from each other. With no clear-cut Chinese candidate, its obvious what should happen: They should give it to the guy who deserves it, Marbury. But since the CBA is bent on encouraging/promoting/hyping/propping their own players, we just have to move on and say: Mei ban fa and move onto other things, like why Su Wei is on the bench yawning during Game 4 of the CBA Finals.

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“Mr. 48 Minutes” Lee Hsueh-lin may finally get some rest

March 26, 2012

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With nobody else able to help Stephon Marbury run the show, Beijing’s Lee Hsueh-lin has played 238 out of a possible 240 minutes the last five games. (Photo: Osports)

Quick, other than Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris, who has been Beijing’s most valuable player this season?

If you took a poll, either of the Ducks’ rookie soon-to-be National Team training camp combo, Zhai Xiaochuan and Zhu Yanxi, would likely receive some votes. And maybe out of respect to longtime team captain and CBA laotou, Chen Lei would get some too. And that’d all be fine.

As long as they were all second-place votes.

You can try to make the case all you want, but if you’ve come up with someone other than Lee Hsueh-lin, then you’re just plain wrong.

(My) case in point: So important is Lee to the Ducks cause against Guangdong, that coach Min Lulei has called on the Taiwanese point-guard to play 142 out of a 144 possible minutes over the Finals’ first three games. And so important was he against Shanxi in the semi-finals, that Min played him every minute of Games 4 and 5.

Let that register for a second. Five games, two whole minutes of rest.

“Mr. 48 Minutes,” as he’s recently been called by Chinese media after playing every minute for four games in a row (he was on the court or all 48 in Games 1 and 2 of the Finals), has simply been an iron man and an indispensable player for the Ducks during their playoff run.

A former star in Taiwan for the SBL’s Yulon Dinos, where he won three SBL championships in a row from 2004-2006, Lee made the jump to the CBA in September 2010 when he signed a for the Ducks, and immediately jumped into the starting lineup at point guard. Considered as one of the best guards in Taiwan when he was in high school, the 27 year-old has been a part of the Taiwanese National Team setup for the last ten years, most recently at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship last summer in Wuhan.

After a solid debut season last year in where the Ducks made the playoffs, Lee came back even better and saw increases in steals and assists though his first eight games — all wins — while also keeping his turnovers at his usual low rate. But during that eighth game, he suffered a serious back injury that would keep him out for a little over two months. Beijing would go onto win their next five without him, but as Beijing’s thin group of guards tired as the season progressed, the team struggled to win games. After going 13-0, Beijing went just 7-10 over their next 17 games.

Lee came back for the team’s last two regular season games of the season against Shanghai and Guangsha, and his minutes had been steadily increasing throughout the first-round and semis until his recent string of 48 minute games. If you watch games, it’s hard not to see why Min feels he needs to be on the court at all times: Other than Marbury, Beijing has nobody who can handle the ball and organize the offense. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he can pressure opposing guards full-court (just ask Aaron Brooks) and he nails open threes pretty regularly. Once dubbed “the Allen Iverson of Taiwan,” Lee should really be called “the Earl Watson of Taiwan.” He may not be flashy, but he’s a solid starting point guard who generally knows what to do.

And luckily for the long-term future of Lee and of the Ducks, it looks as if Coach Min has seen why playing a dude with a bad back 48 minutes a night is probably a bad idea. Lee’s been receiving treatment immediately after every game, and with his back not completely healed and maybe getting worse, the coach has vowed that he’ll get some in-game rest from now on.

How much rest exactly, is in serious question because unless Xie Libin magically wakes up and is able to throw the ball to his teammates without an opponent getting a hand on it, Beijing still doesn’t have any other options. When at their best, Beijing goes seven deep. Guangdong of course, goes much deeper, meaning if Lee is in fact exhausted, this series is far from over; no matter where the next two games are being played.

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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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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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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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Bothfeld: Beijing squeaks by Guangsha in Game 1

February 23, 2012

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An embattled Guangsha team entered the playoffs free of any expectations after their star forward Wilson Chandler was released from his contract prior to Game 1.  With his replacement, Rodney White, making his debut, the Lions had no choice but to leave it all on the floor while trying to adapt to their new teammate.

Leave it on the floor they did; adapt to White they didn’t. Beijing squeaked by Guangsha in a closely contested contest, 106-103. Stephon Marbury led the Ducks with 32 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals. He resembled a wrecking-ball as he was able to get to the basket at will.

“We have to stop his penetration and keep him off the free-throw line,” said Guangsha head coach, Jim Cleamons, post-game.

Beijing entered halftime up 55-48, although they should have had a double-digit lead considering they forced 11 Guangsha turnovers compared to their one.

After scoring four points in the first half, White made a concerted effort get going in the third quarter, but was unable to find a rhythm. His rust was obvious as his jumpers fell short and he committed five turnovers, and finished with 7 points on 2 of 13 shooting.

Nevertheless, Cleamons praised his performance.

“I thought he played very hard. This is a very difficult situation so I think he did well considering all the things that could have happened.”

With White a non-factor, P.J. Ramos carried Guangsha’s offense. He continually overpowered Randolph Morris on offense and caused him fits on defense. Morris’ third quarter offensive struggles allowed Guangsha to briefly take a 63-62 lead on a Wang Zirui three. However, after a timeout, Marbury took the reigns of his team’s offense, repeatedly burning his defender and getting to the hoop for lay-ups. With Guangsha’s momentum stalled, Beijing extended their lead to 86-70 at the end of the third.

Cleamons inserted Jin Lipeng in the game to start the fourth and he gave Guangsha the offensive spark they desperately needed. He scored eight early points and helped whittle Beijing’s lead to five with 4:45 minutes remaining. Guangsha continued to chip away at the lead and found them selves within striking distance with under a minute remaining. Up two, Marbury drove to the basket and was rejected by Ramos, which triggered a fast break that resulted in a game-tying lay up by Lin Chih-chieh. With 27 seconds left, Beijing called an isolation play for Marbury. He held the ball at the top of the arc before driving left against White. Wang Zirui cheated towards the lane and Marbury found Wang’s man, an open Lee Hsueh-lin, in the corner for a three. After a timeout, Ramos fumbled the inbounds pass and Guangsha was unable to get up a shot attempt as time expired.

Guangsha can view this game as missed opportunity. They lost on a last second shot despite the fact that White didn’t play well offensively and Marbury and Morris shot a combined 18 of 50. Ramos led the Lions with 26 points and 20 rebounds. Wang Zirui chipped in with a career high 19 points.

Game 2 will be played in Beijing on Friday.

Box Score

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CBA Round 27 Recap

January 31, 2012

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Fujian – 90 @ Shanghai – 94

A nervy Shanghai Sharks held on to beat the Fujian Sturgeons after a flurry of clutch three pointers pulled the home side away from danger in the closing seconds of the game. Anthony Roberson was a constant menace for the visitors and lit up the Sharks at times in the second half. A commanding performance from Liu Wei and some gutsy three-pointers from Wang Yong were critical to giving the Sharks victory but this was a game that could have gone either way in the crucial stages but for once, the luck was with Shanghai.

Roberson scored a game high 39 points that included 7 three-pointers, whilst Zaid Abbas (17 points, 16 rebounds) and Will McDonald (17 points, 11 rebounds) got themselves double-doubles. For Shanghai, both Liu and Mike Harris made 20 points, whilst Wang got 15, Marcus Landry scored 13 and Zhang Zhaoxu got 10 in an evening of high drama.

A relieved Coach Panaggio was happy with a tight victory but knows that away games against Xinjiang and Shanxi are coming round the corner and that his side can’t relax for even a second. ‘I’m very happy with the win but we were somewhat lucky’, he noted in a concise press conference. With the squad still adjusting to the loss of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, the Sharks’ boss was also quick to praise a number of players who have stepped up since the forward injured himself in December, particularly Liu Ziqui, who had a strong defensive game and made the crucial shot to ensure victory for the Sharks; ‘we’re a better team when he’s playing at the level he’s at [right now]‘. The Sharks’ will need all the big contributions they can get now that the post season is getting closer and closer.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

DongGuan -109 @ Guangsha – 114

The battle of third and fourth place ended with a big home win by Guangsha thanks to a bounceback 28 point, 10 rebound effort by Wilson Chandler. Jin Lipeng, coming off his usual spot on the bench, had a much improved 18 point performance, while Lin Chih-chieh cashed in 23. P.J. Ramos clocked in with a double-double – 21 points and 11 rebounds.

Josh Akognon went off for 40 points, Shavlik Randolph had 29 points and eight rebounds.

With the win, Guangsha is now even with DongGuan in the loss column. But because DongGuan has a larger head-to-head point differential, they own the tiebreaker in the event that both teams finish the year with the same record.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Zhejiang – 104 @ Tianjin – 112

In a shock upset, 14th placed Tianjin took out J.R. Smith and the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls. In his first game for Tianjin, newly signed Herve Lamizana thrashed the visitors for 37 points and 12 boards. Donnell Harvey also got into the 30-10 act with 34 points and 12 rebounds.

J.R. Smith went for 37 points on a staggering 19-22 from the free-throw line, but once again it was his sister, Stephanie, who stole the show. Midway through the third quarter, she got into it with several Tianjin fans and before finally exiting, threw up two middle fingers to the entire stadium.

Zhejiang has now lost six out their last eight are currently out of playoffs sitting in ninth place.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 97 @ Beijing – 116

Jiangsu remains winless on the road and Beijing continues to take steps to lock up the No. 2 seed with plenty of time to spare in the 2011-12 season. Zhai Xiaochuan set a career high with 25 points, a nice accomplishment that was only made nicer by the 12 rebounds he snagged. As they have for most of the year, Beijing got it done with balanced scoring as five players put in double-digit point totals.

Still on the shelf with injuries, Chen Lei an Lee Hsueh-lin did not play. But their returns are expected within a week or two and when they do finally hit the court, they’ll give the Ducks a much needed boost in depth that they sorely lack at the moment.

Box Score

Shanxi – 110 @ Shandong – 125

The Brave Dragons’ Year of the Dragon got off to a terrible start in Shandong after they lost in convincing fashion to team all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. In one of the rare games where you’ll see both teams trot out an all Chinese lineup for the first quarter, Shanxi went into the intermission down 16 points before scurrying into the locker room at halftime down 25. Shandong’s Wu Ke, who is averaging 8.5 points on the season, looked like a superstar with a highly efficient 25 points on 7-11 shooting and 13 rebounds. Alan Anderson had 21 and Othello Hunter pitched with a double-double of 19 and 12.

Jon Pastuzsek

Box Score

Foshan – 94 @ Xinjiang – 103

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Jilin – 94 @ Guangdong – 107

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Qingdao – 103 @ Bayi – 91

Box Score

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