Tag Archives: Marcus Landry

NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: End Of Season Review

April 9, 2012

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The NiuBBall water cooler/heater: Where you can chat with friends about hoops while sipping either hot or cold water.

This chat originally appeared on Shark Fin Hoops.

The end of the 2011-12 CBA season is here, which means its time to switch our NiuBBall coverage to other things. But before we do, our guy Andrew Crawford over at Shark Fin Hoops has organized a final Pastuszek-Bothfeld-Crawford three-man gathering around the water cooler/heater to recap the year that was. As always, feel free to fill your cups with whatever temperature water your body desires.

Andrew Crawford: First things first, Beijing Ducks are the CBA champions. They led the league, then they had that slump, they needed five games to beat Shanxi- how surprised are you guys with the Ducks being the CBA champions?

Edward Bothfeld: After getting off to such a hot start, you had to expect there would be a mid-season letdown but with the way they started the season, it showed that they were going to be one of the best teams all year long. With Shanxi, I feel like they could have taken any team to the brink of defeat because Williams and Gaines can really score the ball. The first few games against Guangdong surprised me because I expected Guangdong to win but after their Game 2 victory, it seemed that Beijing might actually be better than Guangdong.

Jon Pastuszek: Regardless of how they started the season, I always thought it was going to be Guangdong again. Remember when Xinjiang went 31-1 last season in the regular season and people thought they were finally going to get a championship? Guangdong always plays below their level in the regular season because they know their final goal is a championship, so I never took much stock in Beijing’s hot start.

Plus, with Beijing only going seven deep, I also thought there’d be fatigue issues so to see Beijing lift the trophy was a huge surprise to me. That said, I wonder — and this to me is the big “what if” that doesn’t get raised enough — if a motivated Wilson Chandler had been playing in the playoffs, would Beijing have even made it past the first round?

EB: Jim Cleamons firmly believed, without a doubt, that if they had Wilson they would have won that series. A motivated Wilson that is. Cleamons also said that the Beijing team knew that too.

AC: That’s an interesting point which I was going to ask later but we might as well talk about now- Chandler, J. R. Smith and Kenyon Martin were the big names coming over this summer. Wilson walked out, Smith couldn’t get his team into the playoffs and K-Martin bought his contract out after half the season. When we look back at this season, did these three guys justify the hype?

EB: Wilson and J.R. were good when they wanted to be but once the lockout ended, all bets were off. Wilson really struggled once the lockout ended and he saw Kenyon board that plane back to the States so I think if the lockout had lasted a lot longer, the hype would have been justified, but the fact that Kenyon and Wilson didn’t even finish the season, I don’t think you can say they justified the hype. And J.R. Smith put up impressive numbers but when I saw him live it looked like he was goofing around the majority of the time – attempting impossible passes, etc.

JP: I think Ned is right about the impact of the NBA season resuming. All of those guys signed in China with the expectation that the NBA wouldn’t be playing, so for the lockout to end suddenly was huge. You can come out and say that it doesn’t bother you, but when you’re a free-agent who has the comforts of home and a big money contract waiting for you, of course it’s going to impact your performance. When K-Mart first got bought out, and then got his FIBA clearance, that just took things to a new level, but I think it also depends on how you interpret “hype”- even though none of those guys played in the playoffs, they helped to attract more attention to the league than ever before. Ratings and attendance were higher than ever before, so if you’re looking it at from that standpoint, I think they did live up to the hype. I’m sure their teams feel otherwise, however…

AC: Indeed. What have you guys made of less heralded names from this season? Before he got injured, I thought Ryan Forehan-Kelly was amongst the best imports in the CBA. Besides Marcus Williams (obviously), who stood out to you as an overseas guy really making a difference in the league?

JP: I’m with you on RFK; his numbers may not have jumped off the page, but he was a huge reason for Shanghai’s success before he got hurt. Having played under Panaggio and his triangle offense, in the D-League, he was a big part of their success in integrating that offense in Shanghai. Not only that, he was their best clutch performer and was their most versatile perimeter defender. Just from a fan standpoint, it was sad to see him get hurt. Other guys who stood out: I’ve always been a big James Singleton guy, I just like his unselfishness and how he’s commited to winning. Will McDonald in Fujian was also great to watch, he’s one of the most skilled bigs to come into this league in a while and I hope he’ll be back next year.

AC: I am a big Zaid Abbas fan. After watching him live, I really have an appreciation for all the little things he does; his hustle, his determination, his shit talking- I want him on my team, and as we’ve seen, every team he goes to starts doing really well. He’s a winner.

JP: Would either of you sign him as a regular, non-Asian import though?

AC: Personally speaking, I would- either him or Singleton would be perfect for Coach Panaggio’s setup. I know they are talking about scrapping the Asian import but regardless, he’s a proven player. I’d be delighted to see him pitch up Shanghai- the Yuanshen would go nuts for him.

EB: Another guy I liked besides Abbas was Lester Hudson. I realize he hoisted a ton of shots but he was all over the place, getting steals, rebounds, etc- and after talking with him after his game against Guangsha, it seemed like his head was really in the right place and that he was dedicated to winning as a team and becoming a better player personally.

AC: Okay then, lets move on- which Chinese player(s) really stood out for you? I know he flew under the radar because he plays for a terrible team in Tianjin but Zhang Nan looked like a tidy player in the forward posistion. Han Dejun looks like he could be a monster with the right coaching and conditioning and I’ve got to show some love for Zhang Zhaoxu who is getting better and better every game. The Sharks coaches really like him and he could well be an every night double-double guy next season.

JP: Beijing’s Zhu Yanxi was a guy who really caught my eye this season. A big part of the Ducks’ championship was their ability to spread the floor and let Marbury do his thing. Without Zhu drawing out opposing bigs, there’s no way they would have been as successful as they were. I’ve always thought China should look to produce more Euro-type big guys who can stretch the floor and shoot it from the perimeter; maybe Zhu will convince coaches of the same. I’m looking forward towards seeing him develop both on Beijing and the National Team in the years ahead. Other guys I liked this year- Han and Zhang both looked good and I also really liked Xinjiang’s Xirelijiang.

EB: For Guangsha, I felt like Wang Zirui made a lot of progress in terms of developing. At just 18 years old, he was the youngest player in the CBA. He started the season on Jim Cleamons’ bench but was the starting PG by the time the playoffs rolled around. If he continues to develop, he will be a starting caliber PG for years to come.

AC: What about coaches? I know I’m writing from a Shanghai perspective but I have to say that the turn-around sparked by Coach Panaggio here has been impressive. What are your thoughts on guys who’ve made a big impact from the touchline?

JP: I agree about Panaggio, and I think Brian Goorjian in Dongguan also has done really well. Both overcame slow starts to make the playoffs and both made it a priority to develop their Chinese players, which is ultimately what this league should be about. Yang Xuezeng was the first coach ever to lead Shanxi to a post-season berth, so I think that has to be commended as well.

EB: Yeah, I also thought Daniel Panaggio did an excellent job with Shanghai. He preached defense and it showed. He also managed to incorporate Marcus Landry into the team’s system after Ryan Forehan-Kelly went down with the Achilles injury. Shanghai finished the 2011 season 12-20 and was ranked all the way down at fifteen on NiuBBall’s season preview. Coaching had a lot to do with their turnaround.

AC: What teams did well this season? There have been a few surprises this season but which teams really caught your eye?

EB: Qingdao and Fujian were nice surprises. I can’t say it enough- Lester Hudson is a hell of a player, although he does shoot the air out of the ball. Qingdao were fun to watch and it was good to see them have some success. As we anticipated, Fujian would get a boost due to the addition of Abbas, who was their Asian import. But I don’t think anyone saw them making the playoffs. Besides Abbas, McDonald really came on strong and played well — and if Roberson was shooting well, they really had a three headed monster. I thought they could make some noise in the playoffs, but with Roberson and Abbas battling injuries, they had no chance.

JP: You have to start with Beijing. I think a lot of people expected them to be a playoff team, but hardly anybody thought they’d be serious championship contenders. For a team to go from a periphery playoff squad to CBA champion is unheard of in this league, even more so when you consider that Beijing was among the younger teams this season. Shanghai was another team that surprised me; a new coach, a new offense, lots of young players and relatively unknown imports- I thought it was going to be a long season in Yuanshen.

AC: You’ve mentioned the improbable success of Beijing but we should also talk about the poor seasons endured by Jiangsu and Bayi- what were the critical factors in their seasons being so bad? Do you think this will be a blip or could you see these teams starting to stagnate?

JP: We all know Bayi doesn’t have any imports. Back in the late 1990s and early and mid-2000s, when the league was attracting mid to lower-level imports, that wasn’t an issue because they could contend every year knowing they had the best Chinese players. Things are a lot different now, though: First, their star player, Wang Zhizhi, is old and not nearly the player he once was. Second, the CBA is attracting better imports with every passing year, with this season’s NBA-to-China exodus clearly standing out as the best crop of foreign players in league history. So with every team around them getting better while Bayi themselves decline, it wasn’t a huge shock to see them take a dive this year. For Jiangsu, I think they missed having Tang Zhengdong in the middle. They also did a terrible job selecting their imports. Mardy Collins and Dan Gadzuric were both gone shortly after the beginning of the season. Jackson Vroman was a good pick-up, but Marcus Williams (the UConn one) was without a doubt the worst foreigner in the league this season.

EB: With Jiangsu, I thought the problem was with Williams. He looked really out of shape and only averaged 11.34. That’s not going to cut it for an import. Vroman was a nice surprise, but they need an imported upgrade in their back court. As for Bayi, maybe it’s time for them to change the system. Their demise was seen eight months ago, when Jon predicted they would miss the playoffs. Wang Zhizhi is really old — they need a new face to the franchise. When I saw them live, they played without any hint of passion.

AC: Let’s return to the players for one last time. Who have been your favorite guys to watch? For me, Osama Daghlas was a masterful point guard- he crushed Shanghai when they went away to Jilin and he’ll be another ‘Asian’ player that teams should look to sign this time next year, regardless of what the status is with imports. Mike Harris could really put on a show and should expect several suitors if he comes back to China. J.R. was also unbelievable in person and was absolutely worth the price of admission.

EB: Marcus Williams was just so efficient. I loved his game. Whether his team needed him to slow the game down by getting to the line or hit a big three, he was there for them. At times, it seemed like he would never miss! Abbas is also a blast to watch. His hustle and passion were infectious and he’s so annoying. I would hate to play against him. I was sitting first row behind the Guangsha bench and he would not stop talking shit, “Alright guys- one on five, one on five!” (in the fourth quarter when Chandler was attempting to take over”. I really hope he’s back in the CBA next season.

JP: I’ll give you three: I enjoyed watching Marbury for obvious reasons. He was able to perfectly balance his point-guard duties with his import ones, running the offense and distributing effectively for the first three quarters before taking over himself in the fourth. Shanxi’s Marcus Williams was fun to watch, he’s pretty much able to get whatever he wants on offense and looks very smooth while getting it. And last, Liaoning’s Guo Ailun. I’ve always been a fan of Guo, he doesn’t play the point guard position like a typical Chinese, he’s very vocal, energetic and enthusiastic. Plus he can be a beast out of pick-and-roll. All of that is fun to watch, even if he’s bricking jumpers and turning the ball over.

AC: Final question then- what has been the highlight and lowlight to your CBA season? I’ll take any of the big results Shanghai got against Guangsha, Xinjiang, Beijing, or Zhejiang for the former and the latter will probably be losing both home games in that Shanxi playoff.

JP: The highlight of the season was being a part of the 18,000 fans who filled up Wukesong Arena to watch Games 1, 4 and 5 of Beijing – Guangdong. As for the low point of the year, I think it’s a tie between Shanxi fans’ behavior during and after Game 4 of the semi-finals and Li Chunjiang ordering his players to sweep the leg and injure someone.

EB: The highlight of the season was watching Jin Lipeng hit the buzzer beater against Shanxi. It was a game that the Lions should have won, but gave away their lead at the end of the game…. until Jin came up huge. The lowlight has to be watching Wilson Chandler and the rest of the Lions team mailing it in during some games. It was so frustrating to watch. Against Bayi, with the playoffs on the line, they showed no sense of urgency. Just thinking about what could have been if Chandler and the Lions had remained motivated. I think that once Chandler had checked out, so did his teammates.

AC: Lovely stuff. Well, we finally made it happen and the much-vaunted three-man weave was well worth the wait. Thanks for your various contributions over the season, gentlemen. Enjoy the offseason!

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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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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: CBA Playoffs And More Wilson Chandler Shenanigans

March 1, 2012

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The NiuBBall water cooler/heater: Where you can chat with friends about hoops while sipping either hot or cold water.

This chat originally appeared on Shark Fin Hoops before last night’s pair of Game 4s were played.

After a brief break to take in the madness of the CBA postseason, Edward Bothfeld is back to survey the wreckage of Fujian and Guangsha’s seasons now that they have been knocked out of the playoffs, as well as giving his thoughts on Wilson Chandler’s acrimonious departure from Hangzhou.

Andrew Crawford: I think we should start by talking about the Guangdong-Fujian series?

Edward Bothfeld: Well it’s hard to be surprised that Guangdong won like they did. I thought Fujian would get a game, but without Abbas and Roberson, they were hopeless and weren’t going to have a chance versus a well-oiled, all-cylinders firing Guangdong team who are without doubt the team to beat.

AC: It does look kind of ominous. Guangdong’s big players are all heating up nicely- I noticed they were averaging 123 points a game in that series, which says a lot about how their offense is functioning right now. That said, we should probably doff our caps to Fujian, who’ve made the playoffs a year after finishing second from bottom in the CBA. If I’m Jiangsu, I want Zaid Abbas signed up for 2012/13 ASAP to try to have the same sort of recovery.

EB: His hustle is infectious. If you’re on his team and he’s on the court, you would feel guilty if you weren’t going at 100% because of the type of effort he puts in. He’ll be a welcome addition to any bottom dweller.

AC: Beijing Ducks swept a Wilson Chandler-less Guangsha Lions? I guess that can’t have been fun for you?

EB: The writing was on the wall really. It was a really difficult situation for the team and coaching staff after losing your best player in that fashion and at that time. They put in a good effort and showed a lot of heart in Game 1 but I think after losing that game, it was all downhill from there; Jin Lipeng struggles on the road, as do many of their other role players. Rodney White played hard and tried to show some leadership, which was good to see, but Stephon Marbury was too much.

AC: Yeah, that series looked pretty tricky but I think Guangsha got a lot of respect considering how they went down fighting. Obviously, Chandler’s gone but how much more personnel change do you think there’ll be at the club now that the season is done?

EB: I’ve been told that Ramos is still under contract, and the owner said the team will have a new import to pair with him for next season so it will be interesting to see who that is. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lipeng retires, whilst Jim Cleamons still doesn’t know if he’ll be back- although he doesn’t sound opposed to the idea. They need to make sure to develop Wang Zirui at the point and try to get some national team players in because Guangsha’s Chinese supporting cast just isn’t very good.

AC: We should also cast our eye to Xinjiang-Dongguan- any thoughts?

EB: Ike Diogu is certainly giving them some offense but Tim Pickett isn’t 100% healthy and he’s a very important part of that team. They were fortunate that Diogu caught fire to win Game 3 because Pickett only scored 10 points. If Dongguan can pull out Game 4, anything can happen in Game 5, although Xinjiang has experience on their side.

AC: Another live series is obviously my own Shanghai Sharks against the Shanxi Dragons. Every game has been really close so far and tonight’s game is a sell-out. How do you seen the series going?

EB: It will probably go down to the wire. I have always been a fan of Shanxi’s tandem of Gaines and Williams. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Shanghai force a Game 5 but I think that Shanxi is too strong with Williams’ ability to get to the foul line. He WILL get 30 a night but the same can’t be said about Landry. It’s harder for Shanghai to win.

AC: This is all true but Williams has looked tired. He always has the potential to go out and put up a triple-double but so far he hasn’t been himself. Obviously I don’t want to tempt fate for tonight but with Shanxi, everything goes through Williams- if he isn’t on fire, generally neithier are the Dragons. Also Liu Wei has been inspired this series- maybe he knows he isn’t going to have too many more trips to the playoffs, but he’s gone all out during the last few games.

EB: Well, now’s the time to go all out. This is the playoffs, you have leave it all on the table.

AC: We should probably talk about one man who certainly didn’t leave it on the table. As a Guangsha fan, I imagine you’re not impressed at Wilson Chandler’s no show at the crucial stage in the season?

EB: I can sort of understand his predicament; Thursday is the deadline for him to sign a long-term deal in the NBA- a deal that would set him up financially for the rest of his life so that’s one side of the situation but leaving the team at this stage in the season is kind of whack, especially now it’s being reported that he might sign in Italy. Should that happens, I would be disappointed because during the CBA season, he could put up 40-15 if he wanted to and that Guangsha Beijing series would be really competitive. If he signs in Italy it would be like he left China for nothing and the fact that he didn’t even get to say goodbye to his teammates or coach leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Overall, it’s a little crazy how it went down but would you expect anything less from the CBA?

AC: It also sounds like the CBA isn’t going to let Chandler just walk away and they are going to make life difficult for him [Edit: Chandler has since got his letter of clearance -AC].

EB: Guangsha’s season is over, so what else do they want?

AC: To me, it feels like they want to reclaim some face after the Kenyon Martin balls-up, but like you say, Guangsha’s season is done so I don’t know how they can make that work.. Its kind of weird to think that of all the big name guys that came over this season, only the craziest one in JR Smith saw out his contract.

EB: He finished it, but it was a rollercoaster of a ride- and to think he was fined $1 mil for not going to practices…

AC: Yeah, that’s a lot of money the Bulls have now got saved away in a jar for next season’s overseas recruiting drive. Alright man, its been great. Let’s try and do this again next week.

EB: For sure. Bye.

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CBA Playoffs Recap: Round 1 – Game 4

March 1, 2012

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Shanxi – 121 @ Shanghai – 114

The Shanghai Sharks’ season is over following defeat to the visiting Shanxi Dragons in a thrilling 121-114 shoot-out. Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines came good in crunch time for the guests, who capitalized on Shanghai’s disorientation in the fourth quarter and will now advance to the next phase of the CBA playoffs.

When a three from Williams made it 100-89 to the visitors with a little over five minutes left on the clock, things looked grim for the Sharks, whose season looked to be fading away rapidly although Liu Wei wasn’t going to led the game slip away without a fight and his crisp bank shot gave him 30 points with four minutes left and the score at 105-98. Sensing the playoffs were within touching distance, the visitors then began running down the clock. Defiant cries of ‘lets go Shanghai’ rang out from out the Yuanshen but it was too late for the Sharks, who had to repeatedly send Shanxi to the line to try to get the ball back.

In the closing seconds, Mike Harris was sent to the bench after losing his cool with the referees (albeit to the sounds of an ovation from the home fans) before Liu fired home the final shot of the game but neither incident mattered to the final outcome of the game, which was now clearly out of reach for the home team. When the buzzer sounded, Shanxi quietly left the court to celebrate in their dressing room, leaving the Sharks to embark on their lap of honour now that the season was officially over. A visibly upset Liu acknowledged the applause from the crowd, as did Harris and Marcus Landry, who may well have played their final games for the Sharks.

Liu scored 32 points whilst Landry picked up 28 and Zhang got 18 in a gutsy, exhausting defeat. Shanxi will now play Beijing in the semi-finals thanks to the accuracy of Williams (35 points) and Duan Jiangpeng (22) and the brute force of Gaines (28 points, 22 rebounds).

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Xinjiang – 103 @ DongGuan – 111

Down 31-7 at one point in the first quarter, DongGuan somehow found a way to comeback and snatch a shocking win to send their series with Xinjiang back to Urumqi for a do-or-die Game 5 on Friday night.

Xinjiang’s Tim Pickett was out with an injury, but the team seemed poised to overcome the loss of their high scoring import by storming out to a 24-point lead in the first quarter. In need of a change, DongGuan head coach, Brian Goorjian, inserted Josh Akognon into the lineup, who quickly went on a one-man tear to cut the lead to 13 by the end of the quarter. DongGuan cut the lead to 10 by half before finishing the third once again down 13.

But in the fourth, Shavlik Randolph took over. Hitting a couple of huge threes to go along with several buckets around the hoop, the former Duke star help spur a run that saw the home squad take the lead midway through the quarter. With the floodgates completely open, the points kept on rolling and by the end of the game, DongGuan had outscored their opponents 40-19 in the final frame to take an eight point win.

Randolph finished with 26 points on 10-17 from the field, Akognon had 38 and Gu Quan had 15. For Xinjiang, Ike Diogu had 29 and seven, while Xirelijiang continued his strong offensive play with 29 points on 6-10 from three.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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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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It’s here! The official 2012 NiuBBall CBA Playoff Extravaganza!

February 22, 2012

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(Graphic via China Daily)

We have a saying over at NiuBBall: There is no parity in the Chinese Basketball Association.

Understand: Since the CBA went to a best-of-five format for the first round and semis in 2005, never has there been a do-or-die Game 5. Since the CBA went to a best-of-seven format for the finals a year later, only two teams – Bayi and Guangdong, both seeded 2nd, in 2007 and 2011 – have upset the regular season’s best team. Only one series has gone past Game 5 – last year, when Guangdong beat Xinjiang in six. In that same span, only three lower seeds have upset the higher seed.

The CBA is entertaining for many reasons, but the playoffs is definitely not one of them.

Its predictability has affected even the postseason schedule makers: best-of-five first round series take the 1-2-1-1 format in which the lower-seeded team hosts Game 1, based off the reasoning that attendance will be higher if a fan base’s optimism hasn’t been completely dashed by their team being in a 0-2 hole.

This year, though, we’re guaranteed at least this bit of variety: for the first time in three years, there will be at least one new team in the finals. That’s because Xinjiang and Guangdong are on the same side of the bracket, which means if everything goes to plan, they’ll play each other in the semis.

Expect it – and every other series – to go according to plan.

That doesn’t mean that we’re not rolling out the red carpet on this, though. Because in addition to reading a breakdown of every single first-round series here at NiuBBall, you can also check out Andrew Crawford’s roundtable approach to previewing things over at Shark Fin Hoops. Two English-language CBA Plaoff previews? Now that Niu Bi.

And while you’re at it, check out main man, Anthony Tao, and his new site Beijing Cream, which will cover everything and more about China’s capital city. Tao and NiuBBall are xiongdi – in 2010, he wrote great stuff about Stephon Marbury’s first season in China when he was with the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons, a piece that not only stood (and still stands) as one of the best ever written about Chinese hoops, but also one that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. We’re honored to have this preview appear on his site, and we’re looking forward to pitching in more CBA coverage throughout the playoffs and beyond.

And now, without further ado…

(Note: all start times subject to change.)

#1 Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers (25-7) vs. #8 Fujian SBS Sturgeons (17-15)

Regular Season Series:
(12/21) Guangdong – 85 @ Fujian – 90
(2/8) Fujian – 116 @ Guangdong – 126

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Fujian
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Fujian (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Guangdong (if necessary)

The question isn’t whether the Southern Tigers will win their fourth straight championship and eight of the last nine – feel free to pause to let that sink in – but how many games they’ll need to do it and who they’ll beat. So there’s absolutely no chance of a first-round upset…

Yet – a big yet, but yet – if there was a team with a fighting chance of achieving the most monumental upset in Chinese basketball history, Fujian would be the pick. Able to trot out three foreigners to Guangdong’s two because of its abysmal record last season (a quirk in the CBA rules), Fujian can compensate for its inferior Chinese roster better than any other team in the playoffs. And those foreigners are good. In his first season in China, Will McDonald has become the hands-down best center in the league, blending the inside-outside game he developed in Spain with solid work on the boards. The tireless Zaid Abbas, the team’s Asian import, led the league in rebounding (14.7 per game) and minutes (42.7). Anthony Roberson rounds out the foreign lineup doing what he’s always done: shooting the air out of the ball, which is good if he’s hot (bad if he’s not).

But the best thing about Fujian’s imports? They actually match up pretty well with their opponents. Guangdong’s center combo of Su Wei and Wang Zheng have no offensive skills to speak of and don’t move well on either end of the floor, which means they’ll likely struggle to guard McDonald, who can stretch the floor. The more athletic yet smaller Dong Hanlin might have to shoulder that burden. The ever-active Abbas will make James Singleton work very hard to get his. And Roberson, who can and sometimes does go completely off, will probably have to garner at least some defensive attention from Aaron Brooks, who will resume his NBA career as soon as the season ends.

As CBA watchers know though, talking about foreigner matchups is usually a moot point when it comes to Guangdong, a team that relies on its Chinese guys to get it done: Wang Shipeng, Zhu Fangyu, Zhou Peng, Chen Jianghua, Dong Hanlin and, yes, even the aforementioned duo of Su Wei and Wang Zheng make up seven of the top eight Chinese players in the series. So long as Brooks doesn’t get caught up trying to match Roberson’s shot total and does what he does best in this league — work out of the pick and roll and get into the lane at will — Guangdong will be more than fine.

*Roberson, who has been battling an injury the last few games, missed practice today and his status is in doubt for tonight’s game.

Prediction: Guangdong in 4

#2 Beijing Shougang Ducks (21-11) vs. #7 Zhejiang Guangsha Lions (18-14)

Regular Season Series:
(12/28) Guangsha – 118 @ Beijing – 112
(2/15) Beijing – 94 @ Guangsha – 114

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ Guangsha
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Guangsha (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Beijing (if necessary)

While Wilson Chandler is back in the U.S. getting a haircut for the first time since August and negotiating a $40 million-plus contract, the team he used to play for, the Guangsha Lions, is trying to figure out how in Mao’s name to replace the singularly most destructive foreigner in the CBA (when he wanted to be) not named Stephanie Smith.

They can contemplate all they want, but the reality is that they won’t find that replacement. Well, technically they have found a replacement, Hangzhou old-hand Rodney White. But let’s be clear: 2007 Rodney White ain’t walking through that door. And even if he was, it probably still wouldn’t be enough. So even though they swept the season series vs. Beijing, they’re about to get paid back in full. It’s a sad thought when you consider that the Lions were in third place in mid-December and looking like somewhat serious title contenders.

If you ignore, for a moment, the Chandler-exodus storyline, Guangsha’s season was interesting in its own rights – and also interesting because it mirrored Beijing’s. The Ducks sprinted out to a 13-0 start, then lost 11 out of the next 19. Yet because of the instability in the teams under them, Beijing was able to hang on to second place.

A lot of that incredible start was due to Stephon Marbury, who has played his butt off every night in a city he now considershome on a team with players far more talented than his teammates in Shanxi and Foshan. He was always meant for the big city, and in a place where he’s comfortable, his rededication to basketball is evident.

Two of his teammates, Zhu Yanxi and Zhai Xiaochuan, are in their first years in the CBA, and both have thrived playing with Marbury. Zhu, a rookie sensation who was picked up from China’s second-tier National Basketball League, is the most Euro China big man you’ll see in this country. That may be an insult in the NBA, but in China it’s a huge compliment. Big under the boards and accurate from deep, Zhu amounts to the Chinese poor man’s version of Ersan Ilyasova. Zhai has no far-fetched NBA comparison, but he is a young, long and bouncy effort guy who does nothing particularly bad.

The Ducks’ longer-term success, i.e. a trip to the finals, will be predicated on whether Chen Lei and Lee Hsueh-lin are healthy. The good news is that they’re both back in the lineup after missing extended time with injuries; the bad news is that they haven’t really gotten an in-game run in a while, especially Lee, who, before coming back in Round 33 against Shanghai – the penultimate round of regular season games – had not played since December 9.

It boils down to this, though: Guangsha is bummed about Chandler, and Beijing is amped on making a finals run. Quack, quack.

Prediction: Beijing in 4

#3 Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons (20-12) vs. #6 Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (18-14)

Regular Season Series:

(12/16) Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 92
(2/3) Shanghai – 108 @ Shanxi – 119

Playoff Series Schedule:

Game 1: Tonight 8 pm, @ Shanghai
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ Shanghai (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Shanxi (if necessary)

As Jim Yardley just expertly shared with the rest of the world in his book, Brave Dragons, what the rest of the CBA has known for quite some time: the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons are a flipping mess of a team.

Run by an owner who can switch from head coach to assistant coach to video coordinator to sports psychologist on a whim – or just hold all those titles at once – the Brave Dragons have gone through coaches, general managers, translators and players of all nationalities at an alarming rate over the years as “Boss Wang” continues his search for people who will give him the instant results he craves. Not surprisingly, as success in basketball usually comes from a gradual building process that nurtures familiarity and chemistry, Shanxi had never made the playoffs since their inception in 2006.

Which is why this year is so special: The Brave Dragons are finally in. How’d they do it? Boss Wang reportedly stopped meddling (as much – he definitely still meddles), and he stopped trying to bring in big-name NBA players who may come with NBA talent but also bring their NBA requirements, which the coal city of Taiyuan is largely incapable of fulfilling.

Wang took the safe bet this summer by bringing in Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines, two players who have played inChina before and have had no problem adjusting to the culture while accumulating monster stats. The two have developed into the best and most dependable foreign duo in the league. Gaines, who’s been putting up huge numbers ever since he played for Xinjiang two years ago, enjoyed another fantastic season, averaging 29.2 points and 13.1 rebounds on 64.1% shooting. Williams, who turned around Zhejiang Chouzhou’s season last year after coming in midseason after the Mike James experiment blew up, hasn’t missed a beat in his second season, averaging 32 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals.

The problem for Shanxi, though: Nobody else can consistently score and nobody defends. Yeah, Lu Xiaoming can get out in transition and probe around for dump-offs and kick-outs, and Duan Jiangpeng has had some big nights on the offensive end, but this team starts and ends with their foreigners.

Shanxi’s obvious reliance on their foreign studs is in stark contrast to Shanghai. Allowing just 89.6 points per game, Shanghai boasts the stingiest defense in the league. First-year head-coach Dan Pannagio, following in the defensive footsteps of China national team coach Bob Donewald Jr. from two years prior, has stressed solid team D while also installing the equal-opportunity triangle offense. The jury’s still out on the effectiveness of the triangle — the Sharks score a league-low 91.1 points a game – partly because they’ve dealt with injuries. Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who played the triangle under Panaggio in the D-League, was enjoying a great season, possibly even a NiuBBall MVP-type season, in his familiar offensive surroundings before rupturing his Achilles in late December.

His replacement, Marcus Landry, and especially Mike Harris, who stepped up with some big games down the stretch, have both helped the team move forward. But several Chinese players do their part here. The Sharks go nine, occasionally 10 deep, led most notably by their two national team players, veteran point guard Liu Wei and the young, ever-improving 7-3 center “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu. Liu Ziqiu is one of the better Chinese perimeter defenders in the league and Meng Lingyuan provides a lefty herky-jerky change of pace off the bench.

Throw in the fact that Shanghai’s very-much-on-the-same-page American coaching staff will have the freedom to make whatever adjustments they deem necessary, while Shanxi’s half-American, half-Chinese staff may or may not depending on how Boss Wang is feeling, and you’ve got the makings of a very intriguing and competitive first-round series. But with two NiuBBall All-CBA first-teamers in Gaines and Williams and an important home-court advantage that will challenge the road-weary Sharks (4-12 on the road this year), we’re giving the nod to the Brave Dragons.

Prediction: Shanxi in 5

#4 Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers (19-13) vs. #5 DongGuan New Century Leopards (19-13)

Regular Season Series:
(12/25) Xinjiang – 90 @ DongGuan – 97
(2/12) DongGuan – 89 @ Xinjiang – 97

Playoff Series Schedule:
Game 1: Tonight 7:30 pm, @ DongGuan
Game 2: Friday (2/24), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 3: Sunday (2/26), 8 pm, @ Xinjiang
Game 4: Wednesday (2/29), 7:30 pm, @ DongGuan (if necessary)
Game 5: Friday (3/2), 7:30 pm, @ Xinjiang (if necessary)

No team has gone through more turmoil, more changes and more disappointment this season than the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. Once drooling over the prospect of having Kenyon Martin, Quincy Douby, Tang Zhengdong and Mengke Bateer all being coached up by the American head coach of the Chinese National Team, Bob Donewald Jr., the team is now devoid of all three of those Americans (Douby broke his wrist in pre-season, Donewald was fired 11 games into the season and Martin left shortly after with 12 games under his belt).

They’re also short the player they replaced Douby with, Australian national team point guard, Patty Mills, who was released controversially mid-season after tearing his hamstring against Guangdong on December 23rd. And now, they’re going to be short the player who they replaced Martin with, Gani Lawal, who is reportedly being replaced by Ike Diogu.

Not coming as a shock, the team is likewise devoid of any real shot at the championship that’s they’ve come up just short of achieving the past three seasons.

They will however, storm through DongGuan. Because even though this has been the most drama any team has ever had to endure in one season, Xinjiang is still a very good team, a much better one than their opponents. Though they haven’t been the force that some people thought they’d be, Bateer and Tang still get it done on the inside and DongGuan’s light frontline will be pushed around without too much effort. On the wings, Xu Guochong is as lights out as ever from three and Xirelijiang is as good a two-way guard this league has. And that’s just domestic players. Tim Pickett has done very well coming into the team on short notice and before being released, Lawal was serviceable as a rugged blue-collar rebounder.

The team’s make-up will change wit Diogu, but even if he starts a big sluggish, Xinjiang will still win this series. Though DongGuan head coach Brian Goorjian for the second year in a row has done a masterful job at the helm, leading his team to a No. 5 seed after starting the year 0-4, they don’t hold any discernable advantage in any key category. Xinjiang is bigger and better than DongGuan’s big man rotation of Shavlik Randolph, Zhang Kai and Sun Tonglin, and should dominate the offensive glass. On the perimeter, nobody American or Chinese can handle Pickett.

The one mystery, maybe the only one of this series, is how Diogu, who’s been sitting at home all winter while professional basketball has been going on all around the world, will play in the face of loads of playoff pressure. This being his first time in China, it’s quite a lot to ask of a player to come into a new country, play in a new league, and suit up for a team who is expecting you to carry them to playoff glory. Lucky for him, he’ll probably be able to gradually find his rhythm this series without it affecting the final result.

Prediction: Xinjiang in 3

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CBA Round 34 Recap

February 16, 2012

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Beijing – 94 @ Guangsha – 114

For a full recap, check out Edward Bothfeld’s report from Hangzhou.

Box Score

Qingdao – 101 @ Foshan – 107

Guangsha’s win put Qingdao’s late season playoff surge permanently to rest, but Qingdao ultimately buried themselves by losing their must-win game at Foshan. Marcus Douthit lead all Dralion scorers with 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Michael Maadanly had 25 points, 11 boards and three assists. Lester Hudson shot a miraculous 35 shots, 20 of which were threes, en route to 34 points. Hudson finishes the season as the CBA’s second leading scorer at 33.5 points per game.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

DongGuan – 114 @ Shanxi – 124

In the battle for third place, Shanxi were the ones who came away with the big win. Charles Gaines dominated with a 41 points, 10 rebound game; a performance only slightly more dominant than Marcus Williams’ 37 points and 10 rebounds. The win gives the Brave Dragons their first ever playoff matchup against Shanghai, while DongGuan will be matched up against Xinjiang.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Fujian – 79 Xinjiang – 104 

Tim Pickett played all 48 minutes and scored 42 points as the Flying Tigers made it a blowout by outscoring their opponent 32-15 in the fourth quarter. With the win, Xinjiang finishes the season in fourth place. Fujian drops to eighth.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanghai – 89 @ Tianjin – 85 

If there was ever a game that summed up the madness and drama of Chinese basketball, tonight was it. Shanghai got the victory- thanks to the uber-clutch Marcus Landry- but it was painfully close. However, what’s important now is that the boys from the Yuanshen are coming home with an 18-14 record before they return to north China to play the Shanxi Dragons in the first round of the playoffs.

As the game drifted into the final moments, the Sharks, having been down by around five points for most of the final quarter, suddenly burst into life and a splurge of well-taken opportunities brought Shanghai within a trey of the lead and Landry, lurking unmarked on the far left of the perimeter, had one more big shot left in the locker. Taking a couple of seconds to compose himself, the former New York Knick then dispatched his effort from downtown to give the Sharks an 86-85 lead with barely thirty seconds left.

When Zhang Nan failed his own moment of truth, the Lions had to give away cheap visits to the free-throw line to get the ball back. Harris converted both of his shots while Meng Lingyuan polished off his second effort and the Sharks were 89-85 winners at the death. Zhang Nan and Herve Lamizana both helped themselves to 22 points whilst Landry got 21 for Shanghai. Zhang Zhaoxu (19), Liu Wei (13), Mike Harris (12) and Liu Ziqiu (11), also made double-digit hauls.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Bayi – 91 @ Guangdong – 92

Guangdong added on to Bayi’s historically miserable season by doling out their franchise worst 22 loss of the season. Aaron Brooks played only six minutes, andJames Singleton played well below his normal burn with 24 minutes. Singleton managed 26 points and 12 boards, anyways.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Liaoning – 103 @ Zhejiang – 90

J.R. Smith’s last game in China ended with 25 points, 11 boards and another L as Liaoning was able to come up with a rare win away from home.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jilin – 127 @ Jiangsu – 142

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

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CBA Round 31 Recap

February 10, 2012

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Xinjiang – 104 @ Liaoning – 99

Xinjiang won consecutive road games for the first time all seasons after a crucial victory at Liaoning. The feat is impressive for two reasons — first, it pushes the Flying Tigers into fifth place; second, it put only the third dent in Liaoning’s 13-3 home record this season.

Tim Pickett went off for 33 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, including a huge three down the stretch to put the game away for good. Tang Zhengdong arguably had his most productive game of the year with 20 points on 10-13 shooting with eight rebounds, and Xu Guochong added another 20 points.

Josh Powell and Guo Ailun lead Liaoning with 22 points apiece.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Zhejiang – 77 @ Shanghai – 85

A determined, selfless Shanghai Sharks team outlasted JR Smith’s Zhejiang Bulls in a nail-biting 85-77 game that kept a packed Yuanshen crowd on the edge of their seats for the whole forty-eight minutes. Smith was obviously the focal point of the Bulls’ offense but the Sharks managed to marginalize him enough to ensure victory, while Shanghai’s own influential American, Mike Harris, stepped up with a colossal 31 point, 21 rebound double-double to help the Sharks continue to chase a playoff spot.

The Sharks held on after a tough first half before shutting out the visitors in a lights-out fourth quarter that saw Smith double-teamed and hassled at every opportunity by the hosts. The Bulls lacked a plan B and as Harris gathered pace and Meng Lingyuan ran himself into the ground in pursuit of Smith, Shanghai suddenly began to pull away.

Obviously Harris had got his epic double-double whilst Marcus Landry picked up 24 points and Zhang Zhaoxu made 10. Smith scored 29 points but would have been more had it not been for the ferocious defending of Meng, whilst Ding Jinghui got 14. In his brief press conference, Coach Panaggio praised his side for their ‘hard fought, gritty win…[against] an opponent that came out well prepared and focused’, but equally singled out Meng for some choice words; ‘his defense was outstanding and critical to our win tonight’.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Fujian – 116 @ Guangdong – 126

Boasting the superior depth that has some people calling this Guangdong team the best one ever, the Southern Tigers took out the visiting Sturgeons with six different players hitting for double figures. James Singleton had 25 points, 14 rebounds and five steals and Aaron Brooks scored 25 as Guangdong never really sweated after breaking out to a 19 point halftime lead.

The Southern Tigers’ 12 game win streak will be put to the test when they play in Urumqi tomorrow night on national television against the team they’ve met in the Finals the last three years, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Bayi – 89 @ Guangsha – 90

For a full write-up, see Edward Bothfeld’s report from Hangzhou.

Box Score

Jilin – 128 @ Shanxi – 123

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Beijing – 112 @ Shandong – 118

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Jiangsu – 108 @ Foshan – 110

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Tianjin – 102 @ Qingdao – 115

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CBA Round 30 Recap

February 8, 2012

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DongGuan – 97 @ Guangdong – 111

Aaron Brooks put in 24 points, James Singleton went off for 20 points and 19 rebounds, and Zhu Fangyu scored 23 as the Southern Tigers took care of business in the second leg of their annual DongGuan derby match against the Leopards. It’s the Southern Tigers’ 11th straight win.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanghai – 89 @ Bayi – 77

The Shanghai Sharks came roaring back from their two recent losses on the road with a commanding victory over the Bayi Rockets. The once all-conquering powerhouse of Chinese basketball looked a frail version of their former selves and a young, confident Sharks side dismantled their guests with ease. With other results going their way, the Sharks now move up to seventh place in the CBA table as the season continues to go down to the wire.

Marcus Landry was putting on a show towards the end of the game and threw down a couple of thunderous dunks, Meng Lingyuan popped up with a nice lay-up and Liu drilled home a couple of jump shots to keep the tempo going but as a competition the game looked wrapped up by the start of the fourth quarter. There was still time for Xu Zhonghao to confirm that his IQ is lower than his jersey number when he needlessly blindsided the considerably smaller Meng with seven seconds left on the clock. As the guard lay prone on the floor, Mike Harris looked like he wished he could do more than point to the scoreboard and look pissed, but the game was done. Meng eventually got to his feet, the buzzer rang and the Sharks were 89-77 victors.

Landry scored a game-high 22 points whilst Harris (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Zhang Zhaoxu (11 points, 15 rebounds) both picked up double-doubles in a result that Coach Panaggio called ‘a very good game against a very good and well coached team’. For Bayi, Wang Zhizhi scored 20 points.Taking the time to praise his team, Panaggio also praised the defensive work of Liu Ziqiu for keeping Bayi at bay. When asked about Wednesday’s critical match, the Sharks’ coach was brief and direct; ‘We’ve got a very big game against [Zhejiang Bulls]‘; ‘they are in a battle for a playoff spot as are we. There are no room for slip ups’.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Foshan – 111 @ Zhejiang – 107

The Golden Bulls are hanging onto their playoff lives after becoming only the fifth team to lose at Foshan this season. J.R. Smith once again put up a huge scoring output with 41 points, but as has been the pattern recently, huge individual tallies haven’t been adding up in the win column. Michael Maadanly 34 points and five rebounds and Marcus Haislip had 31 and 10 to lead the Dralions to their seventh win of the season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Liaoning – 95 @ Fujian – 120

Will McDonald continued his case for NiuBBall All-CBA First Team with a dominant 36 point, 17 rebound performance against Liaoning. Losers of their last three, Liaoning are now out of the playoffs, while Fujian sits in sole control of fifth. Liaoning’s Han Dejun had 20 points and 14 boards for the losers, who were unable to get past Rodney Carney’s 3-14 performance from three.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangsha – 100 @ Shanxi – 107

Guangsha is now unbelievably out of the playoffs. Like they have all year, Shanxi relied on its foreign duo of Charles Gaines (28 points, 14 rebounds) and Marcus Williams (27 points, four rebounds, six assists) to beat a desperate Guangsha team who is still searching for answers to what is now a 2-9 streak. Wilson Chandler had 22 points and seven boards, but was once again not aggressive getting into the lane as he finished with only one free-throw attempt. P.J. Ramos played well with 32 and 17.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Beijing – 102 @ Qingdao – 114

Qingdao’s Li Gen scored a career high 41 points and Lester Hudson stuffed the stat sheet with 39-7-10 as Qingdao took down the Ducks at home. The result won’t really affect anything — Beijing pretty much has the No. 2 spot locked up, while Qingdao would need to win their last three and get some help in the standings to make the playoffs.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 99 @ Jilin – 97

Xinjiang picked up a crucial win that improved their chances of making the post-season after getting third road win of the season against Jilin. The visitors overcame a tough shooting night by Tim Pickett through balanced scoring, as five different players scored in double-figures. Gani Lawal had 21 points and nine rebounds and Tang Zhengdong had 17 and seven, including a crucial tip in down the stretch to secure the win.

Cartier Martin went off for 30 second half points after only hitting for four in the first half.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 99 @ Shandong – 102

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CBA Round 29 Recap

February 5, 2012

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Guangsha – 69 @  Xinjiang – 99

Once towards the top of the standings, is Guangsha even going to make the playoffs? That’s the question after the Lions were blown out in Urumqi on Friday. After rebounding with a strong game in Round 28, Wilson Chandler reverted back to passively shooting jump shots, finishing 4-16 for 10 points.

The game was never close. Xinjiang’s Tim Pickett got off to a hot start and continued to stay aggressive on offense, scoring 35 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Gani Lawal contributed with 15 points and eight boards and Mengke Bateer put in 15. The win is Xinjiang’s fourth straight and puts them in seventh place, while Guangsha drops to sixth.

Guangsha feeds of Chandler, who when he wants to be is the toughest individual matchup in the league. However, a long-term NBA deal likely on the table whenever he returns to the NBA, Chandler’s priority appears to lie within maintaining his health in preparation for his big payday.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanghai – 108 @ Shanxi – 119

The Shanghai Sharks came, they saw, they got lit up. Shanxi’s high scoring duo of Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines did exactly what their guests were hoping they wouldn’t and blew Shanghai away with some red-hot shooting. After a plucky first half from the Sharks, the Shanxi Brave Dragons’ demolition men coolly stepped up a gear and promptly ripped the Sharks asunder with a devastating final twenty minutes of huge threes, marauding drives to the basket and some deft low post action. It was not pleasant viewing for a Shanghai fan.

Although the Sharks limped their way over the hundred-point mark themselves, the margin of defeat was telling and the visitors now make their way back to Shanghai after eventually losing 119-108 to a rampant Shanxi team that is almost certainly bound for the playoffs. Williams finished on 44 points, Gaines got 37 of his own whilst Ren Junhui’s 11 points meant he also got in on the double-digit party for Shanxi.

Meanwhile Mike Harris picked up a double-double of 37 points and 12 rebounds for Shanghai, Marcus Landry got 23 points and Liu Ziqiu continued his quiet resurgence with a gutsy 14 points but the Sharks now have to win four from their final five games to have any chance of making it to the postseason. Tough times just become a lot tougher.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Liaoning – 94 @ DongGuan – 107

DongGuan got 35 points and 16 boards from Shavlik Randolph and Josh Akognon had 27 as they beat visiting Liaoning by 13 at home. Thanks to Randolph’s activity in the frontcourt, DongGuan went +7 on the offensive glass and forced the visiting squad into 10-27 from the three-point line. The Jaguars, who have won just two road games the whole year, got nothing out of Josh Powell, who played only 16 minutes, picking up four points and three rebounds. At 14-13, they have put themselves out of the playoff picture and could slip further if they lose tonight at Fujian.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shandong – 115 @ Zhejiang – 121 (OT)

Alan Anderson shot an amazing 42 shots to tally 54 points, but his individual shootaround wasn’t enough for Shandong to come up with the win. J.R. Smith shot 29 shots to get 41, but Zhejiang’s balanced support in Josh Boone (19 points), Ding Jinhui (15) and Chang Chunjun (13).

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jilin – 96 @ Fujian – 109 

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Tianjin – 112 @ Beijing – 122

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Qingdao – 97 @ Jiangsu – 92

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Bayi – 116 @ Foshan – 106

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CBA Round 28 Reacp

February 3, 2012

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Qingdao – 110 @ Zhejiang – 122

 

J.R. Smith scored 60 points and broke a CBA single-game record with 14 threes. I’ll let the video to the rest of the talking.

Jon Pastuszek

Fujian – 132 @ Guangsha – 125 (2 OT)

Wilson Chandler’s 36-21 wasn’t enough to keep visiting Fujian from getting a much needed split on their Shanghai-Guangsha road trip to keep their playoff hopes very much alive. Zaid Abbas, Will McDonald, Anthony Roberson and Gong Songlin combined for an insane 121 points as only Zhou Qixin and Yang Genglin were the only other two players to score.

11-loss Guangsha now faces a critical road test at Xinjiang on Friday. A win will put them squarely in mess that is the CBA playoff race, a win will give them some breathing space.

Jon Pastuszek

Shanghai – 84 @ Xinjiang – 89

A Shanghai Sharks team got close but couldn’t win against a Xinjiang Flying Tigers side that showed flashes of real talent and menace but also looked brittle at times. Having stayed with the Flying Tigers throughout the game, a crucial ninety seconds decided everything. Firstly, Shanghai’s Mike Harris fouled out and Mengke Bateer converted his second free-throw from the foul to make the scores 82-82. A clutch three from Xirelijiang and then a lay-up form Shanghai’s Zhang Zhaoxu made it 85-84. With 17 seconds on the clock, the Sharks then managed to turn the ball over not once but twice and the Tigers confirmed victory in farcical fashion and that frankly was a little harsh on a visiting side that played with 100% effort.

Lawal scored 19 points and picked up 15 rebounds whilst Picket also got a 15 point, 12 rebound double-double. For Shanghai, Landry got a game high 20 points, Harris made 15 and Zhang got 10.

A tough loss for the Sharks mean that they fall out of the post-season places with another tricky away game (Shanxi Dragons) waiting for them on Friday. (What’s worse is that they’ve lost the tiebreaker to Xinjiang — their head-to-head record is even, but their head-to-head point differential, Xinjiang +1, gives them the edge in the event that they finish with the same record. You can thank that last steal by Pickett on Liu Ziqiu for that one. — Jon) Shanghai will need to regroup and play with the same zest against the Dragons that they showed in Urumqi if they are to have a shot at keeping their playoff dreams alive.

Andrew Crawford

Liaoning – 108 @ Guangdong – 122

34 points from Aaron Brooks and 28 from James Singleton gave the Southern Tigers a rare game of total import dominance, as the only Chinese players to check in with double figures were Zhou Peng and Zhu Fangyu. It’s Guangdong’s 10th straight win.

Jon Pastuszek

Jilin – 98 @ DongGuan – 120

Jilin makes it 0-2 on what will soon be an 0-3 Guangdong-DongGuan-Fujain road trip as they start to plan their spring off-season. And hey, maybe Jilin knows that more than we do — Cartier Martin only played 14 minutes and Osama Dahglas played 10. Wait, did I say off-season? I mean months and months of burning out their bodies with mindless practices. For the Chinese players.

DongGuan’s Josh Akognon continues his hot post-Spring Festival break with 31 points. If he stays hot, DongGuan will be a tougher team to beat come playoff time.

Jon Pastuszek

Shandong – 87 @ Bayi – 107

Foshan – 115 @ Shanxi – 129

Jiangsu – 99 @ Tianjin – 105

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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

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Breaking down the CBA playoff picture

January 28, 2012

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Zhejiang Chouzhou’s success will depend on whether or not J.R. Smith is still committed to playing at high level in the Chinese Basketball Association (Photo: Osports, via Sina Sports)

Let’s reflect for a moment on what we’re doing here right now. You’re about to read a post about the very complicated, very indistict Chinese Basketball Association playoff picture. That in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. Why? Never, and I mean never has the CBA enjoyed this much parity down the standings, and never have we seen a finish that we’re about to see starting tomorrow: Seven playoff spots up fo grabs with 11 teams in legitimate contention to fill them up.

Starting with Beijing, who at 17-8 currently sits in the No. 2 position, and going all the way down to Jilin, who’s at 11-13 occupying the No. 11 spot, more than half the league will be gunning for the post-season with eight rounds to go. Like I said, that’s just nuts for a league whose final standings can be predicted with stunning accuracy up to six months before the start of the season.

Making things even crazier, everyone pretty much has the same record right now. Only three games in the loss column separate DongGuan (16-9, third place) and Xinjiang (12-12, 10th place), which means that tiebreakers like head-to-head records and head-to-head point differentials will most definitely come into play by the time we hit Round 34. Added to all of the positional jockeying that will be going down in an attempt to avoid Guangdong in the semi-finals, and we should have a highly refreshing, exciting and unpredictable race to the finish.

To help you sort though the madness, NiuBBall is breaking down the post-Spring Festival break schedule while also providing predictions that will likely end up being very wrong.

1. Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers (21-4)
Remaining Games: Jilin, Liaoning, at DongGuan, Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi, Bayi

After losing to J.R. Smith and Zhejiang on December 30th, the Southern Tigers have reeled off eight straight wins to put some major distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. They’ve already clinched a playoff birth, and barring something as catastrophic as the 2012 Mayan Armageddon, they’ll have the No. 1 seed wrapped up with plenty of games to spare. No prediction needed here.

2. Beijing Shougang Ducks (17-8)
Remaining Games: Jiangsu, Tianjin, at Qingdao, at Shandong, Foshan, Shanghai, at Guangsha

The Ducks ran off 13 straight wins to start the year before proceeding to lose eight of their next 12. Yet despite the midseason slip-up, the Ducks are in excellent shape to hold onto their No. 2 spot. Their next five games, three of which are at home, are all against non-playoff teams. Even better, three of those five teams, Jiangsu, Tianjin and Foshan, have the three of the worst records in the CBA.

The Ducks wil also be boosted by the return of Taiwanese point guard, Lee Huseh-lin, who is practicing for the first time since hurting his lower back on December 9th. Lee is a key player for head coach Min Lulei — Playing off the bench this year with Stephon Marbury dominating the point, Lee is the only other guard who is able to take some of the ball handling duties away from their star import. There’s still no timetable on Lee’s return, but it appears as he’s well on his way back onto the court.

Prediction: 23-9, No. 2 seed

3. DongGuan New Century Leopards (16-9)
Games Remaining
: at Guangsha, Jilin, Liaoning, Guangdong, Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi

DongGuan goes back to work after their Year of the Dragon vacation with a visit to the notoriously unfriendly confines of Guangsha Hangzhou Stadium, where the visiting team has walked away with a win only three times this year. It’s a huge game because the winner will put themselves in pole position for the much coveted No. 3 spot, which guarantees that a playoffs matchup with Guangdong will come in the Finals.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Leopards afterwards — five of their last seven are against teams with winning records, and the other two, Jilin and Xinjiang, are teams on the cusp of a playoff spot. If DongGuan can lock up a top two position, nobody can say they didn’t earn it. After starting the year 0-4, third place is impressive. But when you consider that they’ve only beaten five teams with winning records this year, a drop in the standings looks to be the most probable outcome.

Prediction: 20-12, No. 4 seed

4. Zhejiang Guangsha Lions (14-10)
Games Remaining
: DongGuan, Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi, Bayi, Zhejiang, at Jiangsu, Beijing

Considered a potential contender to Guangdong’s throne just three weeks ago, the Lions have dropped six of their last seven, including loses to Foshan, Qingdao and Jilin. Much of that is on the shoulders of Wilson Chandler, who has scored 15.8 points per game over his last four. When Chandler is motivated, there’s not a more versatile player in this league. But the challenge for Guangsha all season has been maintaining a balance between him and the rest of the Chinese squad. Lin Chih-chieh, who put in 15.5 points a game last year, has seen his scoring drop to 11. Jin Lipeng is the only other domestic player to average double figures.

When Guangsha was winning, Chandler was content to let P.J. Ramos and his other teammates share the heavy lifting on offense for the first three quarters before taking over in the fourth. It was a good recipe when Chandler was up to the task. But when he’s coasting and content to throw up jump shots (33 three point attempts over his last five, 14 free-throw attempts over his last four), Guangsha is a highly beatable team.

Unlike most other imports, Chandler, like his inter-province NBA-to-CBAer, J.R. Smith, is heading back to a big payday in the NBA after the season is over. Long-term, this season will not affect anything he does in the NBA as long as he stays healthy. Whether it’s this season or next, Chandler will receive a lucrative multi-year offer from a wing-needy NBA team. That point is something to keep in mind as we close the season — if he’s already decided to play to not get hurt, then Guangsha’s chances at the No. 2 position have taken a big hit. The next few games should be a telling sign as to how dedicated Chandler is to finishing out the CBA season strong.

Guangsha hosts DongGuan tomorrow in the game of Round 26. DongGuan won the first match-up earlier in the year in DongGuan. Guangsha will have to win and win by more than the seven points they were beaten by if they’re to hold the tiebreaker against their opponents — something that will come in handy in sidestepping Guangdong in the semis if the two squads finish with the same record at the end of the year. Behind a rejuvenated Chandler playing at home, Guangsha gets a double-digit win and a leg up on the third seed.

Prediction: 20-12, No. 3 seed

5. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons (14-10)
Games Remaining
: at Shandong, Foshan, Shanghai, Guangsha, at Jilin, at Liaoning, Guangdong, DongGuan

The good news for Shanxi: They’re four games over .500 and are in good position to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The bad news: It’s the Year of the Dragon, which means its the Brave Dragons ben ming nian, their Zodiac year, a year that is associated with very bad luck.

Wearing red underwear (or red Under Armour, if you’re a ball player) is one way, according to Chinese tradition, to help off-set the inauspiciousness of your Zodiac year. But for the Brave Dragons, taking care of business right away tomorrow night at Shandong would be the best way. Because after a game against Foshan at home, the schedule toughens up big time. Shanxi’s five of their last six are against teams they lost to earlier in the year. A trip to Liaoning before a home match-up against Guangdong is their most dangerous stretch, because it sets up an all important final game of the year against DongGuan. A three-game losing streak to cap off the year would not be a good way to go about securing that playoff spot.

One guy Shanxi will be counting on to avoid that fate: Marcus Williams. As a trusted CBA confidant dutifully reminded me this week, Williams needs to be included in any NiuBBall MVP talk from now on. Truth is though, he’s been on the short list for a while. 30.5 points, 4.5 rebounds 3.8 assists and 2.3 steals on a 14-10 squad is more than enough to earn that right, even despite the fact that he is most definitely not shooting 69.4% from three. Or 82.4% for that matter. They’ll need him, along with Charles Gaines, to come up with some big performances if the squad is to ward off the dreaded Chinese ben ming nian, and the clump of teams behind them.

Prediction: 18-14, No. 5 seed

6. Liaoning Hengye Jaguars (14-11)
Games Remaining
: at Guangdong, at DongGuan, at Fujian, Xinjiang, Shanxi, at Bayi, at Zhejiang

Liaoning is a team that should be way better than they are. Perhaps other than Guangdong, the Jaguars have the most talented group of Chinese players in the league. Li Xiaoxu, Guo Ailun, Zhang Qingpeng and Yang Ming have all played for the Chinese National Team, while center Han Dejun received an invite to camp last spring. Sensing that there was more to be had from this team, management went ahead and fired favorite son, Guo Shiqiang, from his position as head coach shortly before Christmas. Under the leadership of Li Ge, who was promoted from assistant, Liaoning has gone 7-4 to climb their way into sixth place.

The entire team has been playing better, but it’s been Han whose seen the most improvement. He’s put up 14.5 points and 8.6 boards on 61% shooting under Li, including a 30-20 game that saw him shoot 12-12 from the field and 6-8 from the free-throw line. With Josh Powell struggling so much that the team was seriously considering making a switch, Han’s emergence has been a key development in Northeast China.

Unfortunately however, the way their late season schedule has developed is not a good sign for their playoff hopes. With only two road wins all year, Liaoning is faced with the worrisome predicament of playing five of their last seven away from home. Right away, they’ll head on the road for the annual Southeast China triangle-of-death trip that will see them play Guangdong, DongGuan and Fujian before coming home for two tough ones against Xinjiang and Shanxi. Bayi at home looks to be the only slam dunk of their remaining schedule, which means that in order for them to keep their grasp on a playoff spot, they’ll have to take care of some business on the road. And that’s unlikely to happen.

Prediction: 16-16, out of the playoffs

7. Fujian SBS Sturgeons (14-11)
Games Remaining
: at Shanghai, at Guangsha, Jilin, Liaoning, at Guangdong, at DongGuan, at Xinjiang

Five on seven on the road screams “out of the playoffs,” but let’s break this down for a second: Jilin and Liaoning have won a combined three road games all year; there’s a good chance they win against both teams. A huge game hangs in the balance tomorrow night at Shanghai, a team who like themselves cannot afford any slip-ups at home this late in the season. Something tells us that in his Shanghai return, Zaid Abbas, has something for his old squad. Another road win, in combination with two wins at home, would put Fujian at 18-14, and as Abbas’ third playoff team in as many years, joining Shanghai and Beijing.

Prediction: 18-14, No. 6 seed

8. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls (13-11)
Games Remaining
: at Tianjin, Qingdao, Shandong, at Foshan, at Shanghai, at Guangsha, Jilin, Liaoning

Even if J.R. Smith has lost his love for the game, it still doesn’t hide the fact that Zhejiang’s remaining schedule is cupcake soft. Even if the Golden Bulls survive a random explosion by Qingdao’s Lester Hudson, not a given by the way, they’ve got three other games against some of the league’s worst teams, Tianjin, Foshan and Shandong. The Golden Bulls will get their haul of wins over the next eight games.

How many they get beyond the games that they should win (at Shanghai, at Guangsha) will depend solely on that guy J.R. The entire league has been mesmerized by his entertainment on the court as well as off the court. So have his teammates, who have reverted to their early season ways of standing around on offense to watch the show. In his last two games, losses to Xinjiang and Beijing, J.R. has racked up a mere one assist. When J.R. is passing, this is a tough team to beat because it’s hard to keep him out of the paint. But like with Wilson, J.R. may have already put his mind and his full basketball repertoire back in the U.S. to prepare for his NBA return in March. That story line, at least to me, remains as the most interesting backdrop to this mad rush to the post-season.

Prediction: 18-14, No. 8 seed

9. Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (13-11)
Games Remaining: Fujian, at Xinjiang, at Shanxi, Bayi, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, at Beijing, at Tianjin 

No team other than Xinjiang was devastated as much by injury this year than Shanghai. He never put up insane scoring numbers, but the all-around consistency and offensive awareness of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, to us, was the main reason why Shanghai bucked a NiuBBall bottom four pre-season prognostication. With his familiarity of Dan Pannagio’s triangle offense, Forehan-Kelly fit seamlessly into the Sharks new offense. Marcus Landry, a capable player, has done solid in replacement, but isn’t an ideal fit for the triangle because of his inconsistent stroke from the outside.

The loss of RFK, plus more road games than they have home and I don’t see this team going anywhere over 4-4 over their last eight, which puts them out of the playoff picture.

Prediction: 17-15, out of the playoffs

10. Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers (12-12)
Remaining Games
: Foshan, Shanghai, Guangsha, at Liaoning, at Jilin, DongGuan, Guangdong, Fujian

I mentioned DongGuan only has five wins against teams with winning records, so therefore I have to bring up the humiliating fact that the Flying Tigers, runners-up the last three years, have beaten a mere three teams with over-.500 records. Oh, and that they’ve only won three road games all year. I guess that’s what US $10 mil buys you in Urumqi.

But no matter how disastrous this season has been, Xinjiang finds itself in good position to get into the playoffs. Their six home games to close the year is the most of out of any team in the league and with a home record of 9-1, they’ve got a chance to start piling up some wins. A loss against Guangdong in Round 31 is likely, so at least a split on their Liaoning-Jilin road trip will be needed if they’re to get into the No. 6 spot — another piece of prime real estate in the standings because it avoids Guangdong until the finals.

If Gani Lawal and Tim Pickett keep putting up the numbers and they can some sort of production from either Mengke Bateer or Tang Zhengdong, Xinjiang will find themselves in the post-season. The fact that I even have to write that, however, underlines what a miserable season it’s been for a team that thought of themselves as championship material.

Prediction:  18-14, No. 7 seed

11. Jilin GBT Northeast Tigers (11-13)
Games Remaining
: at Guangdong, at DongGuan, at Fujian, Xinjiang, Shanxi, at Zhejiang, at Jiangsu

How does an 0-3 start to the New Year sound? Sounds a lot like racking up mahjong tiles, which will be exactly what the Northeast Tigers, the Chinese ones at least, will be doing when they’re sitting at their houses in early March.

Prediction: 12-18, out of the playoffs

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NiuBBall Water Cooler/Heater: Play-Offs, CBA All-Stars And The Magic Of Marbury

January 26, 2012

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The NiuBBall water cooler/heater: Where you can chat with friends about hoops while sipping either hot or cold water.

This chat originally appeared on Shark Fin Hoops.

With regular web-chatter, Ned Bothfeld out of the country, the man behind NiuBBall, Jon Pastuszek, makes his long awaited debut at the water cooler to talk CBA playoffs, potential All-Star snubs and Stephon Marbury. As always, our Chinese water dispensers are equipped with hot and cold water. 

Andrew Crawford: We should probably start by talking about the previous round of games and there were obviously more than a few crackers. The most eye catching one for me was Beijing’s win over Zhejiang- a 45 pt/10 ast/ 12 rbd triple double from Marbury and JR Smith’s 39 pts. What did you make of that game?

Jon Pastuszek: It was one of the most anticipated games of the season — Marbury is beloved by almost every Chinese hoops fan from Beijing to Urumqi, and J.R. has gained a sizeable following himself due to his on-court offensive explosions and off-court drama. Not surprisingly, they’re number one and two respectively in All-Star voting but Marbury showed why he’s clearly the better player in this league. For me, his triple-double solidified himself as the top choice for league MVP this year. He’s been able to balance his role as both a distributor and scorer almost perfectly this year, sharing the ball early in the ball game and taking games over himself when he needs to down the stretch. He’s changed the entire Duck culture this season, taking what was barely a playoff team with a lackluster fan base and turning it into one of the hottest tickets in town this year.

AC: That’s very true. In our first webchat, me and Ned talked about the star power of Marbury and how he has endeared himself to the different Chinese fanbases. On the other hand, it has felt like a circus at times with Smith, do you think how he has settled in China, in spite of his huge numbers, has affected his game; could he be even better with a different set-up?

JP: I’ve always felt that it’s not so much a player’s individual talent that determines success in the CBA, but rather a player’s individual make-up. For many reasons — the coaching, the travel, the food, the officiating, the media, the living conditions, the quality of one’s teammates — a lot of players fail to adapt to the differences between the CBA, the NBA and even Europe. As we’ve learned from the countless numbers of foreign players who have left China prematurely in years past, it’s not easy to play here. Individual and team success is by no means guaranteed, no matter how good the player. Taking on an NBA player who’s played in the league for several years, like J.R., is a challenge for CBA teams. China is not the United States, and Yiwu is certainly not Denver — I think the Bulls management has tried to make J.R. comfortable, allowing his sister to live with him and bringing in an American assistant to ease the on-court transition, but at the end of the day you’re never going to replicate the NBA lifestyle while playing in China.

AC: All very true. I’ve think that’s part of the fascinating thing about international players and the mindset they need to have to succeed in some of the more unorthodox basketball leagues. Ned was saying last time around that PJ Ramos loves it in China and wouldn’t want to go back to the NBA. Equally, Mike Harris in Shanghai, clearly adores being in Shanghai. Still, regardless of the JR drama, I’ll be looking forward to the Bulls’ visit next month so I can see the man in person.

Moving on, Guangdong has handled their business by beating Wilson Chandler, Ramos et al. in Hangzhou. After a shaky start, is there a better team in the CBA right now?

JP: No. Guangdong is the hands-down favorite to win the title this year, and I see no team that is even close to giving them a problem come March.

AC: Their form is so good that I can see them resting Aaron Brooks, Zhu Fangyu, James Singleton, etc with a couple of games to spare. That eighth play-off place is a real poisoned chalice now because you’ll probably be facing a box-fresh Guangdong side after you’ve just spent the last few weeks battling your way to the post season.

JP: I could definitely see that too. In fact, they’ve already been resting their guys during the season, playing sometimes up to 11 guys in a game in order to keep their stars fresh for the post-season. Last year, when they went through a solid chunk of the season without a full import roster, proved that Guangdong doesn’t really need to tear through the regular season and play their best players for long periods of time. For them, it’s all about staying healthy for a Finals run and since nobody has been able match-up with all of their Chinese talent in a five or seven games series over the last eight years, its hard to argue with that strategy.

AC: Indeed. Guangdong’s opponents in the final last year, Xinjiang, had another set back with a loss with Shandong. They’ve got a tricky last few games coming up. What do you think the mood is like there in Urumqi and can they save their season?

JP: Xinjiang has been without a doubt the most disappointing team of the year. This is a team that went 31-1 last season and yet still didn’t win a championship. After spending close to US $10 million this summer on the 2000 NBA Draft number one overall pick and 11 year NBA-pro Kenyon Martin, Chinese Men’s National Team head coach Bob Donewald Jr. and three-time CBA MVP Tang Zhengdong among others, the expectation was that they’d storm their way past Guangdong to a title. But Donewald was fired 11 games into the year, K-Mart followed him out the door quickly and Tang hasn’t been able to find his dominating form. Simply, at 12-12, the season has been a disaster. Once the favorites for a championship, the Flying Tigers are now fighting for a playoff spot. Six of their last eight are at home, so their destiny is in their own hands, but the mood is obviously not a very optimistic one in Urumqi.

AC: We’ve touched on the play-offs so we might as well wade right into the matter itself. Looking at the table right now, Guangdong look like they’ve got their place in the bag and Beijing should be okay with their run of games at home but after that, it’s a scramble for six places between eight, possibly ten teams. Who do you think are the strongest teams coming into this final push?

JP: It’s certainly going to be a crazy end to the season, isn’t it? It’s going to come down to whoever takes care of business at home. It’s always been tough to win on the road in the CBA but this year the discrepancy between home and away records have been even more profound. Only two teams, Beijing and Guangdong, have winning road records this season. As I mentioned before, Xinjiang has six of their last eight at home, and that will be big as they’ve only lost once all year in Urumqi. Guangsha also has a bunch of home games coming up. If they can sort out their problems during Spring Festival, they should be in good position to get a top four seed.

AC: Shanghai are in the same situation with regards to having the majority of their games at home. We have Fujian and Zhejiang in the Yuanshen, and these are going to be HUGE games and ones the Sharks certainly can’t afford to lose. Home advantage is certainly key here as we’ve also got Xinjiang, Shanxi and Beijing on the road, which is going to be tough for us. It’s too close to call here in Shanghai and there’s going to be a lot riding on Harris and Marcus Landry going down the stretch. Indeed, who do you think isn’t going to make it in the end?

JP: Well unfortunately for you, I think it’s going to be tough for the Sharks to hang onto their playoff spot. The loss of Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who was on my shortlist for MVP before getting hurt, is tough because he’s the one who kept their triangle offense nice and congruent. Marcus Landry has been decent in replacement, but he’s not a player built for the triangle. They’ve got those tough games against Zhejiang, Xinjiang, Beijing and Shanxi — maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but I don’t see them winning a lot of games post-Chinese New Year. Fujian may be another squad that falls short, they have five of their last seven on the road, including a three-game finale that takes them to Guangdong, DongGuan and Xinjiang.It’s going to be a wild finish, every game will count, which is why taking care of business at home will be so important.

AC: For sure. The RFK point is a massive one. He did everything like you said and the little things like setting the pace of the game and being a calming influence in a young team; those are all tough things to replace. I think the consensus is that Fujian won’t make it- that run of games in the last week is an absolute killer. I can also see Zhejiang crumbling under the pressure, but that’s just a feeling.

Anyway, All-Star week coming up. Marbury and Smith are the top choices as we speak but is there anyone who isn’t getting the recognition they deserve? Osama Dahglas is probably pissed at being in the same division as Marbury because I thought the Jilin PG has been pretty good this season but its highly unlikely he’ll be in the team.

JP: With the CBA only limiting two foreign players to each All-Star team, there’s always going to be snubs. Dahglas is certainly a guy who could be put in that category. Another could be either Marcus Williams or Lester Hudson, each whom have had very nice seasons for their teams. J.R. and Marbury are the obvious shoe-ins, Wilson Chandler will probably get in as a reserve, so that leaves just one player left. Somebody will definitely get left out.

AC: For sure; Harris, Singleton, Brooks, Zaid Abbas and Shavlik Randolph to name but a few. I guess that brings me onto my next point. If I’m Chandler or Smith, do I risk playing even one more game than I need to if I’m looking for an NBA contract when the CBA ends in March? I guess this would be extra pertinent if their team didn’t make the play-offs?

JP: Certainly, both of those guys are looking at the big picture. At the end of the CBA season, they’ll head back to the NBA where they will be prize commodities to teams looking to add a piece for a playoff run. They both stand to make a lot of money on long-term deals, if not this season then definitely next year. Since neither player have gotten their so-called “big payday” yet, I’m sure they’re anticipating going back to the States and cashing in. Both have substantial money at stake, so the last thing either them wants is to get hurt. So I think you have to take that into consideration when you’re looking at their late season performances.

AC: Could you see a situation where eithier man tried to pull out of the game if they were voted?

JP: Absolutely not! The All-Star game amounts to a very low intensity pick-up run. Plus, I’m sure they’d like to get out of their respective cities and head down to Guangzhou for a relaxing weekend.

AC: Wouldn’t we all, sir. Alright, final question; as the Middle Kingdom stops for Chinese New Year, we have some time to think back to the games that have already been played. What’s been your favourite game so far in this season?

JP: I thought Xinjiang at Beijing in Round 6 was for me, the most exciting game of the year. At the time, you had Kenyon Martin and the new look Flying Tigers coming into a supercharged Shougang Arena that was just as fired up to see last year’s runners-up as they were to see their new look Ducks with Stephon Marbury. The game was completely sold out and for the first time in Beijing history, the media had to be seated on the upper level because there was so much hype surrounding the game. The game didn’t disappoint — after going down by almost 20 in the fourth quarter, Patrick Mills and the Flying Tigers roared back to take a one-point lead with just under a minute left. But Beijing held on to hit two critical free-throws after a loose ball foul, and Xu Guozhong and Mills both rattled out three-pointers that would have likely given the Flying Tigers the win. It was one of the rare games that actually lived up to all the hype.

There’s been some great games in Shanghai this year, what’s been your favorite?

AC: Probably Beijing’s visit to Shanghai on Xmas Day. Obviously, you had the Shanghai-Beijing factor but with Marbury, a packed house in the Yuanshen and a comeback of sorts in the fourth quarter from the Sharks, it had everything you could want from a grudge match. When Shanghai retook the lead with a minute or so left, the noise around the place was crazy- even the press box was high-fiving each-another; the whole place was going nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an atmosphere like that.

JP: There’s something about that guy that makes this league more exciting. I think having Marbury around is great for the CBA – he’s brought in a lot of casual fans that likely would have continued to turn away from the league if he wasn’t here, and I think that’s a real positive thing for Chinese basketball.

AC: Amen. Hopefully he’s got another couple of seasons in him because he’s compelling viewing. Anyway, we should probably call this a day. Jon, your web chat debut has been a pleasure.

JP: Thanks for having me, glad I could finally make it out for one. Let’s do this again, maybe a three-man weave with Bothfeld?

AC: That would be a joy to behold. Let’s keep our fingers crossed when and see what happens. Thanks to you as well from coming on.

JP: No problem. Happy Chinese New Year to you.

AC: And to you, sir.

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CBA Round 26 and Round 4 Make-ups Recap

January 23, 2012

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Round 26: (January 18th)

Zhejiang – 92 @ Beijing – 103

Stephon Marbury put down arguably the best single-game performance of the season — and his case for CBA MVP — with a super efficient 45 point, 12 rebound, 11 assist triple-double as the Ducks took out J.R. Smith and the visiting Golden Bulls in Beijing.

Losing by five heading into the fourth quarter, Beijing outscored their opponents 28-14 to snatch the win. Much of that was through Marbury, who put in two separate personal runs of five and seven straight points. Marbury, who played 43 minutes in all, turned the ball over only once, shooting 15-29 from the field and 10-12 from the free-throw line.

J.R. had himself a nice individual game with 39 points and eight rebounds, but only finished with one assist.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangdong – 100 @ Guangsha – 97

Once considered title contenders, Guangsha slipped further down the standings after losing their sixth in seven games, with the latest loss being dealt by league powerhouse, Guangdong.

Up for most of the first half, Guangsha seemed poised to put their string of bad results behind them. But, Guangdong came out firing in the third quarter with 38 points to put them up by a comfortable margin before the home team made it slightly interesting in the fourth. Wilson Chandler continued his offense anemia, shooting a ghastly 1-10 from three en route to a ho-hum 24 points.

Aaron Brooks finished as Guangdong’s high scorer with 26, while Wang Shipeng and Zhu Fangyu did their job offensively with 24 and 23 points respectively.

With the win, Guangdong becomes the first team to clinch a playoff spot and once again look like the strong favorites to win the title.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

DongGuan – 97 @ Shanghai – 110

For now at least, normal service at the Yuanshen has been resumed as the Shanghai Sharks eased to victory over the DongGuan Leopards. Mike Harris returned to the line-up after the death of his brother and conjured up a sensation performance to help Shanghai beat their guests, 110-97. The away side struggled to contain their hosts’ forwards and Shavlik Randolph failed to get any momentum going in a game where he was mercilessly heckled by the home crowd from start to finish. The Sharks keep their winning record going into the New Year break and now stand at 13-11 with eight games to go in the regular season.

To top of an emotional night, a last-second substitution allowed Harris to get an ovation from the crowd, the coaching staff and the owner himself, Yao Ming as the game clocked faded to zero. The returning Sharks forward had picked up 38 points and 12 rebounds while Marcus Landry (24), Liu Wei (18) and Liu Ziqiu (14) also had themselves double-digit shooting nights. For DongGuan, five Leopards players also got significant hauls; Josh Akognon (24 points), Randolph (23), Qiu Biao (15), Qu Guan (11) and Zhang Kai (10).

In his press conference after the game, Dan Panaggio was keen to congratulate Harris on his gutsy performance, noting that the forward had arrived back in Shanghai at around 3:30pm that day and had got himself to the game 30 minutes before the tip-off. ‘He just wanted to get back to his team’, added the Sharks coach, before revealing that Zhang Zhaoxu had persuaded him to sub Harris off so that the American could get his ovation from the crowd. Equally, Panaggio looked relieved to have got the victory to keep the Sharks in contention for a play-off spot but was also keen to stress that there was still several crucial games to come once the season restarts on January 29th. ‘I’m grateful to have won this game…but our job is still in front of us and it is a difficult one’.

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Xinjiang – 98 @ Shandong – 104

The Flying Tigers made it 0-2 on their two-game Shandong roadtrip, losing to a struggling Shandong team three days after getting spanked by Qingdao. Xirelijiang, who kept Alan Anderson under 10 points in the two team’s first encounter earlier in the year, wasn’t given a chance to guard the former Michigan State standout and Anderson responded with 32 rather effortless points. Othello Hunter pitched in with 22 points and 10 boards.

It was Xinjiang’s 11th road loss of the year, tying them for the worst road record in the league.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Liaoning – 91 @ Jilin – 99

Liaoning’s inconsistency reared its ugly head again in Jilin after the Jaguars came up empty against non-playoff outfit Jilin on the road. Cartier Martin did it to the visitors with 38 points and seven rebounds. Osama Dahglas nearly missed out on a triple-double, going for 15 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists.

Josh Powell, who has been the subject of constant rumors the last couple of weeks, managed only two points and nine rebounds. Though Liaoning has one of the more talented domestic rosters, they’ll need much more from their American big man if they’re to have any shot of advancing in the post-season in March.

–Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanxi – 110 @ Qingdao – 106

Box Score

Bayi – 98 @ Tianjin – 110

Box Score

Fujian – 110 @ Foshan – 100

Box Score

Round 4 Make-Ups (January 20th)

Zhejiang @ Xinjiang

 

Xinjiang and Zhejiang played a very physical and intense match that ended with Xinjiang coming out on top. Gani Lawal, who sat for most of the first half after the Flying Tigers got off to a slow start offensively, came back with a vengeance and then some in the second, scoring 20 points and grabbing 21 rebounds, 14 of which came on the offensive end, in just 28 minutes. Tim Pickett had a nice game as well, finishing with 32-6-6.

Entertaining throughout, the game ultimately unraveled in the end for Chouzhou because Josh Boone and J.R. Smith both fouled out with over four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the latter fouling out on an offensive foul. Frustrated at the referees, who let a lot of physical play under the basket slide, Smith whipped the basketball at the nearest referee, which resulted in his second technical of the game. He got his first earlier in the third quarter after he jawed back and forth with Lawal. Smith had a number of incredible individual plays, including an off-the-wrong-foot slam that he powered home after dismissing three defenders with a slick crossover. He finished with 41 points, but came up goose eggs in the assist department.

–Jon Pastuszek

Box Score (Chinese)

Bayi – 105 @ Shanxi – 109

Box Score (Chinese)

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