Tag Archives: Ryan Forehan-Kelly

Panaggio out as Shanghai head coach

January 6, 2013

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An already tumultuous season in Shanghai just got even more so after Sharks management announced today that American head coach, Dan Panaggio, has been relieved of his position with the team. He will be replaced by assistant coach, Wang Qun, who is the only Chinese member of Shanghai’s otherwise all American coaching staff.

The Sharks, who are at 4-13 on the season, currently sit in 16th place.

Though the Sharks are parked firmly in the bottom of the standings with little hope for a playoff spot, the move to out Panaggio is surprising given the circumstances. Panaggio, who was hired last season after Bob Donewald Jr. moved to Western China to coach the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, has enjoyed success in his brief tenure, piloting the team back to the playoffs in his debut stint after they finished out of the league’s top eight the year before. Bringing in his triangle offense and a stout defensive approach, the Sharks were known as one of the hardest working and best coached teams in the league.

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Arenas heads back to the States to receive treatment on injured groin

January 2, 2013

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Shanghai Sharks guard, Gilbert Arenas, whose injured groin has limited him to just four games this season, has flown back to the United States to receive treatment.

It is unknown when he will return.

Arenas, who first sustained the injury midway through the first quarter of the Sharks’ season opener on the road at Beijing on November 24, missed the next eight games before coming back into the lineup on December 18 against Guangdong. Yet just two games after, Arenas re-injured his groin and has since been out of action since the 23rd. Apparently more comfortable receiving treatment back home in the United States, he has flown to New York where he hopes the recovery process will be faster than it would be in China.

Arenas posted this on his Sina Weibo account on December 31:

Happy New Years..im going to New York for a few days to get treatment on my groin..i wasn’t 100 percent when i came back and i pulled another groin muscle..its not really bad just need american meds to speed up the recovery time….

Meanwhile, due to Arenas’ on-the-shelf, off-the-shelf, on-the-shelf status, the Sharks already difficult position has become even more problematic. Looking at the very real possibility of slipping down into the league’s basement with only one import, D.J. White, in the lineup, the Sharks opted to bring in Ryan Forehan-Kelly to temporarily replace Arenas. The stop-gap measure was implemented to keep the Sharks’ record afloat until Arenas was declared healthy enough to play again.

But the decision to bring in Forehan-Kelly for only a few games came with much risk, and it’s quite clear to see why with the way this situation has unfolded. By rule, teams are only allowed to switch import players twice during the regular season. By bringing in Forehan-Kelly, the Sharks used one of their allocated replacements; by bringing back Arenas for Forehan-Kelly, the Sharks had used both.

Now with Arenas hurt again with no exact return in sight, the Sharks are stuck with what they’ve got: A nagging, troublesome groin injury that is struggling to get healthy and White. Until the former is recovered, the Sharks will be forced to play the rest of the season shorthanded with just White.

Last night, the Sharks managed only five points in the first quarter against Liaoning and fell 110-82 to send their record to 4-12, which currently puts them in 16th place.

In four games, Arenas is averaing 9.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists.

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Shanghai officially announces Arenas back in for Forehan-Kelly

December 17, 2012

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Gilbert Arenas has been declared as healthy by the Sharks and will return to the lineup this Tuesday against Guangdong. (Photo: cfp.cn)

Gilbert Arenas is healthy enough to return to the Shanghai Sharks lineup, according to the team’s official website. He will replace Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who has played the last three games as Arenas’ temporary replacement.

Arenas, who sustained a groin injury midway through the first quarter of the Sharks’ CBA season opener against the Beijing Ducks on November 24th, has missed the last eight games. The Sharks have lost their last five games and currently sit in second-to-last place with a 2-8 record.

They play first-place Guangdong (7-2) on the road tomorrow night.

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Forbes for Thornton in Guangsha one of several mid-season import moves

December 14, 2012

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Gary Forbes, who is already in China, has officially replaced the injured Al Thornton in Guangsha.

The Chinese Basketball Association has hit the one-third mark, which means import players are being replaced at a higher rate. Let’s break down the moves that have gone down within the last week.

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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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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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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 17 Recap

December 29, 2011

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Guangsha – 118 @ Beijing – 112

After soaring to a 13-0 start, Beijing now looks like they’re coming back down to Earth. The Ducks lost their third straight game on Wednesday, this time to visiting Guangsha. It was their first home loss of the year. Wilson Chandler destroyed the Ducks for 44 points and 18 rebounds and P.J. Ramos played well in support with 26 and 14. Lin Chih-chieh chipped in with 15 points and 5 assists. Stephon Marbury did his best with 34 points.

The Ducks were dominated inside as Randolph Morris fouled out trying to contain the massive Ramos and the active Chandler. The two went to the line 11 times respectively. Also not helping matters was the Ducks’ 7-26 performance from three. Beijing is for real — no team starts a season 13-0 on a fluke — but, its unlikely they’ll be able to maintain their torrid start to the year during the season’s second half. For one, they’re not very deep and their players are already showing signs of fatigue. Two, they rely too heavily on three point shot. They’ll live on it more than they’ll die with it, but Beijing’s status as a championship contender may be slowly fading away.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangdong – 106 @ Bayi – 105

Normally it’s a Wang who saves the day for Guangdong when the game is on the line. But that Wang is usually Wang Shipeng, not Wang Zheng. On Wednesday, it was the lesser known of the two Wangs who hit a go-ahead hook shot in the lane with under five seconds as the Southern Tigers came away with a dramatic victory against Bayi. Aaron Brooks scored 20 points in 24 minutes, James Singleton threw up a double-double with 18 points and 13 boards, and Wang Shipeng scored 18 and snared 7 rebounds as Guangdong once again put up another balanced team effort on offense.

With the win, Guangdong now has the same 13-3 record as first place Beijing. But because the Ducks beat them earlier in the season, they still remain in second place.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Tianjin – 81 @ Shanghai – 93

In front of a sparse crowd, the Shanghai Sharks handled their business with a minimum of fuss. When the final buzzer arrived to spare Tianjin any more punishment, the scoreboard was stuck at 93-81. Despite winning their last three games, it was exactly what the Lions deserved after such a lifeless performance. Mike Harris picked up 27 points and 11 rebounds whilst Ryan Forehan-Kelly made 24 in a game that Dan Panaggio described as ‘a necessary win’.

Donnell Harvey made 27 points but other than Zhang Nan, had absolutely no-one to help him try and keep the game close. Coach Panaggio revealed in his press conference that several members of his team were struggling with the flu but insisted on playing, reflecting both the commitment to the cause in Shanghai’s ranks but also how bad the Lions were in losing by such a distance to their weakened hosts.

The Foshan Dralions, recently shorn of their talisman, Gerald Green, are the next team to visit the Yuanshen. The Sharks, now 6-1 at home, will be looking for revenge against their guests after an embarrassing away defeat back in October. Going 9-8 on Friday night would be a remarkable way to finish off 2011.

Box Score

Andrew Crawford

Xinjiang -92 @ Fujian – 115

Xinjiang’s second straight game with an all Chinese lineup (Patty Mills didn’t play because of a hamstring) lost on both style and the score sheet as they were blown out on the road against Fujian. Will McDonald dominated with 32 points and 14 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. Offensive boards were an ongoing theme during the match as Fujian took a 21-8 advantage in that department and went +20 total rebounds.

Worth mentioning here is Xu Guozhong’s stupid tally of 46 points, which is not only a career high, but a season high for Chinese players this season.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Zhejiang – 95 @ Liaoning – 117

Box Score

Shanxi – 91 @ DongGuan – 110

Box Score

 

Jiangsu – 105 @ Jilin – 111

Box Score

Foshan – 88 @ Qingdao – 100

Box Score

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NiuBBall CBA Water Cooler/Heater: The half-way mark

December 29, 2011

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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 piece was originally posted on Shark Fin Hoops before Round 17.

Round 17 is in the books and just like that, the 2011-12 CBA season is at its half-way point. To mark the occasion, the NiuBBall duo of Andrew Crawford and Edward Bothfeld took some time out to chat about the year so far, including the Beijing Ducks’ surprising run to first place, the comings and goings of Crawford’s hometown Shanghai Sharks and Bothfeld’s hometown Guangsha Lions, the always relevant Stephon Marbury and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Andrew Crawford: Well, its been a pretty crazy first half of the season so let’s talk first about the league before we get into our teams; despite two loses in a row, Beijing are setting the pace with a 13-2 record- do you think they can go deep into the play-offs or is this two-game losing streak a sign that teams have started to figure them out?

Edward Bothfeld: Thirteen wins in a row is no joke. They have two important players who have more than a season of CBA experience each. One of which, Stephon Marbury, is a former NBA All-Star and is immensely talented. That being said, teams now have a lot of tape of the Ducks to look at, and can be more prepared. The season is long and pretty constant so nagging injuries and fatigue may be starting to rear their heads. Their remaining schedule is pretty friendly and they have almost twice as many home games as away game remaining so they will be a tough out in the playoffs.

AC: You might notice this when your Lions play the Ducks on Dec 28th but Marbury is a game changer in some unpredictable ways; at times he can nullify a home crowd. I mean, he was being cheered by the Shanghai crowd last night and he plays for Beijing!

EB: He attracts a lot of attention because of his name and history. Being cheered by the home crowd is just respect. There’s no doubt that the majority of the time, he’s the most talented player on the court. Also, not enough attention has been given to how well he has adapted to Chinese culture. If you remember, he didn’t have a good departure from the NBA – the strange videos he posted on the internet, failed playoff run with the Celtics and his time with the Knicks was an absolute disaster. Now it seems he is really happy [in Beijing], doing what he loves and serving as a role model for other foreign players — like J.R. Smith

AC: All very true. He certainly looks happier in Beijing; his company’s taking off and he’s a basketball hero out here. The days of being run out of New York must seem like a long way away. Anyway, let’s move on; what are your thoughts on Xinjiang Tigers; they’ve fired Bob Donewald and Kenyon Martin looks like he wants out; do you thing the Tigers are in trouble even at 9-5 or was this a knee jerk reaction?

EB: I don’t think the knee jerk reaction was wise and now they are in definite trouble. They had a very expensive offseason — and are already blowing it up before the season is halfway done! It takes time for coaches to put their systems in place and for players to get to know each other. What happened to Donewald wasn’t exactly fair. Sources have told me that the Xinjiang management puts a TON of pressure on its players; the expectations are so high there.

AC: Do you think things could get worse?

EB: They lost one game last year and have already dropped five this year. They’ve also fired their high profile coach and bought out Kenyon Martin; I don’t know how it can get any worse! That being said, I don’t know what Xinjiang were expecting from K-Mart- 30 point and 15 rebound performances? Those days are long behind him

AC: Strong stuff, sir. Finally, what’s your take on Jiangsu Dragons; NiuBBall had them 3rd in their preseason rankings and instead the boys from Nanjing find themselves bottom of the league, below even Tianjin Lions, who are historically terrible. What’s gone wrong there?

EB: I saw them play last night. Despite their history of success, they are very mediocre this year; they are already on their second set of imports and I don’t know if Marcus Williams is a long-term answer. To put it kindly, he looks very “muscular”; it looks like he has packed on a few pounds. Also, like Xinjiang, Jiangsu need time to work with one another so making so many changes makes it difficult to truly become a team. I have talked with [Guangsha Lion's] Coach Jim Cleamons multiple times. As a rookie CBA coach, he always stresses to me that Guangsha is a work in process and they probably won’t be going on all cylinders until much later this year.

AC: Well, let’s talk about your boys, Guangsha; 11-4 after Round 16- would you have taken this at the start of the season?

EB: Yes. Having P.J. Ramos has really helped- he has taken some of the burden off Wilson Chandler and they have a very functional basketball team; everyone has a role.

AC: I’ve noticed you’ve been very big on the form of P.J. Ramos; has anyone else stood out for you so far besides him and Chandler?

EB: Jin Lipeng gets points. He is only playing 17 minutes a game, but is fourth on the team with 11.3 points. Lin Chih Chieh is our glue guy. He is incredibly scrappy and although he can be too cute sometimes (making fancy passes etc), he gets it done. Some games, he will go off for 20, sometimes he will only get 4 points but he always leaves an impression on the game. If Lipeng and Lin are on their games, Guangsha is hard to beat

AC: Yeah, when Guangsha came to Shanghai last month, I could see Lin had some sparkle to him and Chandler seems to enjoy playing with him. We’ve obviously got to talk about Chandler when we talk about Guangsha; how do you feel he’s been used in that team and do you feel that Coach Cleamons is under pressure to use him as much as possible?

EB: Having worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, etc., Coach Cleamons is no spring chicken when it comes to using star players effectively. Guangsha’s GM sits on the bench with the team during games (you might notice her as she is the only female and looks like one tough cookie)  so everyone is on the same page in terms of when Chandler is playing, etc.

AC: This could essentially be a league-wide question, but how do you think CBA teams like Guangsha will be able to build on their post-Chandler season in 2012-13? I’ve met people who argue that bringing in big names creates a ‘pass-to-the-superstar’ mentality and a team’s progression gets stunted as a result

EB: Before it was Wilson Chandler, it was Rodney White; a team will always have a go-to player and they will most likely be the import players. If you look at most CBA rosters, teams have two imports, one big man and one back court player. If you bring in players with the same skill-sets each season, the role players don’t have as much difficulty adjusting.

AC: Do you think teams like Jiangsu and Xinjiang have had weaker seasons because they hadn’t scouted players with the same skill sets as the guys who were there during the previous season?

EB: Losing Quincy Douby really hurt Xinjiang. He was their team last year so they were going to have a different dynamic once he was lost, but Jiangsu had Antoine Wright last year- he has a different style than Marcus Williams, not to mention plays a different position.

AC: All very true. Well seeing as I write for a website about the Shanghai Sharks, we should probably talk about them as well. The Sharks appear to have hit form at the right time and have won five out of their last six games; do you think they can squeak into the play-offs or is their bad start too much to overcome?

EB: Why not? At 7-8, they are only a few games out of fourth place; suddenly games against the likes of Xinjiang and Jiangsu are winnable when in the past you could mark those up as losses. The Sharks absolutely have a shot to be in the playoffs despite a slow start.

AC: Journalistic integrity aside, I would love to see them make it  but their away form has been so bad until the last couple of games that I wonder if it will be too much to overcome. We’re 5-1 at home but on the road, it’s not been anywhere near as stellar and going to Xinjiang and Beijing so late in the season is still a big ask in my books, even if we continue to grow in confidence.

EB: Yep, times are always tough on the road.

AC: Indeed. Any Shanghai players you expect to see in the All-Star game come March?

EB: Mike Harris can fill it up. If Shanghai continues on their current run, Harris or Ryan Forehan-Kelly could warrant an All-Star bid.

AC: Absolutely. For my money, Forehan-Kelly has been the star of that team. Harris has got the big dunks and gets the crowd going but RFK has been consistently clutch throughout the season. Okay, last question; like me, you probably have a fantasy basketball team. Should I be picking up a Chandler or a J.R. Smith and storing him for when they return to America in March/April time or will their impact be negligible after playing one intense season already?

EB: I would say the chances are high that one of the high-profile Americans over here will be playing in the NBA Finals.

AC: You buying Bill Simmons’ theory that a returning K-Mart is the Heat’s missing piece to all but confirm the 2012 championship?

EB: He could be- there are always veterans like K-Mart that championship contenders add to push them over the top. I mean, Marbury was supposed to be that player with the Celtics a few years ago

AC: Alright; we should probably call it quits but thanks for your thoughts. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff here and I hope we can do this again sometime

EB: For sure, Any time. I enjoyed it.

AC: Excellent stuff. I’ll let you get back to the daily grid but there’s a beer waiting for you when we next come face to face.

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CBA Round 16 Recap

December 28, 2011

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Beijing – 87 @ Shanghai – 96

The city of Shanghai got exactly what it wanted this Christmas as it’s basketball team defeated the Beijing Ducks in a gritty, compelling match that saw both sides have their chances to win the game. Beijing had the lead going into the fourth quarter but a comeback win was made possible when Ryan Forehan-Kelly helped eat up the seven-point deficit before Mike Harris almost tore the rim down with a go-ahead dunk, before the Sharks made the win safe with cooly taken chances on the fast break.

Three Shark players got themselves double-doubles; Forehan-Kelly (25 points; 13 rebounds), Harris (21 points; 13 rebounds) and Zhang (16 points; 13 rebounds), whilst for Beijing, Randolph Randolph scored a game high 26 points and Stephon Marbury got a double-double of his own, racking up 13 points and 11 rebounds.

Andrew Crawford, Shark Fin Hoops

Box Score

Shanxi – 106 @ Guangdong – 111

Guangdong survived a home scare against always dangerous Shanxi. Down 109-106 with 17 seconds left, Guangdong’s Chen Jianghua went to the line with a chance to put the game on ice. He missed both, but unfortunately for the visitors, Charles Gaines missed the rebound and turned the ball over right back to the home squad. Zhu Fangyu followed by hitting both of his free-throws to put the game out of reach to give Guangdong their 12th win of the year.

James Singleton put up 20 points and 17 rebounds, Aaron Brooks dropped 21 and Zhu Fangyu and Wang Shipeng each contributed 15. The super foreign combo of Gaines and Marcus Williams each scored 35 points, but the team got little from anyone else, including the game’s biggest offender, Duan Jiangpeng, who was bottled up for just four points in 40 minutes.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 90 @ DongGuan – 97

Life after Bob Donewald and Kenyon Martin took on an added obstacle on Sunday night as Patty Mills, the team’s lone import at the moment, sat out with a hamstring injury. Playing with an all-Chinese lineup, the Flying Tigers put up a good fight in DongGuan and even took the lead in the second half. But ultimately, the lack of a true point guard came back to get them in the end as Xinjiang turned the ball over 21 times, including a few crucial ones down the stretch, resulting in their second straight loss in Guangdong province.

Josh Akognon scored a game high 24 points, Shavlik Randolph added 17 and Qiu Biao had 15 for the Leopards, who move into sixth place with an 8-7 record. Xinjiang’s consolation may have been Tang Zhengdong, who had his strongest game of the year with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Qingdao – 100 @ Shandong – 94

We’re not so much shocked by the fact that the Lester Hudsons Eagles won a game on the road, but rather that they won with three non-Hudsons (Olumide Oyedeji, Xue Yuyang and Li Gen) scoring more than 15 points.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 99 @ Guangsha – 106

Box Score

Zhejiang – 90 @ Jilin – 100

Box Score

Bayi – 84 @ Liaoning – 103

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Tianjin – 108 @ Foshan – 93

Box Score

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CBA Round 13 Recap

December 21, 2011

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Shanxi – 112 @ Guangsha – 126

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

DongGuan – 104 @ Guangdong – 128

Aaron Brooks had 27 points, 6 rebounds and 10 assists to check in his best all-around performance in China this season as the Southern Tigers cruised past the Leopards in their DongGuan derby match-up. James Singleton added a double-double of his own with 24 points and 10 rebounds. The Tigers raced out to a big lead early and never looked back, using 14 threes to bury their opponents. It’s their seventh straight win of the season.

Jon Pastuszek

Qingdao – 97 @ Beijing – 105

Beijing moved closer to an unblemished first half of the season record by beating Qingdao at home. Stephon Marbury and Randolph Morris combined for 58 points, Rookie of the Year candidate Zhu Yanxi had 13 and Zhai Xiaochuan chipped in with 10.  The Eagles went 8 of 35 from three, a performance which could mostly be attributed to Lester Hudson’s 5 of 18 bricklayer’s convention. With Xinjiang, Guangdong and Zhejiang Chouzhou all out of the way, Beijing stands an excellent chance of running the table for CBA’s first rotation through the schedule.

Jon Pastuszek

Jilin – 89 @ Xinjiang – 94

Xinjiang once again started out of the gates slow, and once again found themselves down in the fourth quarter. But, unlike games against Beijing, Shanghai and Guangsha, the Flying Tigers dug deep and came up with a victory down the stretch to avoid what would have been a three-game losing streak. Patty Mills came up with several huge shots in the fourth and finished with a team high 26 points. Mengke Bateer, limited by illness, only played 22 minutes and scored 6 points and 6 rebounds. But Tang Zhengdong, who has disappointed for most of the season, came up with 16 big points to fill in.

But, the win was just a minor story in Urumqi as the team announced that head coach, Bob Donewald Jr., had been replaced by the man he replaced in the offseason, Jiang Xingquan. Chants of “Denghuade, xia ke!” (Fire Donewald!) boomed through the arena for most of the game and grew the loudest in the second half when Xinjiang lost the lead. For a full write-up, read this.

On a side note: Osama Dahglas played all 48 minutes, which meant that once again, Yu Shulong sat on the bench for the entire game.

Jon Pastuszek

Shanghai -94 @ Bayi – 85

Shanghai’s American duo of Mike Harris and Ryan Forehan-Kelly lead their club to a form-defying win over Bayi, that was also their first away win of the season. The Sharks started brightly only to find themselves pushed and knocked around a Bayi side that didn’t care much for subtleties. Some in-your-face, physical basketball unsettled the Sharks, who threw away a halftime lead of 14 points in the third quarter before Harris and RFK came storming back to exploit some glaring holes in the Rockets backcourt and put the game to bed.

RFK’s 31 points demonstrated his importance to the side and why his loss would have been disastrous to the Sharks had he not been passed fit. Harris unleashed a maelstrom of swagger as he made 24 points, whilst young guards Feng Tian and Meng Lingyuan gave further notice of their potential with double digit scores of 13 and 11. Han Shuo, who made 21 points and centre Wang Zhizhi, who got 17, were among five Bayi players to make double figures.
Andrew Crawford

Fujian – 94 @ Liaoning – 108

Foshan – 96 @ Zhejiang – 103

Shandong – 99 @ Jiangsu – 91

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CBA Round 12 Recap

December 18, 2011

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Xinjiang – 92 @ Guangsha – 102

Xinjiang, coming fresh off a disappointing loss on the road against Shanghai in Round 11, failed to come up with a bounce back win in Hangzhou on Friday night, losing to Guangsha in a game that was never really in doubt. The loss brings Xinjiang down to a disappointing 6-4 start to the year, and it also marks the team’s first losing streak in five years.

Besides featuring a clash between two three loss teams, the match-up also pitted former Denver Nuggets teammates, Wilson Chandler and Kenyon Martin, against each other. In the fourth quarter the two guarded each other for most of the frame. K-Mart made nothing easy for Chandler, forcing him into to several tough shots, some of which the talented forward made and some of which he missed. Chandler finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds on 11-28 shooting. Six players for Guangsha finished in double figures, including P.J. Ramos who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

For Xinjiang, Patty Mills did all he could with a game-high 39 points and 6 steals, but he didn’t get much help elsewhere. Xu Guozhong had 17 points, most of which came via Mengke Bateer’s precise passing from the post (11 assists) and Xirelijiang had 10, but the Flying Tigers struggled to get double-digit production from elsewhere.

Jon Pastuszek

Shanxi – 90 @ Shanghai – 92

Shanghai continue to make the Yuanshen a difficult place to come to (they are now 4-1 in Shanghai) and tonight claimed another scalp in front of their home crowd. A fantastic spell of basketball over the course of two-and-a-half quarters was almost undone when the Sharks allowed the dangerous duo of Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines to get up a head of steam. Shanxi had their hosts against the ropes in the fourth quarter and clutch performances from Mike Harris and Meng Lingyuan were vital in keeping the Sharks ahead when the full-time buzzer blew.
Harris made 30 points and 11 rebounds, “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu also got himself a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) whilst Meng got 10 points and six rebounds. Worryingly, Ryan Forehan-Kelly left the game injured and could be out for a while. This means the Sharks could go into their next game Bayi without Liu Wei, Tseng Wen-ting and now Forehan-Kelly, who has argueably been their most consistant player so far this season. For Shanxi, Williams picked up a game-high 31 points, six rebounds and six assists whilst Gaines got himself a double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds).
Andrew Crawford

Beijing – 107 @ Tianjin – 101

Zhu Yanxi had a career day with 26 points and 11 rebounds, Stephon Marbury scored 35 points and Randolph Morris added 21 as Beijing went to 11-0 on the season. Tianjin got the game within five points at around the five minute mark, but some timely stops and good work on the defensive glass kept Beijing in front for good. Donnell Harvey lead Tianjin with 26 points and 15 rebounds.

Jon Pastuszek

DongGuan – 117 @ Liaoning – 95

DongGuan dealt Liaoning their second home loss of the year and catapulted themselves into a playoff spot. The Leopards are now 7-2 since opening up the season with three straight losses. Shavlik Randolph paced the winners with 32 points and 10 boards, Josh Akognon netted 26 points and Qiu Biao had 21.

Zhejiang Chouzhou – 94 @ Shandong – 107

Jon Pastuszek

Fujian – 82 @ Jilin – 90

Foshan – 96 @ Bayi – 101

Jiangsu – 86 @ Qingdao – 103

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CBA Round 7 Recap

December 6, 2011

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Shanxi – 97 @ Beijing – 121

Another round, another win for the Ducks, who are now 7-0 to start the year. Surprisingly though, it’s not Beijing’s best start in franchise history — they went 8-0 in the CBA’s innagural season, 1995-96.

As is becoming a common trend for them at home, the Ducks went to the free-throw line way more times than their opponent, shooting 42 to Shanxi’s 24, which is either a testament to their players’ aggressiveness or to the referees’ friendly home whistle. Randolph Morris finished as the team’s high scorer with 26 points and added 11 points as well. Six players for Beijing scored in double figures.

Shanxi’s Marcus Williams and Charles Gaines combined for 62 points, but their Chinese players only manage to combine for 35 points.

Box Score

Jon Pastuszek

Xinjiang 121 @ Tianjin 108

Xinjiang got back on a winning track two days after a tough loss against Beijing thanks to two scorching hot performances from Patty Mills and Xu Guozhong. Mills went 8-10 from three, only slightly better than Xu’s 8-11 splash-fest from deep. Even big man Mengke Bateer got into the act, burying 4-11 from long range. Bateer also added 9 assists, which gives him an amazing 25 for his last two games. The seven-footer leads the league in that category with 8 per game.

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Liaoning – 118 @ Shanghai – 99

Shanghai Sharks fell to their fourth defeat in six games after a firestorm of offense from Liaoning Jaguars. Rodney Carney was lights-out throughout the game and the vocal group of away fans gave their man a standing ovation when he was withdrawn in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter following a big shift of dunks, huge threes and general mischief making. Josh Powell also got on on the high scoring fun whilst four other players on the Jaguars made double figures including the beefy Chinese centre, Han Dejun.
Shanghai fought hard and had five of their own in the double figures club (Liu Wei, Mike Harris, Ryan Forehan-Kelly, Peng Fei and Max Zhang) but simply couldn’t keep up with their guests’ furious pace. Coach Panaggio admitted his side were outplayed, calling Liaoning’s performance, ‘a clinic’ and will now have to rally his players for the upcoming game against defending champions, Guangdong on Wednesday in what is the first of another tricky three away fixtures.
Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Jilin 89 @ Guangsha – 109

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

Foshan – 92 @ Guangdong – 116

Guangdong – Foshan was the second victim of heavy fog this season after Guangdong couldn’t fly out of Jinan. Originally scheduled for Saturday night, the CBA moved the game until tonight. Aaron Brooks scored a team-high 22 points.

Foshan’s Marcus Haislip scored 22 points in his 2011-12 CBA debut, but the bigger story was that his debut was against the team he helped lift to a championship last season, Guangdong.

Other Scores:

Jiangsu – 97 @ Bayi – 99 (OT)

Box Score

DongGuan 100 @ Shandong 94

Box Score

Fujian – 120 @ Qingdao – 96

Box Score

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