Tag Archives: Tang Zhengdong

Zhang Zhaoxu… CBA’s highest paid Chinese player?

April 22, 2013

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How many Subway footlongs could 8 million RMB buy? Depends on if you’re eating the Sub of the Day, but the answer is a lot.

Is “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu on his way to becoming Chinese basketball’s first eight million RMB man?

Could be, according to several recent reports. The Shanghai Sharks 7’3 center is reportedly being offered big money from both the Beijing Ducks and the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

Last Thursday, Sina Sports, citing an unnamed source, reported that the Ducks are poised to offer a multi-year deal worth CNY 5 million anually (US $808,767) plus a Beijing hukou, while the Tigers will go as high as 8 million ($1,294,027) to get Zhang’s signature.

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2013 CBA All-Star Weekend Recap

February 25, 2013

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The 2013 Chinese Basketball Association All-Star Weekend pretty much went down like previous ones, failing for the most part to capture the overall atmosphere of the the NBA one it tries too hard to imitate. But that’s not to say there weren’t moments: As is becoming a yearly tradition, Guo Ailun went onto the court to give everyone a performance on Saturday night, Xirelijiang knocked down 10 threes in a row in the final round of the three-point competition to take home the trophy and and Yi Jianlian nabbed All-Star MVP honors with 34 points and eight rebounds as the South All-Stars defeated the North 120-117.

Here’s the rest of what went down last weekend in Guangzhou:

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Xinjiang signs Von Wafer, attempts to reload for title run

August 20, 2012

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Von Wafter, who most Chinese will remember from his days with the Rockets, has signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers.

Xinjiang certainly recovered quickly after its failure to resign Quincy Douby.

With a contract reportedly worth US $2 million dollars, the Flying Tigers have officially signed six-year NBA pro, Von Wafer.

Chinese fans will recognize Wafer for his play on the Rockets while sharing the floor with Yao Ming in in 2008-09. Some may even remember that two years ago, he was linked to Xinjiang before they eventually signed Douby, so in a sense the team has come full circle. Wafer’s professional playing career started after his sophomore year at Florida State University when he declared for the 2005 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Lakers in the second round, but wasn’t able to stick and proceeded to bounce around the league. A solid season for Houston in 2008-09 wasn’t good enough to land him a long-term deal, however, and he ended up the next season in Greece playing for Olympiakos. After struggling in Europe, he was bought out of his deal in December and was quickly snapped back up by Houston.

But, Wafer never ended up playing for Houston after he failed his mandatory physical. Since then, he’s played in Italy and back in the NBA with Boston and Orlando. Now, “The Dutch Cookie” will be taking his NBA career highs of 39% 3 point shooting and 9.7 points per game, all set with the Rockets in 2009, along with his daring drives and uncanny touch, to the Xinjiang plateau.

With combo-guard, Meng Duo, back from overseas training and Tang Zhengdong returning from surgery in the United States, the Flying Tigers seem all set to go for another no costs spared, all out run at the championship. Wafer will suit up next to Meng, Xu Guochong, Xirelijiang and possibly Zhang Qingpeng, who is attempting to work himself out of Liaoning, to form an absolutely loaded backcourt.

But Xinjiang’s guard rotation is also one where many of the players have overlapping skill sets. The 27 year-old Wafer is not the most skilled at creating opportunities for his teammates. This may become a problem for Xinjiang, who are seeking to break out of their annual runner-up status to Guangdong, which it has held for three straight years. New head coach, Cui Wanjun,  has his work cut out for him, but his problems are the likely the envy of most other coaches — with a talented backcourt to go along with Tang and Mengke Bateer in the middle, Xinjiang still has the talent to contend for a title.

The pressure cooker that is Xinjiang will stop at nothing short of a championship, and as we’ve seen in the past, the team is not averse to cutting even its most well-known imports or coaches. Will Wafer rise up to the altitude of Xinjiang, or will he be another high-profile NBA player leaving in disappointment?

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Du Feng to retire after 14 seasons

March 20, 2012

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One of the best all-around big men in CBA history, Du Feng is retiring after 14 seasons. (Photo: Osports)

Du Feng is officially retiring from basketball. To mark the end of his career, the 14 year veteran will hold a farewell game on April 6 in DongGuan featuring several current CBA stars, including Wang Zhizhi, Sun Yue, Mengke Bateer and Tang Zhengdong.

Over the course of an illustrious domestic career that saw him pull down seven CBA championships, From his debut season in 1997-98, Du amassed career totals of 6720 points, 2327 rebounds, 730 assists, 442 steals and 184 blocks. His point total is good for ninth on the CBA all-time rankings. In the 2004 Finals, he averaged 21 points and 8.7 rebounds en route to his first and only Finals MVP trophy.

Du also served for the Chinese National Team, playing in the Olympics in both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

After playing sparingly last season, Du gave up his spot on Guangdong’s 15-man roster this season to make way for younger players. He has instead been serving as an assistant coach for the team, a role that he is expected to continue for Guangdong next season and possibly beyond.

Casual and hardcore Western CBA fans alike will recognize Du Feng as the guy who was slapped to the ground by Charles Gaines, who played for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers at the time, after Du head-butted the American in the closing seconds of Game 2 of the 2010 CBA Finals. Motionless on the floor, Du was wrapped up in an Anta towel, carried off in a stretcher and given oxygen in the team’s locker room before being taken taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion. No suspensions were given out by the league and both Du an Gaines played Game 3 in Urumqi.

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Previewing the CBA Semi-Finals

March 4, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Guangdong in 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Beijing in 5

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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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Curtis Donald Interview

February 22, 2012

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In his first season as the Xinjiang Flying Tiger’s strength and conditioning coach, Curtis Donald has had the opportunity to work with a variety of different athletes, including three-time CBA MVP and former NBA player, Mengke Bateer. (Photo via NetEase)

Since the Chinese Basketball Association held its first season in 1995-96, the league has seen a steady increase in foreign players, coaches and consultants. But in recent years, the league has also seen a foreign increase in another area, one that is arguably just as important: strength and conditioning coaches.

Once a luxury reserved for only the Chinese Senior National Team, foreign professional strength and conditioning coaches have slowly been hired to work with Youth National Teams all the way down to the senior club level. This season, more than half of the CBA’s 17 teams have at least one foreigner on their strength and conditioning staff, a number that should — and probably will — increase in the future as the league continues to open its doors to foreign influence.

Because in a country that is still learning how to take better care of their athletes, the benefits of bringing in Western strength training and development are obvious. With many athletes training 10-11 months out of the year, the need to take care and improve players physically should be at a high priority. And with China’s ambitions on the international stage growing higher and higher, Chinese players need to be strong, flexible and explosive in order to stand up to the rest of the world’s elite athletes.

There’s still some way to go, but the results have already been pretty impressive. Last summer when the Chinese Olympic U-23 team played against the Duke Blue Devils in Beijing, we were impressed, but not totally shocked, to see China’s players have little if any difference in muscle tone, agility and athleticism in comparison to their American opponents.

Accordingly, more CBA teams are taking notice. As part of their off-season push to get over the championship hump that they’ve come up short in climbing the last three seasons, the Xinjiang Flying Tigers brought in the first foreign strength and conditioning coach in the history of the franchise, Curtis Donald.

Donald, who got his first gig with a professional basketball team as intern with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009, knows a thing or two about Chinese basketball players. He worked as Yi Jianlian’s private performance specialist from the summer of 2009 until the summer of 2011, when he was hired to come to Xinjiang. During those two seasons, Donald was with Yi year-round, both while he was playing in NBA with New Jersey and Washington, and also while he was with the Chinese National Team during the summers.

And it was during those summers where Yi and Donald’s work especially paid off — forced to step into the team’s lead scoring role after Yao Ming’s retirement, Yi played the best and most complete basketball of his career at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, where he was the only player in the entire tournament to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, and at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, where he lead China to a gold medal and an automatic berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

With his first season in the CBA almost over, Donald and NiuBBall hopped on Skype for a discussion about the year in Xinjiang, what it was like working with Yi, and the state of Chinese strength and conditioning as a whole.

NiuBBall: You’re heading into the Playoffs tonight, describe your first year working in China.

Curtis Donald: It’s been challenging, just dealing with all of the changes we’ve gone through this year. And especially the injury bug that we’ve been hit by. First with Quincy [Douby] going down early and then Patty [Mills]. We had [Maierdan] go down, too. And then the changes to the coaching staff as well. So it’s been kind of a learning experience dealing with all of the issues.

NiuBBall: What were your expectations coming into this year? When you were hired for this job, what were your understandings about the Flying Tigers and their expectations?

CD: I just knew that they had a great tradition and basketball culture. They were consistently at the top of the league the last few years, so I knew expectations were going to be high. They had been to the Finals the last three years, so I knew anything less than a championship was going to be unacceptable. It was good to have those expectations. This season is only successful if you win the championship. Period. If you go undefeated and you lose in the championship, then the season didn’t matter. It was interesting to come in for my first head job and be a part of an all-or-nothing situation. It’s just very unique.

NiuBBall: The reality of that championship goal has changed because of all of the changes that have gone on within the team this year. How has that affected your own expectations as the season has progressed?

CD: It’s going to be a lot more difficult to win a title. But, having come in here with that mindset, I’m trying to maintain my belief that anything less than a championship is a failure. No matter what’s happened, I still need to treat the players and help them to the best of my ability. I came here in October to help this team win a championship. It’s February now and that hasn’t changed for me. Like I said, it’s going to be much more difficult, but it hasn’t changed how I approach my day-to-day.

NiuBBall: Take us through your responsibilities to the team. What do you do both on a day-to-day basis and on a more long-term, full season basis?

CD: My responsibilities include strength and power development, injury prevention, and if necessary, nutritional guidance. The day-to-day is all about having seamless communication between the coaching staff, players, team physician, and myself on players progress and potential issues.

Over the long term, I try to see improvement in a series of performance tests that indicate progress in areas such as lateral quickness, vertical jump, and linear speed. Improvement of these results is mostly seen in the off-season, but in-season we attempt to maintain those results. Also, throughout the season I am constantly evaluating players for movement inefficiencies or improper biomechanics.  Its important to develop and maintain proper movement patterns to keep each athletes risk of injury to a minimum.

It’s really a unique job. You train guys differently based on who they are, how much experience they have and how many minutes they’re getting. But then you’re also going on guys’ individual experience as well. Guys like Kenyon Martin, Patty and Quincy don’t do the same things as the 12th man on the bench. So it’s unique. You have a high-level NBA player to work with on one end that needs more corrective and preventative work so that he can avoid injuries, and you also have Chinese guys who fit into that category as well with Tang [Zhengdong] and [Mengke] Bateer. But then you have the  Xirelijiang’s and Meng Duo’s that you still need to develop, but they’re getting high minutes, so they’re kind of in between. Although this is a professional basketball team, the job has a lot of “college” aspect to it because you do need to develop players. The younger guys who maybe aren’t playing as much, you’re always trying to develop them. My favorite part of the job, has been the diversity between the different players goals and training experience.

NiuBBall: All of the foreign players are obviously used to the Western training methods that you’re using, but what about the Chinese guys? How have they responded?

CD: The players love it. I feel that they’re really interested in how strength and conditioning can elevate and extend their careers. They come to me after practice wanting more work, they ask questions about why they’re doing certain things. They are engaged in the whole process. They’re used to doing a lot of back squatting for example. But, I take the bar off their back and we do a lot of single leg work with a weighted vest. They’re a little confused about it at first, but then when it’s explained to them, they really respond and they start to understand that this is how you get better, this is how you stay healthy. They then start to realize that their knees feel better, or their back isn’t hurting, or whatever the case may be. Then that draws guys even closer to the system and the American way of doing strength and conditioning. To me, that I can affect their training habits and gain their trust, that’s been very gratifying.

NiuBBall: You talked already about Tang and Bateer. Both of them are former CBA MVPs and have played big roles in the National Team set-up. Now they’re late in their careers, how have they reacted to having you around the team?

CD: Let’s talk about Tang first. Luckily with him, he’s dealt with foreign strength coaches before because he’s played for the National Team in recent years. So he understood right away and he bought in right when I got here. Tang’s main issue is that he has a weight issue. It’s hard for him to manage his weight and when he gets above a certain weight his knees start to bother him significantly. When I first got here, we had Tang doing three workouts a day. Bob [Donewald Jr.] and I decided that we wanted to get his weight down as quickly as possible before all the travel started, so we had him doing pool workouts at lunchtime. While his teammates were sleeping – you know how much the Chinese players love their post-lunch nap – he was at the pool doing plyometrics and intervals with me. And he loved it. He was exhausted, but he was seeing results. He had already bought into it, and then once he started to see improvement, he really started to trust me.

With Bateer, it’s a little different. I treat him like an NBA guy. I give him a lot more freedom. He has way more experience than I do. I didn’t come in and try to dictate his routines or change the way he trains, I just gave him some ideas and approached him more casually. Like you said, he’s won MVPs and he’s been in the NBA, so he knows what he’s doing. But, he’s also stayed healthy for the most part. So what’s there for me to do? We discussed some things that we wanted to add and I give him a little bit at a time, but I kind of let him go on his own. And when he needs me, he comes to me. And I think that’s a great approach. I’m not going to force myself on a guy who’s had success.

NiuBBall: There’s a common belief amongst Chinese, especially within Chinese basketball, that Chinese bodies are genetically inferior to their Western counterparts and that’s why the Chinese are unable to develop high-level players. With your experiences, first with Yi and now with Xinjiang, do you buy into that?

CD: I do believe that they’re just not as athletic overall, but I think it comes down to how this country’s younger players have been training, both inside each club’s youth team and inside the youth national teams. You can train to be more athletic. You may not ever be able to jump out of the gym like an elite NBA athlete, but you can still improve. I think it’s an excuse. Chinese players miss a window of opportunity right after puberty to really gain athleticism, strength and power because of out-dated training methods.

NiuBBall: I think the obvious example right now is Jeremy Lin. He’s Asian, but was born and raised in the States, and now he’s starring for the New York Knicks.

CD: I think he’s a great example. He’s Asian, but if he’s not built like a Westerner, or he’s physically at a disadvantage or whatever, then why is he having so much success? It’s because he was raised in a different basketball culture and he took advantage of his opportunity when it came. So that can’t be an excuse if guys like Jeremy Lin are having the success that the is having.

NiuBBall: So is bringing over those Western training styles and teaching the Chinese how to use those methods an important step in developing athletes here?

CD: Absolutely.  There have been a number of Western strength coaches that have done a great job over here. I believe the hiring of these coaches must continue. There needs to be continuous effort to educate the Chinese in the area of strength and conditioning. There needs to be opportunities for junior team head coaches to be educated or there needs to be budgets to get some developmental strength and conditioning programs inside of teams, maybe getting a Westerner in there to run a program and teach the Chinese coaches. I think if there was an improvement on the youth level, middle school or high school level, it’d make a world of difference. It would prepare them to compete at a higher level internationally in events like the World Championship and at the Olympics. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to scramble around for the next Yao or the next Yi. They’d have a crop of guys who are just ready to step in and they’d have a lot of guys to choose from because they’ve been training the right way from an early age.

NiuBBall: How much of the things that you’re bringing to this team are being picked up by players? Whenever you’re done in Xinjiang, do you see them being able to use these things by themselves long-term? Do you think the organization will employ Western training methods down through the club?

CD: I think it just depends on the player. Guys who realize that this is how you’re supposed to take care of your body are going to continue to do it. A lot of it has to do with the culture of China. They’re very respectful to authority. So if you get a new coach who doesn’t do it this way, then they’re going to listen to their coach, no matter how different his strength and conditioning methods are from mine. So it just depends on the guy.

I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to change the culture of the team and the way the front office views strength & conditioning. But there are a number of former and current national team players that have had positive experiences with strength and conditioning that might be able to influence the front offices decision to keep western training methods around the organization. As for these methods being used down on the junior team level, it’s very unlikely until there is an obvious long-term financial benefit in developing young players that can be seen by management.

NiuBBall: You’re American, you’ve worked in America with the Clippers, but over the last two years you’ve been working exclusively within Chinese basketball. Now that you’ve had experiences with both sides, what are the major differences you’ve noticed between the U.S. and China in terms of strength and conditioning?

CD: The culture here is much different. I can only speak for basketball, but I’m sure it extends over to other sports as well. And that’s the quantity of work, the quantity of practices and the length of practice time over the quality of those practices. For example, it’s not uncommon at the youth national team even at the senior national team level to have a two-to-three hour practice in the morning and then another two-to-three hour practice in the afternoon. And some guys are on club teams where they do the same thing. So some players are doing what essentially amounts to 12 straight months of two-a-days. That’s unreal. When is there time to recover? When is there time to really get quality work?

And that brings up other issues. When you know you’re going to go through the same practice routine every day of the week for months on end, it’s human nature to find a pace that gets you through it. It’s not a pace that gets them better, they’re not going at an intense game-speed that will get them better, it’s this pace that gets just get them through the day. It’s survival, it’s “How can I survive through this day?” They know that they have a two or three hour practice in the morning and another one in the afternoon. So it creates a pace, and really a mentality, that slows development. It doesn’t develop a great athlete. They can never reach that world-class intensity because they’re just pacing themselves to get through each day.

If there’s one change that the sport culture in China needs to go through, the one that will give this country’s athletes the most benefit, I think they need to learn quality over quantity. Teach these guys to reach high intensities over shorter periods of time and then rest and recover.

NiuBBall: The prime example is of course Yao, who had to retire because of all the injuries and wear and tear that piled up on his body after playing year-round for so many years. Yi is also playing all year, how has that affected his career?

CD: I think it’s had a huge effect on Yi’s career, especially in the NBA. You have to understand: He goes through an NBA season, maybe he gets a month off after and if he does that’s a huge amount of time for a Chinese player to be resting. Then he has to report to the national team and play there. Luckily. Bob [Donewald] has been managing his minutes through all of the exhibition games that they play over the course of a summer and that’s definitely helped. But still, with the way the Chinese Basketball Association schedules the summer, it’s not uncommon for Yi to be playing nine games in 10 days. How can you expect a guy to play an NBA season, play an entire summer’s worth of games, play in a major continental or international competition depending on the year, and then go back and play in the NBA again?

Yi’s reputation is that he’s a soft basketball player. I’ve seen him play at the top of his game at the World Championship and at the Asia Championship. He’s not a soft player. But if he doesn’t find that rest, he just doesn’t have a motor. He doesn’t have any gas in the tank. He’s exhausted. And until they make some changes, they’re never going to see an All-NBA caliber player like Yao ever again.

NiuBBall: Let’s talk more about Yi. What was it like to work with him for those two years?

CD: It was a tremendous opportunity to help his career, both internationally and in the NBA. He’s a great guy to work for, he’s a true professional.

NiuBBall: What was he like as a client? What was the relationship between you two like?

CD: He was great, he reacted very well to having me with him. Yao had a foreign strength and conditioning guy when he was with the National Team and at that time, Yi was pretty young. So I think he saw the success Yao was having and I’m pretty sure that Yi thought that was the best route for him to go. Just in terms of that he’s being taken care of on the performance end, both in the NBA and when he’s with Team China, to have a guy guiding him through all the things he needs to do to get better and remain healthy.

We had full trust in each other. He had already committed to taking the advice of the people around him. It was his idea to bring someone in for himself. He thought, “I’m investing in my career, so I’d better take full advantage and listen to everything that this guy is telling me.” So right from the start, he had 100% trust in me and the entire process as a whole.

And you know, his work ethic is world class. Rarely did Yi cancel a session, unless it was something personal that he had to attend to that day. In Washington, we’d sometimes work into the wee hours of the night. Sometimes we’d meet at midnight and we’d be in the gym by ourselves, lifting and doing core work. His work ethic and commitment level were world class.

He’s a total professional. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to work for him because he opened up a lot of doors for me. If it weren’t for him and his people, and the opportunity that they gave me, I wouldn’t have been around the National Team, I wouldn’t have gotten with Donewald and I wouldn’t be here in Xinjiang right now.

NiuBBall: Curtis, thanks for the time and good luck with the rest of the season.

CD: Thanks, Jon.

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Guangsha, Xinjiang shake up their import Playoff rosters

February 22, 2012

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After Guangsha allowed Wilson Chandler to return to the United States, the familiar Rodney White has been brought back to suit up for the team’s post-season run.

Edward Bothfeld also contributed to this story.

Zhejiang Guangsha, who played the entire regular season with Wilson Chandler, will now have to play the entire post-season without him after both sides agreed to let him return to the United States to negotiate his next NBA contract after he helped the team secure a Playoff berth. Chandler is already back in the U.S., where he is reportedly in discussions over a long-term deal with the Denver Nuggets.

Guangsha has signed Rodney White as his replacement.

Guangsha opted to bring in White because of his familiarity with the team and with the CBA.

White played for three seasons with the Lions from 2007-10 before playing for Shandong Kingston last year. In his last season for the Lions in 2009-2010,  he averaged 27 points and nine rebounds, leading them to the second round of the playoffs. He also has experience playing with Guangsha’s holdovers from that season, most notably P.J. Ramos, Lin Chih-chieh, and Jin Lipeng, all of whom are core players this season.

That said, White should fit into Chandler’s role better than any other options that were on the market. White had been playing for Anyang KGC in South Korea before getting injured, and arrived Sunday morning in Hangzhou in decent shape. If he can buy into Coach Jim Cleamons game plan, Guangsha will have a puncher’s chance against Beijing in the first round of the playoffs, which begin Wednesday.

In 29 games last season for Shandong, White averaged 22.4 points,8.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.4 steals.

Guangsha head coach, Jim Cleamons, who spoke to NiuBBall’s Edward Bothfled, welcomes his addition.

“Rodney is going to do well for us. [Wilson and Rodney] are not the same player, but they have similar characteristics. He’s not going to be the ball handler in the open court that Wilson is. Rodney’s been a successful player in this league for a few years and he has playoff experience.”

As for Chandler’s departure, there is some level of disappointment that he is gone, but most people within the Guangsha organization understand his position. “I’m very happy for him. I think he did what we asked him to do. He came over and played hard. He improved his skills so I think it was a good experience for him,” said Cleamons.

Cleamons himself did not learn that Chandler had been granted his release until the night it happened. Along with the rest of the Lions team, he was unable to say goodbye to Chandler before he left.

Still, his teammates understand Chandler’s situation, “I think they wish him well. If the shoe was on their foot and they had the opportunities that Wilson is going to have, they would wish him well,” added Cleamons, “ From a business perspective, they would understand. The timing could be better. It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, three-time Finals runners-up, Xinjiang Guanghui, is also making a change — again. Yesterday, the team officially announced that they have brought in former NBA lottery pick, Ike Diogu to replace Gani Lawal. It marks the fifth time this season that Xinjiang has brought in a new foreigner this season.

Lawal, who came in mid-season to replace Kenyon Martin, averaged 18.4 points and 12.3 rebounds on 61.2% shooting over 17 games. During that stretch, the team went 11-6 and climbed up the standings from tenth place all the way into fourth.

Though Lawal came in and was more than serviceable, and at times even dominant, especially on the glass, Xinjiang team management felt they needed to add more offense on their front line. With Mengke Bateer and Tang Zhengdong having struggled with their offensive consistency all year, the team felt they needed somebody who provide a a more diverse scoring threat.

Diogu comes into his first stint in China at a high-pressure time when Xinjiang is gearing up for their annual run deep into the playoffs. After not playing any professional basketball during the NBA lockout, Diogu was signed by the San Antonio Spurs on January 3rd, but was released one week later. With management’s notoriously sky high expectations for their import players, the heat will be on Diogu to step in and immediately perform at a high level.

It’s not uncommon for teams to replace foreign players right before the playoffs. Last year, Beijing swapped Joe Crawford out for Orien Greene, and DongGuan replaced the injured Jackon Vroman for Courtney Sims. Beijing’s move to bring in Greene backfired, however, as FIBA elected to extend a two-year suspension that was originally handed down in March 2009.

The 2012 CBA Playoffs start tonight with #4 Xinjiang going on the road to play #5 DongGuan, while #7 Guangsha will host #2 Beijing in Game One of the best-of-five first round.

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CBA Round 30 Recap

February 8, 2012

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DongGuan – 97 @ Guangdong – 111

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Shanghai – 89 @ Bayi – 77

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

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

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

Andrew Crawford

Box Score

Foshan – 111 @ Zhejiang – 107

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Liaoning – 95 @ Fujian – 120

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Guangsha – 100 @ Shanxi – 107

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Beijing – 102 @ Qingdao – 114

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Xinjiang – 99 @ Jilin – 97

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

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

Jon Pastuszek

Box Score

Jiangsu – 99 @ Shandong – 102

Box Score

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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 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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Xinjiang replaces Bob Donewald with Jiang Xingquan

December 21, 2011

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Frustrated by years of coming in second place, the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers brought in the man who has lead the Chinese National Team to the top of Asian basketball this summer, coach Bob Donewald Jr., to get them to the top of the Chinese Basketball Association. To everyone’s shock, Donewald couldn’t even get the team past the Round 13.

In a move that defines basketball with Chinese characteristics, the Flying Tigers have relieved Donewald of his head coaching duties after just 11 games. He will be replaced by the man who was forced to step down in the summer, Jiang Xingquan, who coached the team for the last five seasons. Jiang had been with the team as a consultant after Donewald had been hired. He will coach tonight during Xinjiang’s Round 14 home game against Liaoning.

The decision is a highly surprising one. Fed up from losing in the CBA Finals the last three seasons, Xinjiang went out in the offseason and invested almost roughly US $10 million to upgrade the squad on a number of levels. Their first major change, however, was on the bench. Dissatisfied with the way Xinjiang lost in the Finals last year after going 31-1 in the regular season, management signed Donewald, who has been head coach of the Chinese National team since April 2010, to a record contract to replace longtime coach, Jiang.

The hiring seemed like an excellent move. Beyond having coached Team China to a Round of 16 appearance in the 2010 World Championship, a gold medal at the Asian Games the following November, and a title at the 2011 FIBA Asia Championship, Donewald has also had success in the CBA. Two seasons ago in his first stint in China, he coached the Shanghai Sharks up from a disastrous 6-44 last place finish in 2008-09, to a magical 25-7 turnaround that resulted with an appearance in CBA semi-finals.

But Donewald was unable to match the insanely high expectations of an impatient Xinjiang team who demands excellence in the regular season almost as much as they do in the Playoffs. Their 7-4 record is the Flying Tigers’ worst start to the season since 2006-07 and in the eyes of management, was unacceptable given the level of investment they put in during the offseason. Faced with a potential reality of a mere top four finish, the team ultimately felt a championship was unobtainable under Donewald’s leadership and the team thus opted to go with the familiar face in Jiang.

According to Sina Sports, the decision was geared by the Xinjiang Provincial Sports Bureau. On Friday December 16th before Xinjiang lost to Guangsha, Li Guanming, the Number One at the Sports Bureau, said at an annual meeting that the success of the Flying Tigers represents the glory of the province, and that losing is unacceptable.

“Xinjiang basketball isn’t just about one man,” said Li. “It’s about the hopes of the 20 million people who live in Xinjiang. We can’t allow this kind of season to continue. If we lose again, then we have to consider making a change.”

Donewald won his next game on Sunday against Jilin, but by then it was too late. During the game, fans could be heard chanting “Fire Donewald!” their volume increasing in the second half when Xinjiang gave the lead away. That may have been the final straw for both the team and the Xinjiang local government, who feel it’s the team’s duty to win glory for the area.

The four losses to start this season were not up to par with other Xinjiang teams from years past, but unlike in previous years, the franchise was undergoing a massive transformation on all fronts that arguably needed some time to gel. In addition to Donewald, the team overhauled the roster with seven new players, including Kenyon Martin, three-time CBA MVP, Tang Zhengdong, who transferred over from Jiangsu, sharp-shooter Zhao Yonggang, who came over from Foshan, and Meng Duo who is on loan from DongGuan. Martin, one of four high-profile NBA-to-CBA players who opted to sign in China during the NBA lockout, was signed to a record breaking deal that made him the highest paid player in CBA history.

Beyond all of that, the team was also coping with the unexpected loss of Quincy Douby, who suffered a season ending wrist injury during the pre-season against Shanghai. Douby, the 2010-11 NiuBBall.com MVP, enjoyed one of the most singularly dominant seasons in CBA history and was considered by many to be the best CBA import of all time after he set single game scoring records for both the All-Star Game and the Finals. In the summer, he was signed to a one-year$2 million dollar deal, which was the richest contract in league history at the time.

Xinjiang, however, was apparently not in any mood to hear excuses, no matter how valid some of them probably were. Their quick trigger in replacing Donewald is indicative of the volatile and unpredictable nature that has come to define this league over the last decade. The people who run the team, similar to people who run the league, are businessmen and government officials who have little knowledge of basketball. The only factors that ultimately matter are the ones on the win-loss record. In the eyes of Xinjiang management, the team went 31-1 last season with a roster that was less talented than this current one. Though they probably weren’t expecting an undefeated season, they were expecting another dominant run towards a championship. For whatever reason, however, the team wasn’t blowing out teams like they were last year. Added to the four losses and Xinjiang felt that the Donewald-era simply wasn’t going to work.

The team will now move forward with Jiang. He is known for leading National Team through their “Golden Age” period from 1991-95 that peaked with a top eight finish at the 1994 FIBA World Championship, an accomplishment which still stands today as China’s best finish in major international competition. In 2002, he headed Xinjiang’s successful promotion campaign that saw the team get promoted from the league’s second-tier B-League up to its premier league. He returned to the team in 2006 after spending time as an assistant with the National Team and a head coach in Liaoning.

Jiang is known as a no nonsense old-school Chinese coach who demands the utmost discipline out of his players. Last May, Sina Sports released Jiang’s strict set of rules that he applies to all of his Chinese players, which include a curfew and a set time for lights out. His inflexible style has been known to create issues amongst players, specifically foreign ones. Last year, his relationship with forward James Singleton got so bad that the two barely talked during the end of the regular season an into the Playoffs.

What Donewald will do in the short-term isn’t clear, but his dismissal from Xinjiang will not affect his status as head coach of the National Team. Said CBA comissioner, Bai Xilin, ”In regards to the current situation this season, his position with the club is a club decision. It has nothing to do with the National Team.” Donewald reportedly signed a four-year deal worth US $4 million with Xinjiang. At present, it is not known as to how that will be dealt with.

Xinjiang plays Liaoning at home tonight before going on the road to play against the team they’ve been trying to get past the last years, Guangdong, on Friday.

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CBA Power Rankings: Week 2 (11/30-12/6)

December 8, 2011

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*Note that the highly complicated methods that comprise these rankings do not factor in the results of Round 8, which was played on Tuesday and Wednesday night. These are as of Round 7, December 4th.

1. Beijing Shougang Ducks (7-0)

Last week — 1: Last week, perhaps the argument could have been made we were hopping on the Ducks bandwagon a little too soon. And we really stress the word “could,” since they won on the road at four-time defending champion Guangdong. After following that up with home win against three-time runner-up, Xinjiang, their spot at the top is now indisputable. But it’s not by any means permanent — Beijing’s next four games are on the road, including a Friday match-up against J.R. Smith and the 4-1 Golden Bulls.

2. Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers (5-2)

LW – 2: Guangdong, who like Xinjiang, hardly ever loses in the regular season, already has two more ticks in that column than most people thought they would this early in the year. And yet, we are still taking the champs’ word for it, despite issues surrounding Aaron Brooks so far unsuccessful integration into the lineup. Given the Southern Tigers’ winning ways over the years, we think he’ll come around eventually. Until he does though, and until the team stops losing games to Qingdao, Guangdong is riding shotgun to Beijing.

3. Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers (3-2)

LW – 3: The two losses don’t concern us as much as the lack of production Xinjiang has been getting from two of the three expensive Chinese players who transfered in this summer, Tang Zhengdong and Chao Yonggang. Tang, who’s knee is obviously not healthy, is now out with an ankle injury. Chao is averaging three points a game. K-Mart’s near 20-20s and Patty Mills’ offensive explosions are all fine and well, but if Xinjiang is to win a title this year, they need more from their local guys.

4. Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls (4-1)

LW – 9: Winners of four straight, the Golden Bulls find themselves back in the position we originally marked them down in before the season started. A lot of that has to do with J.R. Smith. 52 points (11-15 from three), 22 rebounds and 7 steals against Bayi and 32 the game before against Shanxi has his scoring average up to over 27 a game, good for fourth in the league. That number is bound to go up when J.R. figures out how to get some easier shots for himself (only 40% from two-point range).

5. Zhejiang Guangsha Lions  (4-2)

LW – 4: Peter John Ramos is back and up to his old tricks (20 points and 15.5 rebounds in two games), great news for Guangsha who were getting absolutely zilch from the guy he replaced, Dwyane Jones. A huge game on the road against Guangdong will tell us if Ramos’ return to his old home of Hangzhou makes the newly Wilson Chandler-lead Lions legitimate contenders this year.

6. Bayi Fubang Rockets (3-2)

LW – 10: In our eyes, there’s a big drop off after number five — not necessarily a bad thing when you consider that the CBA has enjoyed Grand Canyon-esque rifts between the have and have-nots since its inception in 1995. And speaking of have and have-nots, the Rockets have won every game at home (3-0). They have not won one game away (0-2). That trend won’t continue along that extreme line, but the Army’s home/away discrepancy, much like last year, will be something to keep an eye on.

7. Liaoning Hengye Jaguars (3-4)

LW – 11: Yeah, you’re in the playoffs, Liaoning, but it’s tough for us to excited about a team that can’t put together back-to-back wins. Since opening up his Sina Weibo account last week, Zhang Qingpeng is averaging 12 points a game. The lesson: opening up a Sina Weibo has only a minimal effect on struggling players. Bummer. The bigger bummer here though is Guo Ailun’s scanty 16 minutes per game average so far.

8. Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons (2-3)

LW – 6: Another team with loads of talent that hasn’t been able to win two games in a row. Despite having three studs, Marcus Williams, Charles Gaines and Duan Jiangpeng, the Brave Dragons are always going to be at somewhat of a loss because supporting players Zhang Xuewen, Shang Ping and Liu Shaoming are inconsistent. The roller coaster ride is going to continue, but we still think their Big Three is good enough to get into the post-season.

9. DongGuan New Century Leopards (3-4)

LW – 17: Shame on us for ever doubting Brian Goorjian. The Leopards’ three-game (and nearly four if they didn’t give one away to Beijing in Round 4) win streak is due in big part to Shavlik Randolph’s 25.5 points and 14.3 rebounds over that stretch, but who are we kidding. It’s obviously due to the fact that the entire team posted up last week’s power rankings, which had them last, on their locker-room bulletin board.

10. Fujian SBS Sturgeons (3-4)

LW – 13: Fujian’s on a two game win streak. They have five guys averaging double figures. Will McDonald is having the most underrated season of any foreigner out here (roughly 26 and 10 a night). They have Zaid Abbas. They have, what we think, is a playoff contending team. Trust us, they’ll be right there.


11. Jilin SBT Northeast Tigers (3-4)

LW – 7: Do Chinese coaches have it in for promising Chinese point-guards? Like his young 2010 FIBA World Championship teammate, Guo Ailun, Yu Shulong is collecting splinters. Since the DongBei Tigers have turned the ball over more than 20 times in their last two games, maybe more Yu would be a good thing.

12. Shanghai Dongfang Sharks (2-4)

LW – 15: Just when it looked like our man Andrew Crawford had an article about a three-game win streak in the books, the Sharks went out and got blown out by Liaoning on Sunday. Anyways, we think the Sharks are onto something. Either that our we’re just super biased. But it’s all starting on the defensive end. Mike Harris is leading the league in rebounds, and the team is holding opponents to a stingy 91 points per game so far.

13. Shandong Kingston Gold Lions (3-4)

LW – 5: In his last 79 minutes, Sun Jie has five points. Yeah, five. Definitely not the norm for a guy who is usually on fire from deep. Sun’s alarming recent lack of offense is directly related to the Gold Lions’ even more alarming 89.7 ppg, last in the league. In seven games, they have yet to crack the 100 point mark once, an unsettling statistic in a league that plays with a high pace.

14. Qingdao Double Star Eagles (2-5)

LW – 14: Congrats on beating Guangdong, but it still doesn’t mean Qingdao is a playoff team. It does mean, however, that Lester Hudson can go the heck off from at any given game. And for that reason alone, Qingdao will win some games. But their Chinese talent remains as one of the league’s worst and until they get their import big-man situation settled (Ivan Johnson was the second American sent home this year for the Eagles), they’re going to remain in tough shape.

15. Jiangsu Nangang Dragons (2-5)

LW – 11: By far the most disappointing team of the season, Jiangsu started at four pre-season, dropped to 11 at the first week and is now at lowly 15. As is always the case, the foreigner was blamed first after Dragons management finally got Mardy Collins on a plane back to the States. Jiangsu started slow last year with Ricky Davis before they brought in Antoine Wright as his replacement; is Marcus Williams (the UCONN one) this year’s savior?

 

16. Tianjin Ronggang Golden Lions (2-5)

LW – 8: Yeah, remember when we had them at number eight last week? Yeah, well we were really, really off on that.


17. Guangdong Foshan Dralions (2-5)

LW – 15: Gerald Green is out and Marcus Haislip is in. It’s not a bad idea at all — Haislip can definitely play — but we wonder if it’s going to be their last. Marcus Douthit has been putting up decent numbers, yet is he the right fit alongside Haislip? This team needs a guard and fast.

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