Chinese basketball: 2022 CBA playoffs preview

Society & Culture

The regular season’s best team, Liaoning, is seeking its second championship in five years, while the Guangdong Southern Tigers have finally started looking their age.

It’s been a season of smiles for Hán Déjūn 韩德君, Kyle Fogg, and the Liaoning Flying Tigers

The Liaoning Flying Leopards confirmed its place at the top of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) standings after it crushed the Sichuan Blue Whales 134-90 in the final game of the regular season last Tuesday. Led by the irrepressible Guō Àilún 郭艾伦 — who made headlines earlier this season for his choice of apparel — the Flying Leopards have been the standout team this season.

After finishing runner-up the last two seasons — losing 2 games to 1 against the Guangdong Southern Tigers in both finals — Liaoning will be extra motivated heading into the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Zhejiang Lions, based out of Hangzhou, have been snapping at Liaoning’s heels all season. Both teams are automatically into the quarterfinals of the 12-team CBA playoffs, which begin on Friday. If all goes accordingly, these two powerhouses will meet in the finals.

But other teams have title aspirations as well in what might be the most open CBA playoffs in years. The Shanghai Sharks and Zhejiang Golden Bulls both finished with 28 wins, and are the two other quarterfinals automatic qualifiers. Eight other teams will battle it out in the pre-quarters.

The Sharks, who completely missed the playoffs in the last two seasons, have seen their fortunes turn thanks to the arrival of veteran CBA guard Jamaal Franklin (15.7 ppg, 7.6 apg, 6.9 rpg) and young center Wáng Zhélín 王哲林 (17.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg). Wang, whose 18 points per game led the team, was a second-round draft pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016, and recently had his draft rights acquired by the New York Knicks.

The Golden Bulls, based out of Yiwu, have managed to build a well-balanced team with a dangerous offense led by the duo of Erick Green and last season’s MVP, Wú Qián 吴前. Meanwhile, Nick Rakocevic is one of the league’s leaders in blocks, averaging 2.3 per game (along with 13.2 points and 10.1 rebounds). 19-year-old center Yú Jiāháo 余嘉豪 has been in top form, too. But the Golden Bulls have struggled to beat the top-tier teams, going 1-5 against the top three teams.

Missing out on a top-four finish for the first time since the 2001-02 season are the Guangdong Southern Tigers, who finished fifth and will begin the playoffs against the Tianjin Pioneers.

Dù Fēng’s杜锋 team, which has won the last three CBA titles, has begun showing signs of age. The 37-year-old Yì Jiànlián 易建联, for so long the talisman of the side, has struggled to return to the form he showed before his injury last season. Sonny Weems — who said last year his goal was to be “considered the best American player to ever play in the CBA” — has looked diminished without his former partner MarShon Brooks, with new signing Ricky Ledo struggling to fill that void. Off the court, Weems was a victim of racial abuse at the start of this year after he got into an altercation with Liaoning big man Hán Déjūn 韩德君.

However, a cornered Tiger is at its most dangerous, and it would be foolish to write off Guangdong.

Sonny Weems

Jeremy Lin’s Beijing Ducks have also struggled this year. Despite securing wins against Liaoning, the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, and Guangdong this season, the team has never put together a consistent run. The Ducks will need better performances from their two underperforming stars, Lin (13.4 ppg, 4.7 apg) and Jonathan Gibson (18.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg), if they are to go far in the playoffs.

Finishing seventh, the Ducks have been paired off with the 10th-place Jilin Northeast Tigers, a team they secured two easy wins against — 105-76 and 106-75 — during the regular season. Jilin relies on former USF standout Dominique Jones, one of the CBA’s deadliest players (26.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 9.0 apg). Jones has the ability to single-handedly win games for the Northeast Tigers, but he’ll be getting a lot of attention from the Ducks’ defense.

The playoffs start on April 1, and once again will be held in a bubble in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.


Badminton controversy

He Jiting (front) and Tan Qiang

Two Chinese men’s doubles pairs, including the current world championship silver medalists, have been suspended three months by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) for “failing to use best efforts to win” a match at the China Open in 2018.

The pair of Hé Jìtíng 何济霆 and Tán qiáng 谭强, along with the pair of Liú Yǔchén 刘雨辰 and the now-retired Lǐ Jùnhuì 李俊慧, allegedly violated the BWF Code of Conduct over “betting wagering and irregular match results.”

The players will now be put on a two-year probationary period in which the bans will come into force if they repeat the offenses.

In addition, all four players will be required to forfeit their winnings from the tournament, $12,250 for He and Tan (who finished second) and $2,187 for Liu and Li.

Other Stories:

Formula 1: Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu left to wonder what might have been, after ‘messy’ Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (SCMP)

Enes Kanter Freedom and the consequences of speaking out (New York Times)

The Chinese footballers who left an indelible mark on British football (The Scotsman)

China badminton team pull out of Swiss Open after positive cases (Reuters)

Chess: China’s Ding Liren could make unlikely late bid for Candidates place (The Guardian)

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