The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) tournament entered its second week of games following a long suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CBA League concluded its first round of regular-season games on July 6. With a three-day-long break, the CBA games will restart on July 9 for the final part of the regular season. The second portion of the games will follow similar styles. By the end of the regular season, 12 teams will enter the CBA playoffs in reduced length for the 2020 CBA championship title.
Here are some of the highlights from the past week in the CBA: An all-Chinese team finished its first round of games with dominance, O.J. Mayo stepped up for Liaoning, and following Bayi’s early departure from the playoffs, two other CBA teams, including the former CBA champion Sichuan, will be eliminated from the 2020 CBA playoffs.
All-Chinese team surprises league
The Zhejiang Lions finished their first part of the CBA games with a 6-2 record. While winning 6 games is definitely not an extraordinary achievement for this playoff-caliber team, the Zhejiang Lions were able to surprise fans by having such records without a single foreign player on the squad. Deciding to play with all-Chinese players, the Zhejiang based basketball team has outperformed many teams with foreign players on their rosters.
There is no doubt that foreign players are critical for the success of most CBA teams. From recruiting NBA-caliber players such as J.R. Smith, Tracy McGrady, and Stephon Marbury, CBA teams have demonstrated the capabilities of foreign players and their roles in getting media attention and building successful teams that can win championships. Foreign players are usually the key players in the team who dominate plays on both ends of the floor, and their performances will likely determine the final outcome of games.
Despite the 2019-2020 CBA season being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was able to return to action in late June. However, many teams were not able to have their foreign players return because of the existing travel restrictions put in place by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Facing such issues, the Zhejiang Lions became one of several teams without foreign players remaining on their current rosters.
While many anticipated that teams without foreign players will suffer in their performances and chances to get a playoff berth, the Lions have proved them wrong. With stable performances from the team’s leading players, the Zhejiang team was able to secure victory against teams with foreign players.
The Zhejiang Lions’ national team-caliber players certainly contributed to the team’s surprising performances. Two Zhejiang Lions players, Sun Minghui and Hu Jinqiu, were able to utilize their extra playing minutes in the absence of foreign players to further contribute to their teams. Sun delivered 16 assists in the game against Qingdao, and scored 34 points in the game against Liaoning. Sun was able to show extraordinary efforts on both ends of the floor. The Chinese national team player was able to defend Jeremy Lin and limited Lin’s score to 9 points in the Lions’ 100-87 victory against Beijing.
Hu Jinqiu started in all eight games for the Lions and scored more than 20 points in 7 of the total 8 games, including a personal season-high of 38 points against Shanghai. Hu also saw his first 20+20 in his career with 26 points and 21 rebounds in the game against the Zhejiang Golden Bulls.
The Zhejiang Lions now rank 4th in the CBA league. The top four teams will get a bye in the first round of the playoffs and directly enter the quarter-finals. For the Zhejiang Lions, the improving performances from Chinese players are certainly positive signs for the team’s upcoming games.
O.J. Mayo steps up for Liaoning
Former NBA player O.J. Mayo became the Liaoning Flying Leopards’ backup foreign player following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Chinese state media CGTN, Mayo was introduced to the Liaoning team on March 29, almost three months before the team finally announced his onboarding news.
The No. 3 pick from the 2008 NBA draft was ousted from the NBA following a drug violation in 2016. Spending the following four years in basketball clubs overseas, Mayo ended up in the CBA on a team that has struggled since the league’s return.
Liaoning lost three out of its last four games since CBA restarded. The team’s former head coach, former Chinese National team player Guo Shiqiang, resigned following Liaoning’s disappointing performances. The Flying Leopards won the subsequent two games following Guo’s departure, then lost to the Zhejiang Lions, the rising team in the CBA league.
Mayo played six games for the Liaoning Leopards, and scored an average of 29 points, with 6.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. The former Memphis Grizzlies’ player dropped 37 points in the game against the Zhejiang Lions, a season-high performance for his short journey in the CBA. Such performance puts Mayo 11th among the league’s top-scorers. With such an average, Mayo has already outperformed several former NBA players, such as Ty Lawson and Jeremy Lin.
It remains uncertain whether Mayo would be offered a chance to stay with Liaoning at the end of the season, nor are there any rumors or news speculating Mayo’s return to the NBA. The Flying Leopards recently announced that NCAA player Zhang Zhenlin from the Tulane Green Wave will join the team next season. Liaoning is also believed to be one of the teams with the best Chinese players. To take one of the two foreign players’ spots on the team, Mayo will need to contribute more than scoring, but also play an active role in the team’s development and become a core part of the team’s path towards another championship title.
Liaoning now ranks 7th in the CBA league following the team’s bad performances in the first four games since the tournament restarted. The former CBA champion will need to deliver more consistent performances in the remaining eight regular-season games to secure a better position in the 2020 CBA playoffs.
Former CBA champion eliminated from playoffs
With 7 to 8 games left in the CBA regular season, two more CBA teams have been eliminated from the 2020 CBA playoffs. THe Guangzhou Loong-lions and former CBA champion Sichuan Blue Whales became the latest teams that are out of the playoffs competition at an early stage.
The Blue Whales joined the CBA league in 2013 following the team’s success in the NBL, China’s second-tier basketball tournament. The Sichuan Blue Whales won the 2016 CBA championship title with the help of having three foreign players (two foreign players without nationality restriction and one foreign player from FIBA Asia membership countries). The Sichuan team defeated Liaoning in a best-of-seven series in five games, making them the fifth CBA champion in the history of the Chinese Basketball Association tournament.
The Sichuan team now ranks 17th in the CBA with a record of 10 wins and 28 losses. With 7 games left to play, Sichuan will not be able to catch up to 12th ranked Fujian Sturgeons, which has a record of 19 wins and 19 losses. Earlier last week, Tianjin and Bayi were eliminated from the playoffs.
In addition to the Guangdong Tigers, three other teams (Xinjiang, Beijing Ducks, and Beijing Fly Dragons) clinched their playoff berths in the CBA. Despite having the same record as the two Beijing teams, Zhejiang Lions have not yet secured their playoff spot as they will play against 13th ranked Shenzhen Aviators later in the second part of the CBA regular season.