CAB Playoff preview: Old rivals fight for CBA title

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JINAN, March 15 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) Playoffs 2019 are finally upon us after the longest-ever regular season of 46 rounds.

Altogether, 12 teams will play in the CBA playoffs. The top four of the regular season will enter the second round, and the No. 5-12 seeds will compete for a second-round berth in a best-of-3 format starting from Saturday.

The fifth-ranked side Beijing are eager to sweep 12-seeded Shanghai, as Beijing had three wins out of four encounters in the regular season, and have the home-court advantage. However, Beijing might suffer from the absence of injured Zhai Xiaochuan and Liu Xiaoyu. Jimmer Fredette, the top scorer with 36.9 points per game, has strong momentum to lead Shanghai to the next round, in which they will face Shenzhen.

The No.8 seed Shandong want a repeat of last season when they beat Jiangsu into the semifinals. The efficient scoring duo of Donatas Motiejunas and Ty Lawson will combine to lead Shandong forward. If they win, Shandong will have the chance in the second round to take on 2012-2013 CBA final rivals Guangdong, who claimed the title that season.

The clash between Zhejiang and Guangsha is the only provincial derby among the first round match-ups. Both had one away victory in their last two meetings. The sixth-placed Guangsha might stop in the first round after Liu Zheng suffer from a fracture of his right palm and their two foreign players cannot deliver stable performances. On the other side, Zhejiang's Marcus Denmon has returned to hot attacking form, which will help Zhejiang face Xinjiang in the final eight series.

Though Jilin had victories over Guangdong and Liaoning in the regular season, they were beaten by Fujian twice. Fujian will strive to go further after eight years of being shut out of the playoffs. The regular season MVP, Wang Zhelin, averaging 24.6 points and 13.7 rebounds, will be a powerful weapon for Fujian. Liaoning are waiting to see if Fujian succeed in the best-of-3 series.

Defending champions Liaoning dream to be more than the runners-up of the regular season, in which they notched 38 wins out of 46. They finished second in defensive rating (102.5) after only Beijing (95.2); fourth in offensive rating (113), following Guangdong, Xinjiang and Shenzhen.

Due to a lot of injuries during the regular season, Liaoning head coach Guo Shiqiang will need to find ways to get the best out of his roster in playoffs; otherwise, it might dampen their journey defending the title. The fitness of key players could be a deciding factor in the series.

Guangdong, the eight-time CBA champions and regular season winners, await the winner between Jiangsu and Shandong. Head coach Du Feng will have to work miracles, especially among foreign players, to go further.

With three former champions in the top four, they are the favorites to win a championship once again, but each of the top 12 teams can claim that they are capable of winning it all.

Will there be a new champion as well as the 8th team to take the trophy in CBA's 24-year history? Only time will tell. Enditem

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