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Wide-open league finals to tip off on Wednesday
The party is over, now it's time to get down to business.
After having a well-earned break at the CBA's All-Star gala on Sunday, the league's top players have to switch their attention to this year's playoffs, which are hard to predict.
"The real competition starts from now on and everybody will become serious going into the first game of the postseason. No more fun times from tonight," Guangdong Southern Tigers forward Yi Jianlian said after winning the All-Star MVP award on Sunday.
The perennial storyline has been who can challenge Guangdong's dominance, but this year's postseason boasts an open field with any of the top four teams capable of winning it all through balanced rosters.
"We have to prepare for every opponent. No one will be easy in the playoffs," said Yi, who returned to the CBA this season after a five-year stint in the NBA.
For Yi and the Tigers, revenge for last year's Finals loss to the Beijing Ducks would provide a perfect ending, but first they have to survive their first-round clash against the Zhejiang Golden Bulls.
Although they swept the Golden Bulls in the regular season, Guangdong remains a little out of kilter after replacing former mentor Li Chunjiang with Lithuanian Jonas Kazlauskas and US guard Terrence Williams with compatriot Donald Sloan.
"Everybody asked me about Beijing, but it's still a long way to the Finals," Jonas, a former Chinese national team coach said. "We will not think about Beijing, We have to concentrate on our first opponent. Otherwise, it will punish us."
Facing the sharpest ranking gap in the four playoff matchups, the Golden Bulls are actually better than their performances reflect with "Mr 75", Quincy Douby, who scored a league record 75 points against Shanxi Brave Dragons last month, leading the charge.
Douby, who provided a major headache for Guangdong in the Finals when he played for Xinjiang Flying Tigers in 2011, said confidence would make it possible for his team to break Guangdong's 28-0 first-round record over the past 10 years.
"We are going to play against the No 1 team. We just need to approach the series confidently. Hopefully, we can sneak the first win at home," said the 28-year-old New Yorker.
Another interesting matchup will pitch the Flying Tigers against Liaoning Jiebao. Both sides are worn down due to injuries but have vowed to be fit and ready for the playoffs.
With the bulk of Tang Zhengdong and Mengke Bateer inside, Xinjiang's sharp-shooting core, which includes Xu Guochong, Xiralijan Muhtar (or known as Xirelijiang) and US import Von Wafer, which topped the regular season with 40.8 percent from 3-point range, will be a tough challenge for Liaoning's perimeter defense. James Singleton's return from injury will also provide an X-factor for the side.
"We are getting better at playing as a united team. Hopefully, Singleton can gel quickly," said Xiralijan, who won the All-Star 3-point shootout.
Liaoning still has to perform without injured national center Han Dejun and sharpshooter He Tianju.
"We have to overcome the injuries through solidarity. So far, we have been doing well when we fight together," said Liaoning's young guard, Guo Ailun.
In the bottom half of the Finals draw, the Shandong Golden Lions and defending champion Beijing Ducks will face the Dongguan Leopards and Zhejiang Lions respectively.
"Don't mention Beijing too early. Dongguan is a tough team with playoff experience. We have to take one step at a time," said Shandong's coach, Gong Xiaobin.
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