Jeremy Lin (L) of Beijing Ducks competes against Yi Jianlian of Guangdong Southern Tigers during a match between Beijing Ducks and Guangdong Southern Tigers in the 2019-2020 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, July 26, 2020. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)
The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) finals will begin on Tuesday, with the Liaoning Flying Leopards attempting to dethrone the heavily favored Guangdong Southern Tigers.
QINGDAO, China, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) -- The Guangdong Southern Tigers ended a six-year wait to win the 2018-19 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) finals last year, and they now look forward to defending their title and rebuilding the "Guangdong Dynasty."
As nine-time CBA winners, Guangdong will make their 15th appearance in the CBA finals against former champions the Liaoning Flying Leopards in Qingdao on Tuesday. The last time these two met in the CBA finals was in 2008, when Guangdong won 4-1 to take the first of four consecutive titles.
This season, Guangdong seemed unstoppable as they broke records to win 31 games in a row, including 29 regular season victories. But Beijing snapped their winning streak in Game 2 of the semifinals and almost sent the defending champions home.
Yi Jianlian's injury is Guangdong's biggest uncertainty. Yi got injured in the quarterfinal against the Qingdao Eagles and missed the first two games of the semifinals, but the five-time CBA MVP winner played despite his injury in the decider to help Guangdong take a 2-1 victory against Beijing in the best-of-three series.
Liaoning had looked unlikely to be title challengers when they replaced championship-winning head coach Guo Shiqiang after slumping to 7th place after the CBA's restart.
But the former champions bounced back to win 13 of the final 14 games, including defeating traditional powerhouse the Xinjiang Flying Tigers 2-0 in the semifinals.
Although Liaoning come into the final in good form, they are still regarded as underdogs, with Guangdong having completed the double over Liaoning in the regular season.
Han Dejun (C) of Liaoning Flying Leopards comforts Guo Ailun (L) during the semifinal match between Liaoning Flying Leopards and Xinjiang Flying Tigers at the 2019-2020 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league in Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, Aug. 7, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhu Zheng)
With Yi potentially missing, center Han Dejun is the key man as Liaoning look to steal Guangdong's crown. The 33-year-old contributed 35 points and 20 rebounds in Game 2 against Xinjiang and averaged 28.3 points and 16 rebounds in the three playoff games.
However, Liaoning may rely too heavily on Han, while Guangdong have more candidates for rotation like veteran Su Wei, Zeng Fanri and Wan Shengwei.
O.J. Mayo will be another engine on Liaoning's offensive side. The former Milwaukee Bucks guard, who averaged 28.4 points in the last 15 games, has proved himself a worthy signing for Liaoning.
With national team players Guo Ailun and Zhao Jiwei on their roster, Liaoning have one of the best back-court combinations in the league. But Guangdong have the CBA's best defense beyond the arc, and young guards Zhao Rui, Hu Mingxuan and Xu Jie have performed well on both sides during this season.
Will a dynasty return or will the underdog be crowned? Only time will tell. ■