Zhuji (China), January 17: Three games that would impact the playoff race took place in the 31st round of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) here on Saturday, with the Beijing Ducks moving past the Jiangsu Dragons 120-91, the Guangzhou Loong Lions losing to the Liaoning Flying Leopards 99-91, and the Shanxi Loongs beaten by the Zhejiang Golden Bulls 97-81.
Before Saturday's matchups, Shanxi, Guangzhou and Beijing occupied the 13th to 15th position respectively in standings, all on the outside of the playoff hunt looking in. After trouncing Jiangsu, Beijing moved up to take Guangzhou's place with an identical 12-16 record with Shanxi, one game behind the 12th-placed Shanghai Sharks.
Before taking on Jiangsu, Beijing had suffered consecutive last-minute losses, beaten by the Shenzhen Aviators 95-92 and losing to Zhejiang 106-104. The head coach Xie Libin was still in his four-game suspension, which was announced by CBA company on Monday due to Xie's ill-advised behavior in the game against Shenzhen.
Beijing left no mercy for the lesser Jiangsu as the Ducks led through the whole 48 minutes. All the 12 players scored for Beijing with five putting up double digits. Jonathan Gibson had a team-high 24 points, and Fan Ziming, the team's new signing that had long been criticized for his weakness in the paint, led domestic players with 16.
"We set the tone in the beginning of the game and sealed the victory with solid team defense, but the real battle will come two days later when we will play against Liaoning, the current leader of the league," said Zhou Yixiang of Beijing.
The Guangzhou-and-Liaoning clash marked the fourth time that Guo Shiqiang, Guangzhou's current head coach, failed in challenging his previous employer.
Guangzhou started the game 25-23 in the first quarter, in which Liaoning's key scorers Han Dejun and Guo Ailun were forced into two fouls each. The playoff contenders, however, didn't hold up to the end as they lost the decisive third quarter 23-14.
"Our players have been making progress through all the four games against Liaoning. Today our execution in defense was good, but we still need to reduce overturns and seize the clutch shots," said Guo Shiqiang.
Shanxi also suffered a late comeback after a marvelous 25-15 start against the third-placed Zhejiang. Eric Moreland controlled the paint for Shanxi after the tip-off, pouring in 11 points and delivering three blocks in the first quarter.
The advantage was gradually erased in the second quarter as Moreland became predictable and Shanxi trailed 43-42 before the interval. Zhejiang enlarged the lead to double-digits in the third and ended the contest early in the fourth.
Yuan Shuai of Shanxi put up a game-high 25 points, and Nick Rakocevic led Zhejiang with 22 points and 22 rebounds.
Nothing about the CBA's playoff picture is set in stone, as nine teams clumped together at the bottom and outside of the bracket with gaps within only two games.
Sunday's matchups are likely to alter the standings, with the ninth placed Zhejiang Lions and the 12th Shanghai Sharks, the 11th Beijing Royal Fighters and the Fujian Sturgeons, the eighth Sichuan Blue Whales and the sixth Jilin Northeast Tigers, and the seventh Shenzhen Aviators and the fifth Shandong Heroes are set to meet.