Having handled their business against Fujian, now the Sharks go on the road to face Xinjiang, who have recovered from a disastrous start that resulted in the sacking of coach Bob Donewald, Kenyon Martin buying out his contract and Kyle Mills being cut following a serious disagreement over the treatment of his hamstring injury. Currently sitting at 13-12, their recent climb towards the post season has been made possible thanks to a 10-1 home record (the fourth best in the league).
Waiting for the Sharks in Urumqi are a range of top drawer players that have started to find their form under the authoritarian style of Jiang Xingquan, Donewald’s replacement and the former coach of the Xinjiang team during its previous runs to the finals. American shooting guard, Tim Pickett (28.1ppg) is the most recent arrival to an array of guards that also include the veteran Xu Guochong (11.3ppg) and young apprentices, Peng Duo (11.6ppg) and Tal Co (10.6ppg). Providing the beef further along the line are the powerful centres, Mengke Bateer (9.6ppg) and Zhengdong Tang (8.4ppg), whilst forward Gani Lawai (22.3ppg, 13.8rpg) heads up a seriously dangerous cache of weapons that Jiang can look forward to deploying.
This is obviously a tough game for the Sharks but they have shown that can take the game to their hosts and this will be the sort of test where such an approach is needed, although Zhang Zhaoxu is going to be hard pressed to keep Bateer and Zhengdong under control, whilst the recent good defensive form of Liu Ziqui will be tested by any number of guards he will be coming up against. While the Tigers are averaging 103ppg at home, the more telling stat is that they concede only 93ppg at the Hongshan Area, the third best record in the league.
The next two games are going to be hard for the Sharks (but I thought the same about Guangsha) so mark this game under ‘big ask’ territory as the Sharks will be sizeable underdogs, even though they are ahead of Xinjiang in the league. Its possible to see the Sharks pulling out a win akin to the one achieved in Hangzhou but this one could get messy if the away side loses focus.