Liaoning Leopards vs. Beijing Ducks
Is Liaoning, the team that always flatters to deceive, about to finally fulfill its destiny and win a CBA title? This will be the fifth time the Leopards have made the championship series but not since the mid 1990’s (when the team made three consecutive Finals) have Liaoning looked this good. They have a proven scorer and ball handler in Lester Hudson, a very useful big man that gets it down down low and shooters that space the floor and knock down their shots at a high clip.
But it will arguably be in the backcourt that Liaoning ultimately win or loss this series. Hudson and Guo Ailun have defied expectations and excelled together despite both being point guards, and their ‘mix and match’ skills give other teams real problems. Hudson is a match-up nightmare due to being strong as an ox as well as a formidable shooter. Meanwhile Guo is a lightning quick, Tony Parker-esqe finisher around the rim.
Facing them however are the defending champions, the Beijing Ducks. Beijing, who overcame Guangdong in a balls-to-the-wall Game 4 OT win, will be coming into this game hot. Their previous tactics of murdering teams with the pick and roll in the second half of games was initially derailed following preseason rule changes but the Ducks have learned how to tweak the team for the fourth quarter. As a result, the reigning champions have suddenly unleashed a menacing backcourt duo of 6″8 Li Gen and 6″9 Sun Yue in crunch time. Both can knock down threes at a frantic pace and head coach Min Lulei’s naked love of long-range shooting will be on full displace against a slightly slower Liaoning team. By stretching the floor, Beijing will look to isolate and test Han Dejun against Randolph Morris and see if the 310lb big man can handle being isolated against the best offensive big man in the league.
Another interesting situation will how Liaoning defends the still heavy pick and roll leanings of Beijing’s playbook. In the Guangdong series, Stephon Marbury demonstrated that at 38, he is still a nightmare if allowed to charge to the rim and exactly how the Leopards figure out a way to stop him remains to be seen. For whatever reason, Liaoning’s perimeter defense was also lacking during certain segments of the Qingdao series, allowing Justin Dentmon to run wild. That was just one man but Beijing have a whole arsenal of shooters that could exploit any weaknesses beyond the arc.
Offensively, Liaoning and Beijing are probably the strongest teams in the league so its fitting that the two will come up against each other in the final. It very much feels like a situation whereupon the first team to blink loses and with that in mind, the more experienced Beijing team should be considered slight favorites. That said, Liaoning will be rested after two consecutive sweeps in the postseason and also beat the Ducks both home and away in the regular season. It really is unbelievably tight between the two sides in what is probably the most fascinating Finals series for years.