The second semifinal features the big surprise from the regular season in Hamed Haddadi’s Qingdao Eagles facing the dominant (but a bit sleepwalking late in the 38-game tournament) Liaoning Dinosaurs.
Qingdao, on and off-court brawls aside, have brushed Shanxi off their way quite easily after a furious comeback in game 1, and the reason why is to be found in how their local guys have stepped their game up compared to their regular season outings. Especially Luo Xudong has averaged more than 17 ppg in those three games, for the records. On the other hand, Liaoning has been as good as advertised even against a solid Guangsha side that missed Franklin badly but didn’t let go without a fight, and the rotation seems quite solid. Let’s see where this series could go with a couple keys:
1) Who’s gonna stop Lester Hudson?
First big question mark, as Qingdao doesn’t really have a lock-down defender on the perimeter and the 2014 CBA MVP is in his best form after an unreal triple-double of 40-15-13 to beat Guangsha in OT. While very aware of the pretty good firepower he’s surrounded by, the former Grizzly likes to take matters into his own hands in the clutch, and with his skillset being virtually perfect in the CBA (58% 2pt shooter, 42% on 3pt on 11,8 tries, 89% FT shooter, 7-to-3 assist/turnover ratio, 7,4 rpg) not having a glue-like defender to put on him might seem to be already a series-killer.
2) How much do the Eagles depend on Harris and Dentmon?
Haddadi is going to be a key presence both on offense and defense and he’ll be a handful to guard for Thompson and Han Dejun, but the good news for Liaoning is that the two big men can both check him without being afraid to leave another big guy lurking. Harris is a very impactful presence on the boards, but it’s doubtful that any of the two is going to guard him anyway. And that’s the point: it’s barely impossible to find someone who’d be physically suited to defend either Harris, who is basically a combo forward who can rebound like Guangdong’s Jeff Adrien but with the offensive game of a small forward, or Dentmon, who is an undersized laser at the 1-2 spot. As good ol’ JJ Barea taught us in Dallas’ 2011 NBA Championship run, sometimes being undersized is a plus: you’re too quick and mobile for everybody else on the floor. Liaoning certainly doesn’t have many small guards to pair with him. Will this match-up problem be exploited deeply enough by genius coach Li Qiuping, though?
Key matchup: none in particular, too many size mismatches.
What does Qingdao need to do?
Exploit said matchups without letting their different physicality be a weakness on the boards. Then, well, stop Hudson. And it will be some kind of a task.
What does Liaoning need to do?
Stay in front of shooters and recognize they’re actually not too many for Qingdao: if they stop Dentmon and keep Harris to an inefficient FG percentage, they can live with Haddadi being Haddadi.
Prediction: Liaoning wins 3-1.
That’s it, folks, take care and enjoy game 1 of this exciting series tomorrow (I won’t, sadly). See you!