Flying Leopards shrug off injury to dominate this season

By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-9 23:08:01

In years gone by, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) was dominated by names like the Guangdong South China Tigers, the Beijing Ducks and the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. But this year, in a stunning reversal of fortune, the Liaoning Flying Leopards are flying high.

Now the unbeaten Flying Leopards sit on top of the league table with an unparalleled 16 wins in a row, having seen off those former leading lights of the CBA. Liaoning, whose best finish in the last five regular seasons was eighth, are riding high as the half-season champions, with three rounds still to play.

Some pay tribute to Liao­ning's new signing, American shooting guard Lester Hudson, who contributed an average of 29.9 points in 16 games.

Hudson, the CBA's best foreign player of the regular ­season in 2013-14 when playing for Xinjiang, may be one of the factors behind Liaoning's rise, but it's not the crucial one.

Center Han Dejun has been a consistent contributor to Liaoning's games, but he was ­beset by injuries last season. An injury-­free Han has averaged 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds in an average of 27.8-minute court time.

Some other Flying Leopards who were previously injury-prone have also shrugged off the bugs.

Take China international Guo Ailun as an example. Last season the young point guard was beleaguered by a right-arm injury, which meant he only played six games.

Now recovered, Guo has played 15 of the 16 games and delivered an average of 11.1 points as well as 4.9 assists.

This means Liaoning coach Guo Shi­qiang can field a more balanced team: Key players' court time now ranges from 20 to 30 ­minutes, except Hudson's higher average of 37.9 minutes.

On Wednesday, Liaoning will host 2012-13 playoff finalists the Shandong Gold and then visit the Fujian Sturgeons on Friday before meeting the Fo­shan Long Lions on Sunday.

These three teams are ­currently outside the top eight, which fueled expectations that Liaoning will maintain their winning streak.

It seems the only question remaining is: When and who can bring Liaoning's run of wins to an end?

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