BEIJING, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Seven years ago, a picture surfaced showing NBA Washington Wizards' forward Yi Jianlian shooting at the basket while his teammate Andray Blatche sat on the bench in the background.
Seven years later, the former teammates will have a reunion in the 2016-2017 Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) finals as Xinjiang and Guangdong meet again.
It's a clash between a dynasty and a team that has never lifted the trophy before. The young, inexperienced Xinjiang lasted only five games in their finals debut in 2008-2009 season against Guangdong. The same story repeated for the following two seasons, as Guangdong won their fifth, sixth and seventh championship titles from 2009-2011. The biggest winner in CBA history clinched another championship title in 2013 before Xinjiang again tasted failure by losing to Beijing 2-4 in 2014.
But times have changed, Xinjiang now tops the CBA with a 32-6 regular season record. They scored 113.5 points per game - the highest in the league - while conceding 101.4 points, ranking them 8th in defense.
Guangdong finished the season with more a balanced performance, ranking sixth in offense and fourth in defense. They held a perfect 19-0 record at home but lost 8 out of their 19 away games.
Their 1-1 record against each other this season is less meaningful due to the absence of key players like Yi and Blatche.
The paint will be crowded in the next two weeks, Yi has the assistance of former NBA player Carlos Boozer while promising young center Zhou Qi has joined hands with Blatche.
As the best Chinese player nowadays, Yi had only 29 appearances this season in order to rest well before the playoffs. His match-high 29 points in the fifth game against Shenzhen led Guangdong to the finals. Former NBA All-Star Boozer averaged 20.8 points in the playoffs, 4.1 points higher than his own performance in the regular season.
At 2.16 meters tall, Zhou Qi will create a no-fly zone in defense while Blatche will keep causing trouble for Guangdong's defenders with his offensive skills, not to mention the bench mob consisting of Yu Changdong and Sun Tonglin.
Guangdong bests Xinjiang with their guards led by Donald Sloan, who helped Guangdong win their last championship in 2013. Rookie Zhao Rui shined this season with 7.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals. Chen Jianghua, the point guard who dribbled past Kobe Bryant and scored in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, will offer great help to his team.
Darius Adams contribued 30.7 points and 5.8 assists for Xinjiang during the regular season depends on his form on the night.
Li Gen of Xinjiang will face Guangdong's Zhou Peng, the clash between two of China's best small forwards could be crucial in determining where the trophy will go.
Aside from Yu Changdong and Sun Tonglin, Xinjiang enjoys great squad depth with national team members Korambek Makhan and Shirelijan Muxtar. Guangdong is regarded by many people as the less experienced side this year, as the team is undergoing a generational handover.
The confrontation is both on and off the court.
As the man helped young Yao Ming to grab the champion for Shanghai, Li Qiuping enjoyed a reputation similar to Zhuge, the famous strategist of the Three Kingdoms era. Now he has better control of the team in his second year in Xinjiang. On the other side of the court, Du Feng gained four more years' experience after leading Guangdong pas Shandong at 2012-2013 finals in his first season as the coach. He won't have to worry about unity of the team since most of Guangdong's veterans are still his former teammates.
Starting this Friday, we will either witness a dynasty revive itself after years of reconstruction, or a new team crowned. Let the action begin!