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Teams jockey for playoff berths in KBL

Four of the 10 teams in the Korean pro basketball league are fighting for the final playoff slot as the 10th season of the KBL regular season wraps up.

Mar 21,2007
KT&G Kites’ Dante Jones, left, battles Lou Roe of the SK Knights for a loose ball last week. At right, Lee Sang-min of the KCC Egis drives past the Samsung Thunders’ Olumide Oyedeji. The Kites and the Knights are fighting for the sixth and final playoff berth in the KBL. Mobis has clinched the top spot with its second straight regular season title
As the Korean Basketball League plays out the final week of its 10th regular season, four squads in the 10-team league are battling for the sixth and the final playoff spot.
In the Korean league playoffs, the top two regular season teams get a bye to the second round. The third-place team faces the sixth-place team, and the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds play each other in the first round’s best-out-of-three series. The top five teams are pretty much set, although the order has yet to be determined. The Mobis Phoebus have clinched the top spot for their second consecutive regular season title. The LG Sakers lead the KTF Magic Wings by half a game for second place, and the defending champion Samsung Thunders and Daegu Orions trail the Magic Wings by only a game.
But more exciting is the fight for the final playoff berth. Through Sunday, the KT&G Kites held a half-game lead over the Dongbu Promy for sixth place, while the SK Knights were a game behind the Kites, and the ET Land Black Slammer trail by another half game.
The final week may hold some drama as only once do teams from this group play each other: on Saturday, the Promy host the Knights in Wonju, Gangwon province.
That means other teams control the four playoff teams’ destinies almost as much as they do.
Take the last-place KCC Egis. With a record of 15-35, this team has long been out of the playoff picture, but this month played the role of spoiler, defeating the Black Slammer on March 10, and putting a scare into the Promy in a 79-72 loss on Tuesday.
The Egis played the Knights last night, and in their final regular season game Sunday, they face the Kites.
Can the worst team in the league actually determine who gets aboard the playoff train?
Hur Jae, the Egis’ head coach, joked that his team is not good enough to be the spoiler for teams fighting for the postseason. Even after the win over the Black Slammer, Hur said, “I am not trying to ruin anyone’s chances. We just played our game, and the other guys didn’t play as well.”
The Kites could probably rest a bit easy if its playoff fate came down to the game against the Egis, because the Kites have not lost to them in five games this season.
But before they can think about the Egis, the Kites must get through the Magic Wings and the Thunders. These teams are not likely to let up just because they’ve clinched a playoff spot, since they are still battling for playoff position.
“Well, I guess it ain’t over till it’s over,” said Kites’ head coach Yoo Do-hoon last week, after beating the Knights to take sole possession of sixth place. “I don’t have to tell the players how important these last few games are. They’re playing as though they already know.”
The Promy have only two games left, after falling short against the Sakers for the sixth time this season Sunday. The team squares off against the Phoebus tomorrow, and had better hope the regular season champion rests its best player, Chris Williams, like it did Sunday: the Promy are 1-4 against the Phoebus this year. The Promy’s last game is against the Knights, against whom they have three wins in five games so far.
The Promy were so desperate that they started center Kim Joo-sung in a win over the Kites last week, even though he was still recovering from a thigh injury. The team had gone 2-7 and earlier lost six straight games in his absence to fall from the playoff picture.
Neither Kim nor Yang Kyung-min, another injured player who returned to the lineup with Kim last week, is 100 percent healthy. But the Promy can use all the help they can get at this point.
To reach the postseason for the first time since 2002, the Knights will have to win two remaining games after last night’s game and hope the Kites and the Promy lose their remaining matches.
The Knights were the trendy preseason pick to win it all, thanks to the foreign tandem of reigning Spanish League most valuable player Lou Roe, along with Kebu Stewart, and Bang Sung-yoon, who has been the top Korean scorer this season.
But the Knights have been a disappointment. They lead the league in turnovers with 15.7 per game, allow the second most points per game, and are last in field goal percentage. They have already gone through a coaching change, firing Kim Tae-hwan in November and putting Gang Yang-tack in the interim role.
If they miss the playoffs this year, the Knights would set the dubious record for the longest playoff draught by a KBL team ― five years in a row.
The Black Slammer are essentially out of the playoffs, because they have to jump three teams with just two games left: not impossible, but highly unlikely.
The team’s coach, Choi Hee-am, is trying not to put too much pressure on his team. After Sunday’s crucial win, Choi said he wouldn’t be disappointed if the team failed to reach the postseason.
“I am not too crazy about the playoffs,” the coach said. “If we get there, great. But if not, there’s always next year. It won’t be the end of the world.”
Choi, who returned to professional coaching last spring after a two-year hiatus, said the goal was to win 20 games this season after winning only eight last season.
“There were seven or eight games we probably should have won, and we’d be in the playoff picture by now,” Choi said. “But this has not been a disappointing season. Our young guys have grown up this year, and they are the strong foundation for the next season.”


By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Writer [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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