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Kings remain undefeated, outhustle Pilots for 3rd straight win

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New Taipei Kings point guard Lee Kai-yan (with ball) dribbles in Sunday's game at the Xinzhuang Gymnasium. Photo courtesy of P.LEAGUE+ Nov. 19, 2023

Taipei, Nov. 19 (CNA) When former NBA player Jeremy Lin (林書豪) announced his signing with the New Taipei Kings, he said one of his goals this season was to finish first in the P.LEAGUE+ (PLG) in the 2023-24 regular season.

So far, the Kings are looking very much capable of achieving that.

They remained undefeated Sunday after notching their third straight PLG victory of the season, a 123-113 home win over the Taoyuan Pauian Pilots.

Even better for the Kings, they proved their roster is deep enough to win games when the Lin brothers are not at their best or not available, as was the case against the Pilots.

Jeremy Lin made five of 15 shots from the floor en route to a season-low 17 points while his brother Joseph Lin (林書緯) was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered during Saturday's win over the Hsinchu Lioneers.

But Byron Mullens, with 31 points and 13 rebounds, and Lee Kai-yan (李愷諺), with 20 points and seven assists, picked up the slack with season best performances.

The Kings trailed the Pilots for most of the first half but stayed close and were down by only 62-59 at halftime. A 6-0 start at the start of the third quarter put them into the lead, which they held for most of the second half.

The Pilots had a chance to reduce the margin to one possession with just over a minute to go when guard Li Chia-kang (李家慷) was sent to the free throw line for two shots with the Kings up 118-113.

But Li missed both shots, and the Kings' Lee sank his fifth and last three of the night with 54.5 seconds left to put the game away.

"Winning three consecutive games is actually just a small goal for us, and I hope we can keep winning and even challenge the league's winning streak record," the 30-year-old Lee said.

According to Lee, Mullens has undergone some wear and tear after returning to the Kings this offseason and is still adjusting, but he looked forward to the American big man's full recovery to make the team even stronger in the future.

For the Pilots, Sunday's game was their season opener. Despite the loss, they played at a relatively high level that may have surprised many fans, according to broadcaster Tsai Ching-ching (蔡晴景).

Tsai said that several observers who follow the sport closely, including commentator Hu Chun-chi (胡鈞期), had predicted that the Pilots would not be competitive this season.

Asked by Tsai about whether he would change his prediction after the game, Hu, who described the game's intensity as playoff level, said the addition of James Anthony Tucker and other changes had breathed new life into the team compared to what it showed in preseason.

He said that if the Pilots can fix some of the small flaws seen in the second half against the Kings, they could have a good year.

Tucker went 6-for-10 from behind the arc for a team-high 26 points, and also registered six rebounds and eight assists, while Li added 14 points and four assists.

The Pilots will be able to show if they are truly capable of competing with the PLG's top teams next Saturday, when they return to New Taipei for a rematch with the Kings at 2:30 p.m.

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