May 29, 2015

Final Frontier: What happens when a Warrior and a Cavalier collide? My NBA Finals preview

We are less than a week away from another mighty war of hooping proportions, and this time, the soldiers and knights will be shooting hoops instead of swinging swords. The 2015 NBA Finals will pit the best playoffs’ best performing teams from each conference against each other for the ultimate goal: the Larry O’Brien trophy. The swash-buckling cavaliers of Cleveland will face against the mighty Warriors of the Bay Area. And in four to seven battles over the next few weeks, the finest hoops army in the realm.

The Cavaliers have lost just two playoff games and the Warriors have lost only three. Both sides are peaking at the right time, ranking among the top in the post-season in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, rebound percentage, and true shooting percentage. What will now happen when these two teams – stacked with great superstars and the perfect role-players around them – clash in the Finals?

Read the full article on SportsKeeda here.

May 25, 2015

FIBA recognizes 'Team Govindraj' to lead BFI. Will Indian basketball fiasco clear up?

FIBA is the association that organizes and governs major international basketball tournaments around the world. The Basketball Federation of India (BFI) is the association that organizes and governs tournaments in India. The BFI is affiliated to FIBA, and without them, India can't play in FIBA international tournaments. Unfortunately, the BFI is now split in two division, each claiming that it should be the rightful leader of basketball in India. FIBA has been left as the intermediary parent burdened with the responsibility of picking one of the two bodies. On Saturday, it seems, they came to a decision.

For those who are new to the storm, welcome. The last two months in Indian basketball have been a fiasco. The BFI has split in two: two factions called two separate meetings/elections (on March 27 and March 28 respectively) in two different cities (in Bengaluru and Pune respectively) and selected two separate executive committees (presided by K Govindraj and Poonam Mahajan respectively) to head the BFI. Because of the split in governance, the Govindraj side was left with the finances and the Mahajan side with capture of the BFI's office in Delhi. In the next few months, the split caused confusion and anger among Indian basketball players and coaches, saw India's foreign basketball coaches pack up and leave their posts, and led FIBA to consider the BFI in a freeze, thus taking away India's chance of playing in FIBA sanctioned tournaments.

Finally, on May 23, a letter signed and sent from the office of FIBA's Secretary-General Patrick Baumann declared FIBA's stand on the fiasco. The letter spanned three pages, over a dozen paragraphs, and outline the various issues in the past, present, and future of this problem. But the only line that truly matters now was this:

Consequently, the result of the elections held in Bengaluru on 27 March 2015 is recognized by FIBA.

The elections that the letter refers to was the one where the former president of the BFI (KS Gill) was present to oversee Karnataka's K Govindraj named the new president, Teja Singh Dhaliwal named the new Senior Vice-President, Chander Mukhi Sharma the Secretary-General, and V Raghothaman the Treasurer. We will refer to them henceforth as 'Team Govindraj'. The other body, 'Team Roopam' - led by 'president' Poonam Mahajan, 'Secretary-General' Roopam Sharma, and 'Treasurer'Mukut Medhi - did not follow the BFI's rule-book when they held their meeting and thus, cannot be the BFI.

The matter was brought to light yesterday when the media cell of the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) provided the letter to You can find the soft copy of the letter over at Ekalavyas. The letter was addressed to the presidents and secretary-generals of both opposing factions and CC'd to the Ministry of Youth and Affairs and Sports of the Government of India, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), and various other FIBA officials including President Horacio Muratore.

BFI rules state that an Annual General Meeting (AGM) can only be held in the presence of the outgoing executive committee, specially the outgoing president, who in this case was KS Gill. Gill was present with Team Govindraj in Bengaluru, thus legitimizing their stake at the federation. In FIBA's letter, it stated in regards to Team Roopam that, "In addition, FIBA casts serious doubts on the legitimacy (let alone statuary validity) of a parallel general council held without the outgoing president, vice-president, secretary-general, and treasurer in attendance."

Another interesting passage from the letter states that, "Files submitted to FIBA contain extremely serious allegations which may be subject for criminal proceedings in India as well as proceedings under the FIBA Code of Ethics. In this respect, FIBA reserves its right to shed light on the allegations made and to initiate further proceedings should this matter not be settled within the Indian Basketball family in India and should the present decision not be accepted by all sides."

FIBA has asked both groups to come to a peaceful resolution, "keeping first and foremost the development of basketball in India and the good of the athletes in mind."

But FIBA's approval/recognition doesn't solve the riddle yet. Although Team Govindraj also received the Delhi High Court go-ahead to take charge of the BFI's Head Office and website a few weeks ago, the next step is for the IOA and the Ministry of Sports to recognize the rightful stake of the Govindraj-led committee, too. FIBA has requested in the letter for the IOA to abide by its decisions, too. Meanwhile, on FIBA's official website, the page on India still hasn't listed the names of the president and secretary-general that they have handed recognition to.

Even if the IOA recognize Team Govindraj, it may not yet be the end of Team Roopam, who have the resources, political connections, and clout to keep fighting for power. The contest may yet continue with court cases in the future, and it can't be ruled out that Team Roopam may make a separate, rebel association to challenge the BFI. Of course, FIBA won't have to recognize that rebel association, and thus, the players who take part in it will not be able to participate in FIBA affiliated events.

The letter confirmed that a FIBA delegation will visit India soon to provide support for the BFI.

There was one other excerpt from the letter, written above, that deserves to be repeated to keep in perspective what truly matters here. "... keeping first and foremost the development of basketball in India and the good of the athletes in mind." So far, the 'athletes' and the 'good of Indian basketball' has suffered the most as a victime of the BFI battle. Unfortunately, the situation will remain so until the storm clears up.

With the FIBA Asia Championships for Men and Women looming in just a few months, reaching a resolution is a race against time. The FIBA recognition takes us one step closer to the resolution: only when the BFI can have one, united, legal body to run it will FIBA 'unfreeze' the BFI and allow India to participate in international events again. Only then will the BFI able to give confidence to stakeholders in the sport (including sponsors like IMG Reliance and future Head Coaches of the national teams) to continue their faith in the country's basketball potential despite the recent scars.

You can find FIBA's entire letter here (via Ekalavyas). 

May 23, 2015

Outside, Looking In: NBA All Stars who stayed home for the post-season

“The regular season is where you make your name. The playoffs you make your fame.”

Unfortunately, more than any recent year in memory, a number of stars stopped shining this year even before the playoffs began. By the time the field of 16 of the playoffs was set, an astonishing seven current NBA All Stars were sent home on an early vacation. The NBA is about team-play, but this is also a league of superstars, and – due to injury or team conditions – many of those superstars haven’t been playing meaningful basketball in the most important time of the year. Here are the NBA All Stars who have spent the postseason on the outside, looking in.

Check out my full feature on SportsKeeda.

May 22, 2015

Timberwolves celebrate… And how will the 2015 Draft Lottery reshape the NBA?

Getting the draft right is of utmost importance. Through the salary cap and the draft system, the NBA theoretically allows for teams to rebuild, creates an environment when even the worst team can be a contender in a matter of years. The right draft pick can completely change the fortunes of a franchise. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who won the NBA Draft Lottery and will be picking first next month, that opportunity is finally here. Which rebuilding team will redefine their fortunes? Which young player will be the perfect new fit and take the league by storm? Here are my thoughts on the NBA Draft Lottery results.

Click here to read full feature on SportsKeeda

May 21, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 6: Satnam Singh Bhamara and the journey to become an Indian NBA prospect

What do you get when you mix Satnam Singh Bhamara - the prospect dreaming of becoming India's first NBA player - and Hoopdarshan - the first Indian basketball podcast? Fireworks, of course! The 7-foot-2, 19-year-old giant Bhamara declared for the NBA draft last month and now hopes to become the first Indian player to make it to the league. On Episode 6 of Hoopdarshan, he joins hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok for an engaging discussion on the improvements he's made on the court over the past few years, his incredible journey from being the son of a Punjabi farmer to becoming an NBA prospect, his relationship with basketball in India, and going to his High School prom.

Born in the tiny Ballo Ke village in Punjab, Bhamara was scouted at age 14 (2010) by IMG Reliance and handed a scholarship to play at the IMG Basketball Academy in Florida, USA, where he has been for the past five years. Last month, Bhamara bypassed college to declare for the 2015 NBA Draft, as he hopes to become the first Indian citizen to play in the NBA. Bhamara has represented India at the international level several times over the past few years already and has been playing for the IMG team at the High School level in America. He is currently preparing for the draft with pre-draft workouts and visits to scouts at various interested NBA teams.

Hoopdarshan aims to be the true voice of Indian basketball, and since we're such hopeless fans of the game, it will become the voice of everything basketball related we love, from the NBA to international hoops, too. On every episode of Hoopdarshan, we will be inviting a special guest to interview or chat to about a variety of topics. With expert insight from some of the brightest and most-involved people in the world of Indian basketball, we hope to bring this conversation to a many more interested fans, players, and followers of the game.

Make sure to follow Hoopdarshan on Soundcloud or search for 'Hoopdarshan' on the iTunes Store! Auto-sync Hoopdarshan to your preferred podcast app NOW!

Hoopdarshan can be found on...

May 20, 2015

Spain’s Real Madrid win record ninth Euroleague Basketball title

A year after their football team recorded the epic ‘decima’ – the 10th European championship – Real Madrid’s basketball team did the team and the city proud too, winning the 2015 Euroleague Basketball title at home in Madrid. With the final held against Greece’s finest Olympiacos on Sunday, May 17th, Real Madrid pulled away in the game’s last four minutes to clinch the victory, 78-59. It was Madrid’s ninth Euroleague title, the most of any team in the championship (just like their cousins out on the football pitch).

Read the full article on SportsKeeda.

May 19, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs - Expert's Bracket Challenge - Conference Finals

Even as the weather gets hotter, this is the time of the year that I usually like to have some hair on my face.

Let me explain. Over the last few years, I've adopted the tradition of growing a playoff beard every time my favourite NBA team - the forever hexed New York Knicks - make the NBA Playoffs. I refuse to shave and let the beard grow for as long as the Knicks survive, which is usually not very long. Still, in about a month and a half, I can get halfway to looking like Nikola Mirotic. Since the Knicks are terrible and have only made the playoffs three times in the last decade, my opportunities to challenge Niko or James Harden in the only way I possibly can have been scarce. This year, as my Knicks finished bottom of the Eastern Conference, any hopes of voluminous facial hair growth were shaved away months ago.

Fortunately, there are other ways to unleash my inner child for the playoffs, and involve some of my more sensible friends, too.

Welcome to the 2015 NBA Playoffs Expert's Bracket Challenge. Before the playoffs, I joined ranks with fellow fans and experts of the NBA in India - Akshay Manwani (@AkshayManwani) and Kaushik Lakshman (@_kaushik7) - to turn this season's playoffs into our own mini competition, and in the process, give the fans of the game some hoops food for thought. Akshay suggested the idea and the rules before the playoffs begin, and after two rounds, we are still in fierce competition. Beard or no beard.

Here are the rules again: Each of us will get +2 for getting the series result correct. Additionally, if we get the scoreline right, we get a bonus of +1. You can find our First Round predictions here. Below, we move on to the tally on the scorecard and then make our predictions for the Second Round. Keep yourselves updated and feel free to give us your own predictions in the comments section at the end of this post.

After getting all his winners' predictions rights in the First Round, Akshay held a commanding lead over Kaushik and I. Matters got a little more interesting after our Second Round predictions: While all of us predicted that the Warriors would beat the Grizzlies, we shared the spoils with wrong calls on some of the other three series.

  • Akshay Manwani: 26
  • Kaushik Lakshman: 21
  • Karan Madhok: 16
Akshay is still holding on to a healthy lead as Kaushik tries to catch up and I continue to get my butt kicked. How will the scorecard look after our Conference Finals predictions? Let's get right into it!

Eastern Conference Finals: Atlanta (1) vs. Cleveland (2)

Akshay’s pick: The Hawks managed to finally put it past a tenacious Washington team. That series may have had a different result had John Wall played all six games for the Wizards. Even so, it’s a terrific result for an Atlanta franchise that is the only team left in the postseason now without a true superstar talent. All the three other teams have at least two other marquee names.

But this is where Atlanta’s lack of superstar talent should catch up with them. LeBron James has already shown that even the absence of Kevin Love, a half-fit Kyrie Irving and a suspended J.R. Smith didn’t matter in their series against the Bulls. James played big for the Cavs in that series and when he gets going, there is hardly a player in this league that can stop him. If Irving is in a better place in terms of his health than against Chicago and the likes of Matthew Dellavedova, Smith, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson can give James good support, it won’t matter that the Hawks won the regular season series 3-1. Cavaliers win 4-2.

Karan's pick: Despite losing Kevin Love at the end of the first round and having their other stars hobbled in the Second, the Cavaliers have marched in the Conference Finals, mostly riding the back of their star player LeBron James, who also backs up as the single-most determining factor in bringing some post-season cojones to the Cavaliers. Without him, the Cavs would be inexperienced and motorless. But with him, they have one of the league’s best players and most experienced winners who has been to the NBA Finals four years in a row. This stuff matters.

The Hawks are a better defensive team, are better coached, and are in much-better sync with each other. And yet, they lost their regular season momentum by the time April rolled around and struggled to defeat Brooklyn and Washington in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Hawks haven’t been offensively elite for the last two months, while the Cavs – with or without Love – have continued to march on. Atlanta’s 3-1 regular season advantage over the Cavaliers isn’t going to matter much now. Cleveland’s offensive consistency and the gift of LeBron James will take them through to the NBA Finals. Cavaliers win 4-2

Kaushik's pick: The Cavaliers hobbled but found a way past the uninspiring and inconsistent Bulls. The main reason for that of course is LeBron James (said to the tune of that kid from the viral vine) and for as long as anyone has this guy on their team, odds have to be in the said team’s favour. Kyrie is injured, Love is out, and we don’t know whether the suddenly consistent threat of Shumpert, Dellavedova, JR Smith etc will continue. At the same time, the Hawks still seem off from their dominant midseason selves.

On paper though, Hawks seem like a great team to beat the Cavs. They have the shooting, they have the ball movement, and they have the defensive capability to limit the very predictable LeBron-centric Cavs offense. But they’re not playing to that potential and that’s why I am picking the Cavaliers to go through. Even though all the teams remaining are not very ‘playoff experienced’ I think LeBron does and he will give the entire team that edge. Apart from that, the series will be won on small things like Tristan Thompson’s rebounding advantage and that’s why I will put my money on Cleveland. Cavaliers win 4-2.

Eastern Conference Finals: Golden State (1) vs. Houston (2)

Akshay’s pick: The Rockets made an epic comeback after an epic meltdown against the Los Angeles Clippers. What that result against the Clippers must have done for the Rockets is that they would now back themselves against any opponent irrespective of the odds.

But the Rockets are also 0-4 against Golden State from the regular season. Yes, a couple of those games were played before Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni came to Houston, but then the Rockets had Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas playing for them at that time. Not only does Golden State have the offensive weapons to score, but they play at a great pace and have a terrific defense. I would also expect Andre Iguodala being called upon to play significant minutes against James Harden. Marreese Speights situation is not yet known, but even without him, the Warriors have a deep bench. In a battle between the league’s MVP and the runner-up in the MVP race, I expect Stephen Curry and his Warriors to come up trumps. Warriors win 4-2.

Karan's pick: In my Conference Finals preview for SporstKeeda yesterday, I ranked each NBA team in the playoffs in a ‘trump card’-like fashion in their attributes against each other, based on advanced stats and some of my own analysis. The Warriors ended up being ranked top four in six of my seven categories in the playoffs: defense, offense, star player (MVP Stephen Curry), team chemistry, coach, and depth! The only problem is that there are very few players experienced with post-season success in the team. The ability to stay measured in grueling playoff situations is a major attribute in the NBA.

The Houston Rockets, surprisingly, have that ability. Harden and Howard, their two stars, have both been to the NBA Finals. Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza have each won a championship, and Coach McHale has won many. Houston showed great heart in their comeback win over the Clippers. But against the uber-talented, heart is all they can have. Warriors are better in every department, and unlike the Grizzlies in Round 2, they will have an opponent in the Conference Finals who will allow them to play their preferred style. Warriors win 4-1.

Kaushik's pick: Old School NBA fans won’t like this series. It will be low on defense and high on pace, three-pointers, and just many things unfamiliar to the playoff basketball universe. The Warriors were shocked a little by Memphis’ grit and grind style, but they showed great character in coming back and proving to everyone what made them such a good team in the regular season. Houston shocked everybody by coming back from 3-1 down in the series and are extremely high on confidence. They have really progressed as a team from the start of the series. They have purposeful ball movement, high performing role players and are riding on their stars being stars in Howard and Harden.

The Rockets will wish they had Beverley fit to harass Curry, but they will be giving up big time in the back-court but it is almost the opposite in the front court. They haven’t faced an intriguing playmaking-finishing combo like Smith & Howard. To add to that there will also be an amazing Curry – Harden MVP race narrative. However, I think Golden State is playing with the swagger of a champion team and are in an over simplified way, a better, more consistent version of what the Houston Rockets aspire to be. Warriors win 4-1.