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.

May 18, 2015

Top Trumps: Who has the ultimate powers to win the NBA Conference Finals?

Do you remember playing with trump cards? It wasn’t always about who is stronger, it was about who is able to harness the right power (or attribute) at the right time against the right opponent.

Think of NBA teams as trump cards, too. Each team has a different attribute (offense, defence, coaching, star player, team chemistry, bench, etc.) and through a seven-game playoff series, almost each of those attributes gets called upon. An underdog may be able to pull off an upset once in a while; but to beat a better team four times, each team (or trump card) would truly need to have several better attributes than its opponents, or be able to evoke its minimal advantage multiple times.

Now, I’m going to pull out my NBA Team Trump Cards and start predicting. The Eastern and Western Conference Finals are here: who has the right attributes to beat their opponents four out of seven times? Let’s judge each team based on their ‘trumpable’ ranks, shall we? Rankings below are made of advanced stats from the post-season (out of 16) and a little bit of my own opinions.

Click here to read full feature on SportsKeeda

May 14, 2015

Hoopdarshan Episode 5: Francisco Garcia, India Women's basketball, and the BFI mess

Before he leaves India after serving two years as the head coach of India's National Women's team, the Spaniard Francisco Garcia joins Hoopdarshan hosts Kaushik Lakshman and Karan Madhok for an entertaining conversation in Episode 5. Garcia discusses a variety of topics, including leading India to our best-ever FIBA Asia Championship performance, the attitudes of Indian women in the sport, his fractured relationship with the Basketball Federation of India, and the Spanish flamenco dance in 'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara'.

Garcia was hired by the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to be the Women's national team's head coach in June 2013 and 20 years of coaching experience in the past in Spain, Denmark, and Finland. enjoyed a relatively successful two year stretch, famously helping India finish at a best-ever fifth-place at the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship and helping a younger side to a bronze medal at the 2014 Lusofonia Games. Later in 2014, Garcia also coached the team to a 6th place finish at the Asian Games in Incheon. He has been active in taking his knowledge to the grassroots level, coaching players and other coaches at various events around the country over the last few years. His contract was not extended by the BFI and he will be leaving India by the end of May 2015.

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 13, 2015

Hoop Dreams: 2 Indian-origin players in Australia discuss the struggles and sacrifices of the basketball life

For many casual fans of the game, the dream of playing elite basketball starts and ends with the NBA. Fortunately, for the vast majority of serious basketball players around the world, there is no shortage of opportunities in various other professional and semi-professional leagues of varying levels. Just like the top players in the world striving to make it in the NBA, there are players around the world toiling day and night to succeed on the basketball court - their stories are just not told as often.

A few weeks ago, I was approached by two basketball players of Indian-origin in Australia - Pratik Keskar and Mahesh Padmanabhan - who gave me an opportunity to tell you two such stories. Keskar and Pandmanabhan are both pursuing their hoop dreams and have had to make sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to balance basketball and the world outside it. Since they are not Indian citizens, neither player can yet fulfill their dreams of representing India at the international level (India, unlike other FIBA nations, doesn't allow naturalization of foreign citizens). They are both hoping that - if India ever gets their own professional basketball league - they can fight for an opportunity to be a part of it.

Keskar (24) was born in Hyderabad in India (his parents are from Pune), but grew up between New Zealand and Australia. He's a 5-foot-10 combo guard who has played basketball for the Auckland U17s and U19s and for the Shelton Blazers in Auckland. He is currently playing in the UBL for Norwest Giants (semi pro) and working towards playing in professional leagues. He has also worked in the IT industry for the past three years.

Padmanabhan (27) was born and bred in Sydney, Australia, to parents from Chennai. He's a 6-foot-1 combo guard who has played in NSW Waratah League (semi-pro league), the Hornsby Spiders in 2010 and the Norths Bears in 2013-2014. He is currently working as a physiotherapist.

I sent questions to both players, and their answers shed some light on the lifestyle, challenges, and ambitions of them and others in their shoes.

How difficult is the basketball journey? Talk about how much work you guys have to put in just to play at the level you do, the pitfalls, the sacrifices, and the problems you've faced, both personal and professional.

Keskar: The basketball journey for me has been quite hard. I have been playing basketball for about 14 years now - starting when I was ten years old in New Zealand and now in Australia. I feel that I have always had the talent to take it to the next level, but coming from a Indian background education always came first. So after high school I had to focus on my professional career in IT rather then basketball (although I was still playing). Once university started it became very tough to play basketball at a higher level, not only mentally but physically as well. I feel like my actual journey is really starting this year since I have taken a year off to dedicate and focus solely on basketball. It was a very tough decision to give up a successful working career in a great position with a great company. I felt like this was the right age where I could make this move, because the likelihood of getting the chance to play professionally falls the older you get. The sacrifices I’m making this year also includes a big financial sacrifice (living on my own paying rent, bills and less social activities). There are also problems that occur, often in the form of injuries - I have already had a major ankle sprain, which made me lose about 6-8 weeks of training and playing as well as some shoulder instability in my left shoulder. But I am continuing to work towards and focus on the goal to play professionally.

Padmanabhan: The basketball journey is tough, but doing anything at the highest level where you aim for perfection is tough. I don’t wish it was easier, I love the challenge. That being said, coming from a cultural background where education is such a big priority, I have had to study full time, work part time and train and play basketball all simultaneously; and now I am working full time and playing and training for basketball at the same time, but that’s part of it. I understand that hard work and having an unbreakable work ethic is the most important thing, controlling things that I can, to put myself in a situation where if an opportunity arises I’ll be ready to take it with two hands.

What do you hope to make out of your hoop dreams? Where do you ideally want to see yourself?

Keskar: I see myself playing basketball in a pro league. Right now I’m aiming to make it in any professional leagues around the world. If a pro league was to start in India I would definitely be eager to play in my home country, if given the opportunity. But even if I don’t make the pro leagues, I still definitely want to be involved with the sport within the basketball world. I would want to continue contributing to the sport, especially through development programs for the youth. I do personal one-on-one coaching in Sydney for a few players and I thoroughly enjoy helping others work on their game and improving them as players. There is a huge interest in the sport in India and basketball has the potential to become India’s national sport, right up there with cricket and hockey. I want to be a part of that.

Padmanabhan: I want to play professional basketball at the highest possible level I can, that is my goal, as broad as it is. I see myself doing that, I constantly picture it. I think India would be an incredible place for that to happen if a professional league began.

Do you follow basketball in India? What is your impression of the sport there?

Keskar: Yes, of course I follow basketball in India. I have been following it for about three years now. There was a stage when I was keen to play for the Indian national team so I got in touch with Scott Flemming about trying out. But the rules to play for India are such that you need to be an Indian citizen. Unfortunately it does not allow for OCI players, which is what I am. My impression is that the rate at which basketball is progressing in India is phenomenal. There is definitely a huge market for the sport. If a pro league started in India, I can see it flourishing, very much like the soccer league In india which was established in 2013-2014.

Padmanabhan: I do keep an eye on basketball events in India like national basketball games and big university/college meets. I actually played in a tournament in Malaysia where I played against the Karnataka state team and that really opened up eyes to the potential of the sport of basketball in India. I think the sport has such big potential in a country like India where people are so passionate about their sports. I think the sport is growing and I understand there are strong links with the NBA to make that happen. I think a professional league in India would be an amazing step forward and I really hope that happens, not just for an opportunity for me, but for so many other passionate Indian basketballers.

How would you like to contribute to Indian basketball?

Keskar: I want to take my passion and love for basketball and apply it in India. I would be keen to play for India if I am given the opportunity. I have always dreamt of representing India as a basketball player so if the rules on playing for the national team were to change then I would love to represent India as a basketball player. Otherwise, I’m hoping to represent my home state of Maharashtra if a pro league started in India. I am also particularly keen to contribute to the development of basketball in India - whether it is through coaching, assistant coaching, or organizing youth development camps. There is a lot of youth enthusiasm for basketball and a strong potential for it to become a booming league/industry in India, akin to hockey and soccer, maybe even cricket. This is what I want to contribute to and be a part of.

Padmanabhan: First and foremost, I would love to play professionally in India if the opportunity arose. With being a professional athlete, obviously there are responsibilities as a role model and to the community in general, all of which I would love to take on. I would also love to represent India as a basketball player. I am not sure of the rules and regulations around people of Indian decent playing for the national team, but that is something I would love to do. In addition, I would love to be involved in the growth and development of the sport. Having played semi-professional basketball in Australia, a strong basketball country and having coached also, I think I can bring a lot in terms of knowing the sport and developing it at grass roots levels and beyond to university and professional levels. I just see a potential for a huge boom in the sport (that has already begun) from the other side of the world, and am itching to be involved.

May 12, 2015

Documentary on Indian basketball star Prashanti Singh shortlisted for National student film award

Prashanti Singh - the former captain of India's Senior Women's team and one of the four 'Singh Sisters' to have taken women's hoops in India by storm over the past decade - was the subject of the recent documentary 'BA3 - Bosky, Basketball, Banaras' by Akshay Luthra of the Asian School of Media Studies. It was recently announced that the documentary has been shortlisted by the National Students' Film Awards (NSFA).

The documentary, which is just under 25 minutes long, charts the story of Singh - known popularly as 'Bosky' among friends and fans - as she picked up the game of basketball in her hometown of Varanasi (or Banaras) and rode passion all the way to India's national team, leading as captain and delivering India to some of their biggest recent victories. The journey also touches on Singh's struggles to be taken seriously as an Indian women choosing sport against tradition and her rebound after being shockingly dropped by the national team selectors.

Until recently, the documentary was available to be watched freely on YouTube, but the uploaders have since removed it.

Singh's origin story is like that of many others of India's elite women athletes that come from small towns and lower income households. In her case, the story sees her climbing all the way to the top of the totem pole and become one of India's best players. Among other highlights, the documentary focuses on how Singh fought against society as a woman in Varanasi to become an elite basketball player. Her sisters - Pratima, Akanksha, and Divya, all of whom played national or international level basketball for India, too - are featured too: they discuss their family background and how a supportive mother helped them achieve their dreams.

Several of Prashanti Singh's coaches - past and present - also speak in the documentary about the shooting guard's tireless work ethic and will to become the best.

"Basketball is my life, it means everything to me," Singh says of the game that made her, and she also discusses the heavy weight of leadership when she served as India's captain. There is some in-depth discussion of her greatest performances, including the time she led India to a huge upset victory over Korea at the William Jones Cup in 2011.

In 2012, Singh was the center of some controversy when she was surprisingly cut from the national side. The documentary digs out the reason behind this controversial decision and Singh's own reaction to it. She talks about her thoughts of quitting the game, and how her passion for the same game kept her fighting for a rebound opportunity back to the national squad.

The documentary provides many moments of unintentional comedy, all coming from the voice-over narrator and his quirky choice of words. Nevertheless, it can prove inspirational as Singh looks to be a role model to future Indian players. This NSFA nomination will help shine the light further on the player and on Indian basketball as a whole.

May 10, 2015

Basketball Federation in a 'freeze'; India can't participate in U16 FIBA Asia qualifiers

Whenever there is a major Asian tournament, India's Men's teams of all age levels (senior, U18, U16) have to complete the formality of qualifying for that tournament, which we do by winning the South Asian Basketball Association (SABA) qualifiers against our neighbours. Facing off teams from weaker federations in South Asia like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Maldives, there is rarely ever a threat posed to the Indian side. With the 4th U16 FIBA Asia Championship for Men looming later this year, the top youth players from SABA nations will once again head to Bangladesh for the qualifying round of that tournament. This year, however, India - who were the U16 SABA champs two years ago - face a more dangerous threat than any basketball team before.


Due to a power struggle that has made politics a priority over basketball for the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), India will not be able to participate in the upcoming U16 SABA Qualifiers for the 4th FIBA Asia U16 Championship. The qualifiers are set to be held in Dhaka (Bangladesh) on May 19-20 while the U16 FIBA ABC is scheduled from October 29 - November 7 in Semarang, Indonesia. Until this year, India had always won the SABA qualifiers gold for this tournament and, in the last three iterations of the U16 FIBA ABC, finished 10th, 10th, and 11th respectively. This will be the first time that an Indian U16 team will not play in the qualifiers or the actual championship.

This information was confirmed yesterday to me by a FIBA Asia source, "As things stands, BFI is under a 'freeze'. Therefore India cannot participate in the U16 qualifiers."

India's internal struggles had already dented their ambitions in another way for the U16 FIBA ABC earlier. Until recently, the tournament was scheduled to be held in Bengaluru from July 2-12, giving India a rare chance to play host to a major FIBA Asia championship. Unfortunately, the instability at the top of the BFI caused FIBA to change the host country (Indonesia) and the tournament dates (now to late-October).

The BFI currently has two opposing executive committees and are headed to conflict. In late March, two different meetings were held on different dates in different cities to select the leadership body of the BFI. One group chose Karnataka's K Govindraj as BFI president, the other picked Maharashtra's Poonam Mahajan. The first side controls the finances, the second has capture over the BFI head office in New Delhi. Without a clear fix to the situation, only a lengthy court battle (not the basketball court, although that would've been fun) can provide some clarity to this fight. Until a winner is chosen, the federation has been considered 'frozen' in the eyes of FIBA and can't participate in or hold sanctioned FIBA events. FIBA's official website has removed the names of India's federation office bearers.

What is perplexing, however, is that despite being disqualified from participating in the SABA qualifiers in Dhaka later this month, the BFI is still holding an U16 selection camp for players in Pune (in a decision made by the committee led by Mahajan and Roopam Sharma). The participating players and coaches are being left in delusion about their future with Team India.

It is the players, eventually, who are the biggest sufferers of all this drama. Until the BFI figures out its issues, basketball players in India will continue to miss their opportunity to showcase their skills against Asia's best and earn the experience needed to blossom their skills further. While the administrators on top play their power games, the real players are being robbed of their opportunities.

This is not the first bit of trouble caused by the BFI political fight and it certainly won't be the last. Earlier this month, all of India's foreign coaches - Men's Head Coach Scott Flemming, Women's Head Coach Francisco Garcia, and Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger - either resigned or were not given contract extensions, and all will be leaving India soon. Our national team has already fallen at the first hurdle of the U16 FIBA ABC; if the BFI doesn't arrive to a solution soon, India may miss out on the U16 FIBA Women's ABC and the two biggest senior Asian tournaments later this year: the FIBA Asia Championship for Men and Women.

May 9, 2015

National Team Head Coach Scott Flemming leaves Indian basketball with an unmatched legacy

At the FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan last year, India's Men's national basketball team faced an unexpected distraction. At the very last minute, FIBA decided to impose their rudimentary 'No Headgear' rule, forcing India's Sikh players - Amrit Pal Singh and Amjyot Singh - to play without their turbans before their first game against Japan. Amrit Pal and Amjyot were in a fix: the frontcourt combo were (and still are) the heart and soul of the national team, but playing without a turban would have been an insult to their religious customs. Scott Flemming - the head coach of Team India - clashed with the tournament's organizers in behalf of his players, but to no avail. Understanding completely the dilemma that the two young stars faced, Flemming allowed them to opt out from the game, putting no pressure on the two to bow down to FIBA's ruling. Without them, India would have stood no chance at sniffing any victories at the tournament, but if they played, the two players would be making important personal sacrifices.

Despite their outrage, Amrit Pal and Amjyot made that sacrifice and decided to play. By the time the tournament ended, it became one of the most successful performances by Indian Men abroad in recent decades. The two big men played a major role in India's success, and they did it - regrettably - without their turbans. They did it for their country, their teammates, and as they told me later, for their coach. It was a rare occasion in Indian basketball where a coach had been able to create a true family atmosphere in the national team system. Not even the needless FIBA distraction could break their spirit, and it's a spirit that Flemming played a major role in cultivating.

India lost that game to Japan, but a day later, scored their biggest-ever international win, the 'Wonder of Wuhan', by defeating hosts and Asian giants China. Although India only finished 7th eventually at the tournament, they gave a tough fight to FIBA Asia Championship finalists Iran and Philippines as well. Flemming's squad had fired warning shots to the rest of the continent that the sleeping giant was finally ready to awaken.

And yet, despite the on-court success, it was the off-court influence of Flemming on Team India that truly struck me. He had coached a group of individuals to become a strong unit, and that off-court coaching naturally translated to improved performances on-court. Over the last two and a half years, Flemming has helped the national team hold their heads up higher with respectable performances at the FIBA Asia Championship, the Lusofonia Games, the FIBA Asia Cup, the Asian Games, and more, and play together with pride. In a country with fleeting basketball success where foreign coaches had been hired and dropped like flies, Flemming had lasted the test of time and the challenges of a broken system to become arguably India's greatest international coach ever.

But all good things must come to an end, and today, they finally have. Flemming has resigned from his job in India and the Americna coach will be headed back to his homeland leaving behind an unmatched legacy in Indian basketball.  The Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) in Idaho announced that Flemming has signed on as Head Coach of the Crusaders (NCAA Division II) starting this season.

"I can’t imagine my life without India," Flemming told me in an e-mail, "I would do it all over again. To be honest, it has been very challenging at times but also extremely rewarding. I have really enjoyed working with all the different age groups in our national camps as well as the independent camps and clinics I have done. I have made so many good friends in the India basketball family. I really appreciate how the players accepted me on our national team with all my new ideas and terminology. I have become close with many of them and that is one of the reasons I do what I do. We really grew as a team and they are like family to me. I am proud of the progress we have made and I am trusting that this can be built upon for greater days ahead."

"I want to thank Basketball Federation of India (BFI) and IMG-Reliance for giving me this opportunity," he added, "I hope to stay connected in some role and maybe even come back in a few years and coach the team on a short-term assignment if they would want me to. Everyone has been so kind to Chawn and I and it has changed us for the better. I will be following the teams through the tournaments and pulling for them even in the United States. I wish India basketball only the very best for the days ahead. GO INDIA!"

Flemming had been hired by the BFI in September 2012 after 30 years of coaching experience in the USA, including serving as an assistant coach with the NBDL squad Texas Legends. In India, beyond his international influence, Flemming also served as an adviser to coaches domestically, helping to further cultivate and grow basketball at the grassroots level in India. He took part in various Coaches Coaching programmes around the country, launched the Indian Basketball Coaches Network (IBCN), and made basketball player development videos to reach out to the legions of hoop hopefuls in India. He and his wife Chawn forged valuable relationships with coaches and players in India and he went out of his way to have honest and open communication through interviews, his blog, and social media with the Indian fans and media. Flemming was the first-ever guest when Kaushik Lakshman and I launched the Hoopdarshan podcast on Indian basketball in late March.

His departure leaves a major leadership void atop the national programme and adds another dent to India's future hopes internationally. A few weeks ago, it was announced that the BFI had not picked up on the contract extensions of India's Women's national team coach Francisco Garcia and Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger. In a few months, India's Men and Women will be taking part in separate FIBA Asia Championships, the biggest international tournament for Indian basketball teams. The timing for being without expert coaches who had built real continuity within the system couldn't be any worse. For every step forward, Indian basketball seems to be taking two steps back.

Several of India's top players were obviously saddened to see him go. "It's a big loss for the Indian national team," said international guard and former captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, "Flemming made good and positive results to team. I will only wish him luck that wherever he goes, he has a great life. And a big thank you!"

"It's very disappointing to hear that Flemming resigned as our coach," said India's starting point guard Joginder Singh, "We love to work with him. He is a great coach. I wish him luck for the future and send him a big thank you."

No matter where his career takes him, Coach Flemming will always have the love and support from the family he leaves behind in India. Sometimes, basketball achievement can be only about the bottom lines, the 'W's and the 'L's, but in Flemming's case, one can put no value on the achievements he made in raising the spirit and belief of the national team players. Moments like 'turban-gate' in Wuhan - where India managed to succeed despite the insult to the star players' beliefs - prove that a head coach's job extends far beyond 28x15 meter square dimensions of a basketball court. For Flemming, raising Indian basketball from the grassroots and school level to the coaches and up to the national team was all part of the same job: and he did it all on and off the court. In behalf of the Indian hoops family, I wish him the best for all his future endevours!

May 8, 2015

1st Reliance Foundation Jr NBA Elite National Camp held in Greater Noida with Sim Bhullar

In 2013, the NBA joined hands with the Reliance Foundation to launch the Reliance Foundation Jr NBA programmes in various Indian cities. In the last two years, the programme reached more than one million youth in 1,000 schools in eight cities around the country. Now, the programme ups the ante: earlier this week, the best performers from the programme over the past year were invited to Greater Noida to receive elite level training and impress NBA-affiliated coaches at the 1st Reliance Foundation JR NBA Elite National Camp.

As a major attraction, the NBA's first Indian-origin player Sim Bhullar - who is in India for a promotional and personal trip this week - inaugurated the camp on May 4th at the Jaypee Greens Integrated Sports Complex in Greater Noida. The camp concluded on May 7th with Bhullar returning for the closing.

The Jr NBA Elite camp consists of skills training, competitions, games, fitness training and team building exercises. It is the culmination of the Reliance Foundation Jr NBA programme that promotes health, fitness and an active lifestyle through basketball.

On the opening day of the camp, Bhullar, the 7-foot-5 Center who held a 10-day contract with the Sacramento Kings this season, helped train the top 140 youth players from across India in attendance. According to a report by Ekalavyas, sharing their expertise with the participating youth were men’s national team guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, former international players Sambhaji Kadam, Mohit Bhandari, Shiba Maggon, Divya Singh, Sunita Suren, former youth national coach Paramdeep Singh, coach Francisco Garcia, strength and conditioning coach Tommy Heffelfinger, Senior Director Basketball Operations, NBA Troy Justice, Assistant Vice President (AVP) Basketball Operations of NBA China, Greg Stolt, and Senior Director, Basketball Operations of India, Carlos Barroca.

“I am very excited to travel to India to see firsthand how basketball’s popularity has grown and to meet young basketball players across the country,” said Bhullar. “Hopefully sharing my story will help inspire young Indians to pursue their dreams on and off the court, just as I have.”

You can check out fantastic pictures of this camp taken by Adarsh Rao of Ekalavyas here.

May 5, 2015

Eight Different Stories: Previewing the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs

After the regular season reduced the fray of 30 to 16, the last two and a half weeks of the First Round further cut the number of remaining contenders to eight. Now, the remaining contenders enter the fight to the championship carrying eight different stories, and the baggage of eight different histories. Who will be the last team standing? Here is a look into the past and my preview of the Second Round of the NBA Playoffs.

Check out the whole article on SportsKeeda.

Slumdog Champion: Basketball is transforming the life of a girl from Karnataka's slums

In the last episode of our Hoodarshan podcast, our guest - NBA India's Carlos Barroca - told us that one of his favourite things about coaching basketball in India is how the game has become a complete equalizer. "Rich or poor, basketball for all," Barroca said. Those of us who have seen some of India's top players emerge from dire financial backgrounds over the years already know this to be true. And now, the story of 14-year-old Nasreen Makandar from the Vijaypura slums in the Bengaluru district of Karnataka, is another example of how basketball can change the life of young talents in the country.

Makandar - the daughter of a former truck driver and a beggar - used her basketball talents to qualify for Karnataka's under-16 team. That team went on to win the gold medal at a national-level school tournament recently held by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports at the Sports Authority of India stadium in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Karnataka had defeated Punjab in the final to secure the win. Now, the Karnataka State Basketball Association (KSBBA) have extended their support to help Makandar get through her education and basketball career.

The Times of India story by Sangamesh Menasinakai last week recalled Makandar's unbelievable story:

Her father Khajamiya was a truck driver but quit his job 16 years ago after three heart attacks. Her mother Khajabi begs on the streets of Vijayapura and gets about Rs 300 and some food items like jowar rotti and rice. They have nine children, including seven girls. Nasreen, a class 9 student of the Anjuman High School, said she would watch sports and games at the Darbar High School ground. "My sisters Gousiya and Heena are division-level winners in basketball and they encouraged me a lot," she said. She's the first girl from Vijayapura district to win a gold medal at the national-level tournament. She would like to take the UPSC examination. "I would like to become an IPS officer," she added.
She added that a government scholarship has helped her buy textbooks and uniforms.

The story evoked a positive reaction from K Govindraj, the secretary of the KSBBA and one of the contesting presidents of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), who offered - again via The Times of India - support to Makandar and her family.

"We are for promoting basketball and fostering talent This tournament was not part of the Basketball Federation of India schedule. But the girl has performed well and deserves to be encouraged. We will take care of her education and sports career," Govindraj told TOI, while exhorting Nasreen's parents to get in touch with him.

Hopefully, Govindraj is able to deliver on his words (the media records will certainly hold him to it!). Despite her basketball talents, Makandar has shown admirable ambitions to succeed in academics, too, and in the long run, we hope that whatever direction she chooses brings stability to her and her family. Another reason to love basketball, truly a game that can bring joy to anyone, regardless of their background or social conditions!

May 3, 2015

2015 NBA Playoffs - Expert's Bracket Challenge - Round 2

How are you all feeling after that? Yes, seven other series happened in the First Round and 34 other games were played, but it all came down to the epic Spurs-Clippers series, to a classic Game 7, to amazing championship performances by both sides, and a memorable performance by Chris Paul. I was so pumped that all I could think about doing after the game was heading out to the basketball court and hoping to be a little more coordinated than Big Baby Davis. But first, we have to deal with the next best thing and channel this excitement into words.

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. Let me introduce to you the 2015 NBA Playoffs Bracket Challenge, where Akshay, Kaushik, and I unleash our inner prophets to predict each series of each round in the playoffs.

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.

As for our First Round predictions, all of us were correct in picking the Hawks, Cavaliers, Bulls, Warriors, and Grizzlies. Akshay is the only one who went 8/8 with his predictions, picking the right winner each time! With half of his length predictions right as well, he currently holds the top spot and bragging rights. But hey - there are three more rounds to go!

  • Akshay Manwani: 20
  • Kaushik Lakshman: 14
  • Karan Madhok: 11
Without further ado, here are our bold predictions for the Second Round.

Eastern Conference:

Atlanta (1) v Washington (4):

Akshay’s pick: The season series went 1-3 in favour of the Hawks. But that was then. This is now. The Wizards have raised quite a few heads with their sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Contrastingly, we saw how the Hawks didn’t exactly breeze through their first round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, with the series squared 2-2, before Atlanta won Games 5 and 6. The Hawks are also likely to miss Thabo Sefolosha, who would have been made to match up against John Wall. The Hawks are a well-rounded team, but the Wizards have the veteran experience of Paul Pierce and the better individual talent to upset these Hawks. Wizards win 4-2.

Karan’s pick: I can’t say if the Wizards sweep of the Raptors was more of the Wizards being that good or the Raptors being that bad. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but more importantly, The Truth – Paul Pierce – currently lies in Washington. The Wizards will strut into this series with new-found swag, and the talent in their arsenal isn’t that bad, either. However, I feel that the Hawks will still hold an advantage in this matchup. Although Atlanta stumbled a little against the Nets, they found their version of unstoppable team ball in their last two wins, and that momentum will continue against Washington. Expect a super-speedy matchup between Jeff Teague and John Wall, hot shooting between Bradley Beal and Kyle Korver, but the Atlanta bigs – Al Horford and Paul Millsap – will prove to be the difference-makers. Hawks win 4-2.

Kaushik’s pick: After a rather surprising first round from both these teams, prediction for the second round just got tougher. Atlanta don’t look as crisp as they did around January, and it was surprising how they lost 2 games to Brooklyn. Washington on the other hand ‘truth-ed’ their way through the Raptors in such a surprising way, absolutely nobody could have seen that coming. In my opinion it was more of Toronto’s flaws that led to this. Against Atlanta I think they will find it much tougher both in defence and offence and just aren’t deep enough to contend. The Hawks will learn from their slips in the first round and are favourites for this one. Hawks win 4-2.

Cleveland (2) v Chicago (3):

Akshay’s pick: Old playoff foes meet again. From the days of Michael Jordan hitting his buzzer-beating shots against the Cavaliers to the days of LeBron James and Derrick Rose. The Bulls have also had their run-ins with James when he was a part of the Miami Heat and so there is plenty of baggage between both teams. The Cavs are seriously hobbled by the absence of Kevin Love and the two-game suspension to J.R. Smith. But the Cavs also have the best player in the world in James. The Bulls have also not played defense like in previous years. It will be a tough, chippy series but I do expect Cleveland to put the Bulls away eventually. Cavaliers win 4-2.

Karan’s pick: The only matchup that has truly mattered in the Eastern Conference all season, and this is definitely the NBA’s most interesting Second Round series. Bulls-Cavs is a real rivalry with great talent on both sides. Even before Kevin Love hurt his shoulder, I had felt that Chicago’s depth and two-way potential would trouble Cleveland. The Cavs struggle defending in the post, and the Bulls’ big rotation could further exploit this weakness. Without Love, LeBron will have to focus more on defending bigs like Gasol, Noah, and Gibson inside, and this will hinder his offensive genius a little. Without Love, they will not be able to spread the floor with ease offensively. Ultimately, the edge will come to who wins the point-guard battle between Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving – and my heart says Rose. Bulls win 4-2.

Kaushik’s pick: Arguably the series of the round, I cannot wait for this one. I was impressed with Cleveland’s way of closing Boston out. Chicago in typical Bulls fashion showed both their Jekyll and Hyde side in the series but eventually were too good for the young Bucks. The main talking point will be Kevin Love and his injury. It looked like the Cavs finally started to use him very effectively, so the injury is a big blow. But they still have the best two players in the series, and normally that is enough, but probably not against this Bulls team. Loaded from top to bottom, they only need 2-3 players to click and I think it can happen. Chicago is just the kind of team where Cleveland’s offence, or lack of it, can get found out. However, there’s still that LeBron guy. The heart says Bulls, and the head says Cavs, but I’m going with the heart on this one. Bulls win 4-3.

Western Conference:

Golden State (1) v Memphis (4):

Akshay’s pick: The fast paced Warriors match up against the grindhouse Grizzlies. Sizzle meets attrition. In three regular season meetings, the Warriors went 2-1 against the Grizzlies, but with the Warriors playing without Andrew Bogut and David Lee in the first matchup when they lost. Now, Golden State will also have Lee available, the Warriors’ forward unavailable for the first round against New Orleans due to a sore back. The Grizzlies had no answer for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in their two defeats and it is unlikely that they will be able to stop the Warriors’ backcourt now. Golden State also has home-court. Warriors win 4-2.

Karan’s pick: The Warriors are making basketball magic over in the Bay Area, and Stephen Curry is the sorcerer leading this show from the point. Curry was ridiculously good against the Pelicans, averaging over 33 points and seven assists in the First Round. Meanwhile, the Grit-‘n-grind Grizzlies looked efficient and defensively sound in their beat-down of the Trail Blazers, but with Mike Conley’s status up in the air, Memphis’ immediate future is looking a whole lot more complicated. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team, the Warriors are a great defensive and offensive team. Memphis will aim to slow down the pace to hamper the Warriors from getting into their comfort zone. Unfortunately for them however, the Warriors are looking comfortable in all zones. Warriors win 4-1.

Kaushik’s pick: Oh man, what a series. The flair on one side, and the grit and grind on the other. If there was one thing I would ask the basketball gods for, it is that Mike Conley gets fit for this because he is such a game changer. With him, this series gets competitive, else it is a wash out, that’s how good the Warriors are and that’s how influential Conley is. If you haven’t guessed already, I have a pretty big mancrush on Conley. Both teams got through Round 1 rather easily and will be reasonably well rested for this series. To beat the Warriors, you have to be good defensively, which the Grizz are, and also have good enough shooting to hang with them, which the Grizz can be but are only sparingly. And that is why they need Conley so much, he knows how to dictate play, control the tempo etc, such a vital weapon against Golden State. It is hard to bet against Curry and friends right now, and I’ll make that safe pick, while actually rooting for the Grizzlies to come through. Warriors win 4-1.

Houston (2) v LA Clippers (6):

Akshay’s pick: Firstly, congratulations to the Clippers on their win against San Antonio in what was truly one of the all-time great seven-game series in the playoffs. The question now for the Clippers is whether they can recover fast enough for Game 1 against the Rockets, who are well rested. The Clippers will also be anxious by the state of Chris Paul’s hamstring, which seemed to have impeded his movement in Game 7 against the Spurs. However, the Rockets don’t offer the same bench strength that the Spurs did and their defense isn’t anywhere near San Antonio as well. Patrick Beverley may have helped the Rockets on that front, but he is out of this series. If the Clippers can guard the 3-point line against the Rockets, they will fancy their chances no matter what the odds. Clippers win 4-2.

Karan’s pick: After years of coming up short in the super-competitive West, the Clippers finally grew up and showed that they are a team to be truly respected by knocking out the defending champs in a classic seven-game series win. Now, they face a Rockets side that has surprised me all season and looked particularly comfortable in their 4-1 win over Dallas. In some ways, this may be the most annoying series to watch, with Chris Paul and James Harden taking part in a flop-fest / complaining-competition, while Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, and DeAndre Jordan collectively miss 1,350 free throws per game. With the pressure of facing early failure off their backs, I expect Clippers to be a lot more relaxed and confident in this series. If Paul’s hamstring issues are not serious, he should make the Conference Finals for the first time in his career. Clippers win 4-2.

Kaushik’s pick: After the epic first round series between the Spurs and the Clippers, almost nothing that can happen in this series will live up to it. Will the Clippers be spent after playing a near perfect series? Is Chris Paul’s hamstring injury bad? Can they deal with another fast paced shooting team that is themselves playing beyond potential? You’d have to think the answers don’t look good for the Clips. I don’t like either of the teams but I think Houston is quietly doing something special. Harden is going to be the key seperator in the series in my opinion. I should count out the Clips at my own risk after the series we’ve just witnessed but I feel Houston will take this in a close one. Rockets win 4-2.

May 2, 2015

And the 2015 NBA champ will be…

This article was first published in the 144th edition (2015 - No. 5) of SLAM China magazine. Here is my original English version.

*I wrote this article before the playoffs began!

We have seen this movie before. Over and over again, Popovich’s disciplined and dedicated troops have stretched their dominance, squeezing the last bit of talent out of the Duncan-Ginobili-Parker ‘Big Three’, up to a point where we have entered the Kawhi Leonard era and a new face of the franchise threatens to haunt NBA rivals for another decade.

But this isn’t about the past or the future, it’s about the present. And in the present, all signs point towards another title for the Spurs, their sixth in the Duncan-Popovich era, and their first successful title defence.

There will be strong contenders on both coasts, but you can expect the Spurs to have an upper hand against every postseason challenger. The Warriors have been historically good this season on both ends of the floor, but I fear that that their inexperience (they were ousted in the First Round last year) will be exposed and they will be outclassed by the Spurs in the West. The East may present the Bulls, Cavaliers, or Hawks as the sacrificial lamb in the Finals, none of whom have the two-way balance, experience, and tactical cunning that the Spurs will be riding on.

After a relatively slow start to the regular season, Leonard, Parker, Duncan, Popovich, and co. have finished in style to peak just in time for the playoffs. The NBA is a problem, and the Spurs are the solution. With their team-first approach, passing, three-point prowess, and defensive intensity, the San Antonio Spurs will finish this season just as they began it: as NBA champions.