Klay Thompson

At best, the first round of the NBA playoffs were something to switch to during Cubs game commercials, and at worst they were straight trash. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul got a couples MRI, Stanley Johnson lost him mind, and Steph Curry channeled his inner Derrick Rose when he returned from an ankle injury only to SLIP ON A WET SPOT and sprain his MCL one half of basketball later. While we did see two oddly competitive game 7s, I don’t think anyone will look back on basketball in April fondly, except maybe Thibs.  So with that, round 1 is behind us and lets never speak of it again. We’re now into round 2 where two series may actually turn out to be competitive, and at least all of the teams that are still competing have a compelling reason to win, regardless of how you (or I) may dislike some of them (Cleveland).

Starting in the Eastern Conference, Toronto is fresh off their 2nd playoff series win in the franchise’s 21 year history, and ready to take on the Miami Heat on 48 hours rest. Both teams will go into Tuesday night’s game with nothing more than a shootaround to prepare so I would imagine the play will be as sloppy and bizarre as any in the teams’ round 1 match ups. Miami’s playoff experience, star power and hot shooting will likely move them on to the Conference Finals, but if Toronto’s DeRozan and Lowry can get back up to their regular season scoring numbers, they’ll have a shot.

On the West Coast, the Spurs/Thunder match up tips off the part of the NBA playoffs where you wonder why they even televise games in Atlanta or Toronto, when Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green are playing basketball a few thousand miles away. But Game 1 did not turn out to be the elite competition we had hoped. Instead, the Spurs played ‘as good as it gets’, executing flawlessly on the offensive side, and throwing defender after defender at Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, rushing and contesting not just shots, but steps. Before Monday night, I figured the Spurs (probably) wouldn’t score 73 in the first half of every game this series but that we might have to endure an under-achieving Oklahoma City team fall in less than 7 games, with their inexperienced rotation pushing Durant over the edge and out of town.  While I was preparing myself to adjust perspective and appreciate the impeccable and dominant Spurs for as long as they’re around, OKC made it interesting with a last second win over San Antonio on Monday, evening the series and reminding us just how fun the NBA Playoffs can be.

And then there’s Lebron. And the inevitable question – can he be stopped? Answer: No. Not in the Eastern conference. The Cavs have a 9 game post-season winning streak against the Atlanta Hawks which is the 2nd longest active streak in the league, coming up short only to the Cavs 12 game run over Detroit who they just swept. They may have to weather a few storms here and there from Al Horford, Jeff Teague and a Hawks team who won’t roll over as easily as last year, but in the end, we’ll still be talking about Lebron, the health of his teammates and their chemistry with the coach 2 weeks from now when they’re headed to South Beach or the great white North for LBJ’s 6th straight Eastern Conference Finals.

Last but certainly not least, prayers up for Steph. He’s poised to return in Game 3 of Warriors/Blazers, but his team is doing just fine without him. They obliterated the Blazers in Game 1 behind the smothering defense of fellow splash brother Klay Thompson, and a triple double from the pride of Saginaw, Draymond Green. They don’t need Steph this series, but they’ll want to be firing on all cylinders when they head to the Conference Finals, so rest between games 2 and 3 can’t come soon enough for the winners of 73 regular season games.

So that’s round 2 in a nutshell.    The playoffs are on the up and up, and the TNT crew is in post-season form. It’s way overdue but it’s here and it’s fleeting, so just like Chicago Summer, enjoy it while it lasts.

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The reigning champion Golden State Warriors have been rolling through the NBA with a whole lot of wins. For much of this season, and the Warriors have been compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who also happened to have an incredible season during their reign as the champs. One could say the Warriors are running with the Bulls. Today, pharm the Warriors have the chance to tie the Chicago Bulls record of 44 straight wins at home.

How do the Warriors compare to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls? Through 59 games Golden State is sitting at 54-5 and the ’95-’96 Bulls were 53-6.

During the Bulls iconic season, they accomplished what no team had done before, or has been able to since, but the Warriors are knocking on their record-setting door.

Chicago won 18 games in a row during one stretch of the 1995-1996 season. They also led the league in scoring (105.2 points per game), ranked third in defense, lost just two home games all season and won more road games (33) than any team in NBA history. RESPECT. Come playoffs, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen lost just one game in their road to the finals and ended up beating the Seattle SuperSonics for the title.

This season, the Golden State Warriors started with a 24-0 run. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are hotter than hot and their team is in the hunt for a 73-win season.

So what do we think? Will the Warriors tie the Bulls record? It will be no easy feat as their opponent is the OKC Thunder – who just lost to Golden State by a mid-court, buzzer-beater in OT from Steph Curry in Oklahoma City. Let’s just say, tonight’s game will be entertaining to say the least (something Bulls fans aren’t currently able to enjoy). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are thirsty for a win.

Despite all their success in the recent years, Steph Curry’s MVP award and countless three-pointers the Warriors don’t necessarily get the respect they deserve.  None of the contestants on Jeopardy could identify the team from their logo…I say it adds more fuel to the Golden State fire.

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NBA PTO

It’s September, and so when it comes to PTO, unhealthy or paid time off, seek many of us are either maxed out from summer travels, saving a few days for Fall weddings, or hanging on to what’s left for the winter holidays.  For NBA players, PTO takes on a different form from the masses, with time off from what can be April for lottery teams, through the end of September when training camps tip off.  So with the last few weeks of PTO winding down for NBA players across the globe, lets see what some of our favorites have been up to for the last 4-6 months…

The Champs…

After an MVP and NBA Championship Season that lasted through mid-June, Steph Curry spent the summer enjoying his wife Ayeesha’s amazing cooking (follow her blog), and hanging with his beautiful new daughter Ryan, born in July, and of course her sister Riley.  He managed to sign a land mark Under Armour deal, visit Davidson for homecoming, shoot socks with Stephen Colbert and still make time to attend the wedding of teammate…

Andre Iguodala who tied the knot in Cabo in August to his childhood sweet heart Christina Gutierrez.  (See Photos)  It’s almost unfair how likable the Warriors are.  In attendance were teammates and friends Harrison Barnes (unclear if he tried tequilla for a 2nd time), Rudy Gay, Evan Turner, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green and…

Klay Thompson who has been making rounds with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, visiting his alma mater Washington State for the football team’s season opener, and appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live to surprise US Airman Steve Stone, a die hard Warriors fan and one of the three Americans who prevented a terrorist attack on a train to Paris in August.  Thompson played sports fan almost as much as he played sports hero this summer, taking in White Sox games at U.S. Cellular and on the road to watch his brother Trayce Thompson who was called up to the big leagues in August.

The Rubberneckers…

Jimmy Butler probably could have used the extra rest he got with the Bulls early playoff exit in May.  But Jimmy GOT PAID by the Bulls when free agency opened in July, and spent the rest of the summer in the gym (I hope), as well as on the road with his odd couple BFF Mark Wahlberg promoting the Entourage movie in Europe.   He lost to Michael Jordan (no judgement) in a shooting contest at MJ’s Flight School in early August, before taking in the Denver Broncos season opener from the sidelines to support his friend and Broncos Wide Receiver Demaryius Thomas.

A little further “West,”  James Harden went from Houston to Hollywood this offseason jumping in to a new relationship with Khloe Kardashian that I think is just everything and more.   Harden accompanied Khloe to Kylie Jenner’s 18th birthday festivities as well as to the All-White Yacht Party Khloe threw for his 26th birthday.  He also won the 2015 Drew League Championship and signed a monster deal with Adidas, while wearing Nike Air Jordans, and celebrated with SWAG.

The Wolverines…

With Michigan Football off to a semi-OK start, my Blue blood is building back up, so I had to check in on my favorite Wolverines in the NBA.

Nik Stauskas had a rocky summer breaking up with his longtime girlfriend and social media star Taylor Anderson just about the time that he was traded from Sacramento to Philly.  Stauskas spent some time at Camp Sanderson in Ann Arbor getting his strength and conditioning on before competing in the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship for Team Canada who suffered a crushing defeat by Venezuela and will now have to win a qualifying tournament next summer in order to compete in the Rio Olympics.  Here’s hoping Nik hits more threes and sells less hot sauce in the coming year.

Back in the US, Mitch McGary had an extra long offseason when OKC failed to make the playoffs in the West.  This gave him ample time to watch Cubs games, take his Dad to a game at Wrigley, instagram his Jeep, and work on his epic bench celebrations, although I’m not sure this one can be topped: https://vine.co/v/O9ezJvlIm1v

34 Days until NBA Tip Off…

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http://www.inflexwetrust.com

It’s often said that there’s no offseason in the NFL anymore.   It’s a 365 day sport from the Combine through the Super Bowl.   With NFL kickoff weekend in the books and the Warriors Championship feeling so last season, patient it’s more evident than ever for basketball fans this month, hospital that the NBA definitely still has an offseason.  When summer comes and the excitement of The Finals fades into the background, discount NBA fans often find their twitter feeds populated with vacation selfies, the free agency circus, and the occasional #riseandgrind shirt optional photo op –  yes please!

But it’s not all June gloom in the summer months for the NBA fan.  Thanks in part to the 2011 lock out, the 24 hour news cycle, and the explosion of social media as the go-to source for sports fandom, Pro-Am Summer Leagues assure us that even in the offseason, basketball never stops.

When it comes to summer basketball, on the West Coast, The Drew League reigns King.  Featuring NBA players alongside streetball stars from the LA area and college favorites, the Drew League is arguably the most recognized Pro-Am for the masses.  The Drew League tipped off in 1973 as a community youth tournament in South Central LA expanding to a 28 team invite-only league today.  With a rich 40-year history, King-Drew Magnet High School has played host to some of the toughest competition while remaining true to its goal of bringing talent back to the community while making meaningful relationships on the court.

In the early 2000s, NBA players would drop in from time to time and the Drew League had made a name for itself in Southern California, but its popularity among casual NBA fans took off in the summer of 2011 with the NBA lockout looming.  That summer, NBA All-Stars like Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony took Pro-Am leagues by storm, but Kevin Durant started the trend producing the most Drew League headlines and YouTube hits competing on the Drew League’s GO HAM team.

The consistent presence of NBA players, many of who grew up playing in the Drew League, has continued ever since. This summer, James Harden, an LA Native, and the LAUNFD squad (pronounced L.A. Unified) defeated Nick Young’s Most Hated Players (M.H.P) for the 2015 Drew League Championship, a team that also stared Demar DeRozan – a Drew League player since he was 15.  LAUNFD, winning their 4th Championship in 6 years, started the playoffs as the #2 seed after being abused by a retired Baron Davis (Baron Davis!!!!) and his BB4L squad in regular season play.  To get to the Championship, Harden and LAUNFD had to top Klay Thompson’s CADC team on a star-studded playoff Saturday where Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond all graced the King-Drew High School court.

As the self proclaimed “most elite summer league in the world,” the Drew League strives to maintain its high school gym feel but has undoubtedly raised its profile in the last few years. Now, the Nike swoosh can be seen prominently on the court, the banners and the uniforms since the iconic brand became a major sponsor in 2013.   But not everyone has been a fan of the corporate sponsorship presence.  Rapper The Game announced this year that his team, a fan favorite, would not play in the 2015 tournament citing a lack of authenticity and dedication to the neighborhood and the organization “going corporate.”

On the flip side, Drew League organizers cite the Nike sponsorship as bringing positives to the league that extend beyond the court.  In addition to uniform upgrades, and co-hosted basketball camps, Nike has taken the Drew League’s social media presence to new heights with @DrewLeague on Twitter and Instagram bringing exclusive Drew League content to 150,000+ followers worldwide.  While the game environment has strayed from what it was at its origin, now allowing for VIP parking and reserved courtside seats, the Drew League maintains its dedication to being a resource for the community with games every weekend from May to August, no cash incentives, and free admission for fans beyond the courtside seats.

On the other coast, what the Drew League is to Compton, the Entertainers Basketball Classic (EBC) is to Harlem.  A comparable summer league in New York City, the EBC touts itself as the premier streetball tournament in the world.  The EBC’s roots grew from a battle between Harlem hip hop groups in 1982, and the tournament’s ties to music have grown with it.  Moving to Harlem’s Rucker Park in 1987 to accommodate the thousands of fans attending games, teams entered by Def Jam and Bad Boy Records featured amateur players and streetball stars alongside a young Joe Smith and Kevin Garnett who helped establish the EBC as a place for inner-city fans to see NBA talent without a pricey ticket to the Garden.

The 2003 season raised the national profile of the EBC to its highest level when Jay Z entered a team to compete with rapper Fat Joe’s Terror Squad, the defending EBC Champs.  The two teams featured neighborhood and college talent along with NBA stars Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom.  Jay Z claimed to have Lebron ready to play in the EBC Championship Game that year which was subsequently cancelled due to the massive August 2003 New York power outage.

While many wondered what could have been in that game, the EBC did not starve for memorable moments in the years that followed. Bill Clinton, Denzel Washington and Mark Cuban have all taken in EBC games at Rucker Park, before the 2011 summer where Kevin Durant dropped 66 points in a classic EBC game from which highlights still circulate 4 years later.

The vibe of the EBC differs from the Drew League in that it has never shied away from corporate sponsorship, and instead, thrives on the synergy between the flashy cultures of hip-hop and streetball.  In its first summer, the EBC was sponsored by Seagram’s Dewars and has continued to see sponsorship from global brands like Reebok, Monster Energy, New Era and AT&T.  There’s no high school gym feel at Rucker Park where players run wild on an NBA style outdoor wood floor, and have been treated to halftime entertainment from artists like Big Sean and Fabolous.

And no basketball tournament at any level would be complete without some good trash talk.   This summer, after much back and forth on Twitter between stars who came up through the West Coast Pro-Ams, Isaiah Thomas, Spencer Hawes, Dorell Wright, and Baron Davis finally got the battle they had been waiting for for years.  The Drew League’s All Stars traveled up to Seattle to take on the Seattle Pro-Am, another storied summer league, on August 28th.   In a Pro-Am match up to be remembered, Zach LaVine, Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford led the way to a victory for the Seattle homegrown stars who will wear the West Coast crown until a rematch next summer in LA.

In between these Pro-Am All Star match ups, we’ll see a full NBA season, another championship, a new class of rookies and a month of free agency with story lines that rival the game itself.  But when mid-June comes around again, rest assured that the style, the swagger, and the moments that make basketball the sport that we love, never truly stop as long as you know where to look.

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