by Ryne Nelson / @slaman10

Carl Chery and I shot free throws for hours in the gym on Sunday. More embarrassing than our 24-point loss in Game 1, was our team’s abysmal 27.3 percent free-throw percentage.

Of the 13 teams in our weekday rec league, only one team shot worse from the stripe… and they were plastered by 46 points.

So we immediately went to work. Carl shot 25 straight from the line. I rebounded. Then we switched. We shot 100 total free-throws. And moved to the other rim to shoot 100 more. The iron on other side tilted noticeably to the left. Carl said, “I don’t like this rim,” as he hoisted a shot. “It doesn’t like you, either,” I smiled, as the ball caromed off the sideways cup.

We finished our workout with 150 jumpers. The afternoon in the gym didn’t make us better players. But it got us comfortable heading into Game 2 against last season’s runner-up, the PF Flyers.

After playing undermanned in Game 1, we added some much-needed height in ad-sales rep Sean Brown (6-4), editorial assistant Peter Walsh (6-4) and web designer Shanti Garcia (6-0). We went with a big lineup, starting Sean, Pete and Shanti alongside Carl (6-1) and Abe Schwadron (5-10). Our first five took the floor, and I took a quick trip to the restroom. When I returned, the Flyers had a commanding lead.

Two brothers, both not a hair over 5-6, manned the Flyers’ backcourt. To say they hit a zone would be an understatement. One connected on 3 quick treys—facilitated the by other’s 3 seemlessly effortless dimes. They controlled the tempo and got to the line with ease.

But our trio of newcomers played equally as well. Shanti paced the team offensively early on, gunning down bucket after bucket. Sean displayed his inside-outside game with a polished array post moves and smooth outside stroke. Pete was automatic on the O boards and wet it from deep.

Abe was like a solider, guarding the passing lanes, and moved the ball well on O, but he couldn’t shoot himself out of his funk from three-point land. Letting the game come to him, Carl took control when he got the rock, slashing to the rim for several high-percentage buckets.

Leading into the half, the Flyers proved they were out to win the championship this season, taking a 33-22 command.

The intensity continued to rise in the final stanza, as Abe and I hawked the brothers on defense. We closed the gaps. Gave them no room to breathe. They demanded fouls. We were unrelenting.

We caused turnovers, accumulating 9 thefts on the game. Our defensive intensity created offensive energy, and we began to win the half. Pete dove for loose balls. SBreezy asserted himself near the cup. Associate editor Adam Figman came up big with a long-range bomb.

And then their PG sent Abe to the floor with an elbow. Bad idea.

Our team ran up to support Abe. Words shot back and fourth and players were separated, but no hands were thrown.

Two technical free throws and clutch treys later, we were within seven points. But with just 45 seconds remaining, it was too little too late.

Abe fouled out—again—before we eventually surrendered, 56-47. The Flyers Bros deserved credit for the dub. The two guards combined for 33 points, 11 boards and 10 assists.

We fell to 0-2 on the season, but there was a lot to hang our hats on. Rather than one player dominating the ball, we played a balanced game, with all but one player connecting on multiple field goals.

We won our first 20-minute half of the season, and we did it with a gritty intensity… against a championship-contending team. Defense is an endangered discipline, especially in rec leagues, but we certainly didn’t let up without the ball.

Sean, Pete and Shanti came up big, as expected. The trio combined for 22 points, 19 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals. Abe, though struggling with his outside shot, still managed to lead the team in scoring. Carl quietly put up another nice line of 8 points, 6 boards and 3 steals.

My stats were down across the board (4 points, 2 assists), but I glued down our opponent’s best player—a challenge I live for each week.

Game 3 will feature the much-anticipated debuts of contributor Jeremy Bauman and KING editor-in-chief Sean Malcolm. The timing couldn’t be better. Remember the team that blew out its opponent by 46? We play them.

Check out the Lebron’s Headbands team page on ABC Hoops NYC‘s website. You’ll find per-game and cumulative stats for each player and the team’s upcoming schedule.