Catching Up

5 quick thoughts on the current state of Houston sports

Mike D'Antoni and Chris Paul
Rockets.com

June is usually when most of us take time off, because that is when things slow down in the sports world. After two weeks off, I returned to find I missed out on quite a bit. After a week in Vegas for the WSOP and another in Canada for some R & R, it's time to catch up on some big topics:


1) The Canada Curse is real

Blame me for the Astros seven game losing streak. Every time I am out of the country, everything goes to hell. The Texans record when I am in Canada? They are 0-3. The Astros did not win a game while I was there. I think it is time for the fan bases to take up a collection to make sure I go when none of the local teams are playing.

2) Despite that losing streak...

Yordan Alvarez might be one of the most exciting prospects the Astros have had since...Carlos Correa? Alex Bregman? He has not missed a beat since coming up from Triple-A, where he was putting up MVP like numbers. He has a smooth, powerful swing, and the scary part is he is only 21 years old. Yes, teams will figure him out at some point and he will have to adjust, but if he is anything close to what he has shown? The Astros will have yet another star. As for the losing streak? These are going to happen in a long season. The Astros are getting healthy again, and at some point adding a third top-line starter will have them back in the mix for another World Series title.

3) Shakeup in the AAC and how it impacts UH

UConn is going to return to the Big East, primarily because of travel and the fact that the school is focused primarily on basketball. The future of its football program is up in the air. What does it mean for UH and the AAC? It's probably a good thing. UConn basketball has fallen off the face of the earth, and the once-proud program offers little to the AAC. The football program, also once on the cusp of success, has been in a tailspin. It would not take much in the way of a program to be an upgrade for the conference. But sticking with 11 would not be the worst thing in the world, either. It would mean a bigger split for the remaining schools, and is there really a program out there that would move the needle? BYU? Sure, but they seem happy as independents. Boise? Success, but offers little in the way of a TV market and travel is an issue. Maybe Air Force or Army, but beyond that, there really is not a program that adds much. Buffalo out of the MAC is on the rise, and might be worth a look, but the conference might be better off at 11. The addition of Wichita State in basketball was a good trade-up from UConn and this might be a case of addition by subtraction.

4) Rockets dead stare

There's a beef between James Harden and Chris Paul. There's not a beef between Harden and Paul. The coach is upset. The coach isn't upset. Who knows what is going on with the Rockets? This team is close, and the Warriors are set to take a step back. But what if the Clippers sign Khawi Leonard? The Lakers have made moves, but they are still a mess, so who knows. The Rockets have to be chafing at the fact that the Toronto Raptors were able to go all in and win the title. Chris Paul's onerous contract will be tough to work around, but they should be adding, not subtracting. One more try with this group would not be a bad thing. But they need some stability, and nothing they are doing right now screams that. At least the Texans have taken some of the heat off...

5) Oh my, Texans

The Texans have become an absolute mess. No GM? No problem, right? Bill O'Brien is on the case. O'Brien is a good coach. But so far, he has not shown himself to be a great one. Or even a very good one. Now he is head coach, de facto OC and GM? While it's a leap to say all the firings were racially motivated, the more likely scenario is O'Brien just wanted "his guys." At worst it is a bad look. So he is basically reading from the Bill Belichick playbook. We have seen this before. The problem is, O'Brien is not Belichick. Neither likes to be questioned by the media or anyone else. The best managers have a combination of people underneath them who understand the vision and goals, and others who will challenge those. Most organizations in the NFL don't like the latter. O'Brien is a perfect example of this. The good news is we will now know how to blame. If it works? O'Brien looks like a genius. But if it spirals out of control - which is a real possibility - there will be no one else responsible. The Texans have been the picture of stability to a fault. Now they seem to be falling part at the seams. Here is hoping it all works out. But skepticism is warranted.

The wrap-up

Honestly, things are not that bad. Thank goodness for the Astros, who are run like a model franchise, and UH athletics, which seems to be in a really good place. The Rockets should be fine, once they sit back and realize that adding a couple key pieces could make all the difference in the world. As for the Texans? We will find out soon enough. The flagship franchise of the city, however, is at a crossroads. It is not a rudderless ship, but can the rudder steer them where they want to go? That remains to be seen.

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Suns defeat Rockets, 110-105. Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images.

Phoenix All-Star Devin Booker and Houston rookie Cam Whitmore got into a minor scuffle midway through the fourth quarter Thursday night and both players were called for a technical foul.

With a couple big blocks on the ensuing possession, Suns center Jusuf Nurkic was there to back his star teammate.

Booker scored 35 points, Kevin Durant added 24 and the Suns held off the Rockets 110-105, with the teams set to meet again in Phoenix on Saturday night.

Nurkic had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. His biggest moment came in the fourth, when he stuffed Whitmore twice on the possession following the scuffle, drawing huge roars from the Phoenix crowd.

“Very important — that's the team sticking together,” Booker said. “That goes a long way. That's what you need when things get tough, it gets to the thick of things and the energy is high. You want to know you have people on your team that are built like that.”

Booker scored 20 points in the first quarter to help give the Suns an 18-point lead they would never relinquish. He has scored at least 20 points in an NBA-high six quarters this season.

Three-time All-Star Bradley Beal missed his fifth straight game because of a hamstring injury.

The Suns took an 86-75 lead into the final quarter. Houston cut the advantage to six midway through the fourth, but Booker responded immediately with a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine.

That led to the brief skirmish between Booker and Whitmore. Tempers stayed hot over the next few minutes — Houston's Alperen Sengun fouled out and then got two quick technicals, earning an ejection.

Booker hit both of the technical free throws, Nurkic followed with his two free throws from Sengun's foul, and that pushed the Suns' lead to 99-84. The Rockets would cut the lead to four with 16.9 seconds left, but Royce O'Neale hit two free throws to end the threat.

Jalen Green led Houston with 34 points. Fred VanVleet added 21. The Rockets connected on just 11 of 45 3-pointers and shot 33.3% from the field overall, which was their worst percentage of the season.

“It wasn't one of our better nights as far as guys getting open looks and making the extra pass,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “We had a few guys who had it going, but a few guys who were struggling.”

Phoenix has won seven of its past 10 — and nine in a row at home — as it tries to stay in the top six of the Western Conference playoff race and avoid the play-in tournament. The sliding Rockets have lost eight of 10.

“We're getting confident in this building,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said.

Booker's big first quarter pushed the Suns to a 33-17 lead. The four-time All-Star made 8 of 10 shots from the field, including a 33-foot 3-pointer in the final seconds.

Phoenix settled for a 64-53 halftime lead. Booker had 26 points before the break while Green led Houston with 21.

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