REST FOR THE WICKED

Barry Laminack: The Rockets need to start resting players NOW

James Harden and Chris Paul need to get more time on the sidelines. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With all the talk of landing the No. 1 seed going on in this town and in Oakland, it's probably not the most popular opinion to have but I think the Rockets need to start resting players.

At the very least they need to start cutting  back on James Harden and Chris Paul's minutes (and for that matter Clint Capela’s, too).

I understand that the one seed is important, but with all of the teams sitting at three through eight only being separated by 4fourgames, there really isn’t that much of a difference between the rest of the West (and while I still say Portland is a scary out, after that no other team in the west below Portland should scare the Rockets).

Let's be honest, at this point the Rockets and Warriors are on a crash course to face each other in the conference finals anway, and while home court advantage is important, both of these teams are capable of stealing one on the road and capturing the home court advantage that is being so coveted right now.

Watching Chris Paul grab the back of his leg and limp around two nights at the end of the Portland game is when it hit me.

Add to that James Harden getting banged around on a nightly basis and Capela’s sprained thumb and it’s clear to me that at some point the Rockets have to look over at the Warriors, see how banged up their squad is and takes steps to avoid the injury issues they are suffering through right now.

Especially with the playoffs right around the corner.  

Now is the perfect time to scale back on the minutes of Harden, Paul and Capela. 20 to 25 minutes a each would be great (and no, there's little chance that doing so would cost Harden is MVP).

If you’re still not convinced this is the right thing to do, need I remind you the big complaint from everyone as the Rockets got bounced from the playoffs last year was how “tired’ Harden looked?

Hell, I’d even be good (ok, great) with Harden and CP3 sitting out a few games between now and the playoffs. I’m not so sure the Warriors can catch the Rockets at this point anyway - what with all the problems they are having - plus the 2 teams having similar remaining strength of schedules favors the Rockets 4 game lead as well. So with teams like Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago and Sacramento left on the schedule, any of these games would be the perfect time to sit Paul and/or Harden in hopes of letting them get as close to 100 percent as possible.

 

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Texans vs. Vikings could have fans in attendance. Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Houston Texans say it's time that fans were allowed to cheer on the home team at NRG Stadium. On Thursday, the team announced extensive safety protocols that would put 15,000 fans in the stands for the Week 4 game against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 4.

While the Texans are awaiting permission from city and county officials to host a limited number of fans - socially distant and wearing masks – no plans have been announced how much tickets will cost, and who'll have the opportunity to buy them.

You have to love the free enterprise system: hundreds of tickets for the Oct. 4 game already are on sale on secondary market websites. Lower bowl tickets are going for $800 and up. If you don't mind sitting in the nose bleeds, tickets can be had for around $250.

So the question becomes, if you had the chance, would you attend the Texans game in early October? The tickets are big bucks, and there is a whammy – COVID-19. While the rate of COVID-19 infections is on the decline in Houston, the virus remains a major factor in our daily lives, and there's no guarantee that the pandemic won't spike here again.

Here's the rub, at least for me. Of all the sports we have in Houston, a Texans game might be lowest on my wish list of attending in person. Television does NFL games the best. There are dozens of cameras, so when a receiver catches a pass on the sidelines, we get several views, in slow motion even, to see if the receiver's feet were in bounds. We can almost feel the crunch of a quarterback sack. We get highlights of other games. You don't have to sit next to a face painter like David Puddy.

The NFL is a made-for-TV production. Which is, I suspect, part of the reason the Texans rarely open the roof at NRG Stadium. With the roof closed, the field becomes a controlled TV studio, with no worries of weather pranks.

Television doesn't do basketball or baseball nearly as well. Conversely, the experience of attending those games is terrific fun. What beats eating a couple of dogs at an Astros game? Is there even a traditional food at NFL or NBA games?

The Texans promise that strict safety rules will be enforced. And I believe them. Fans will be scattered over the 67,000-seat stadium. I'm not sure how much of a home field advantage that will be. Most of the crowd noise will come from pre-recorded tapes.

Here's one worry. Sure fans will sit apart and socially distanced. But what will happen when the game is over? Will fans file out in orderly, non-contagious single file? I flew Southwest a few weeks ago. The airline makes a big deal – we don't sell the middle seat. Passengers kept their distance during the flight. When the landed, you know how it is, everybody got up and piled into the aisle, shoulder to shoulder for several minutes.

What will happen if some goofball takes off his/her mask during the Texans game? Will there be enough security to handle each case?

Baseball is planning to have some fans attend post-season games at Minute Maid Park next month. UH Cougars, the Dynamo and Dash are playing in front of small crowds. It remains to be seen how safe – or how risky – allowing fans at sports events will be.

Will parents let their kids attend? Is waiting for a vaccine the smart play? If President Trump is right, that could be only a matter of weeks away. If scientists and doctors are right, nestle in for pandemic life another year. Even if scientists do come up with a vaccine, how many Americans will roll up their sleeve? Some believe, in the case of COVID-19, the cure may be worse than the disease. Not me, the moment Dr. Fauci says the vaccine is safe and effective, I'm sprinting to CVS.

The thinnest of silver linings, if ever there was a year worth sitting out, 2020 has been it for Houston sports fans. The Astros are scratching to stay above .500 (their present position), Jose Altuve hasn't had an extra base hit or RBI in almost a month, and Justin Verlander is throwing bullpens on his way to recovery. The Rockets are searching for a new coach, and possibly another team willing to take Russell Westbrook in a trade. The Texans season could go either way, we'll know if a few short weeks.

Why the rush to fill stadiums? The NBA is thriving in a bubble. Why not baseball and football? There's a fine line between safe and sorry.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo already has safety plans for next year, including masks and distancing. That will be interesting. Good luck controlling crowds pushing and shoving for corn dogs and funnel cakes.

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