OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Rockets fizzle in Game 1, plus a look at the rest of the NBA, Texans and Astros

Barry Warner: Rockets fizzle in Game 1, plus a look at the rest of the NBA, Texans and Astros
Kevin Durant is an unstoppable force. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Rockets were sloppy, tentative and had no rhythm, while the Warriors were free and easy with their ball movement and shooting in their 119-106 Game 1 win.

The Rockets had no swag, made too many mental mistakes, committed 16 turnovers, spent way too much time dribbling with their isolation.

After a tied first half, the Warriors opened up a seven-point lead at the end of the third quarter,

Sure, James Harden was terrific, scoring 41 of the hardest points he has scored. The Warriors shot 33 times over the Beard, wearing him out.

The Rockets did not get the ball to Chris Paul for the mid-range jumper. He scored 23 and dished out 11 assists.

Where were the 3s getting nothing but net?

Regardless who was guarding Kevin Durant, it did not matter. He simply is impossible to stop. The one and done from Texas had 37.

Klay Thompson had 28 while Steph Curry added 18.

Golden State has the rings.  You cannot discount the experience factor.  What the fans do not see is they are the best defense the Rockets have faced.  They forced the Rockets into shot possession mistakes and way off balance, awkward attempts. Then you add the mismatch with Kevin Durant. Unless the bench of Gordon, Green and Mbah a Moute are stellar each night the Rockets will watch the Finals on TV.

That’s why my prediction is Golden State in six.

Jeff Van Gundy was my guest on Reality Check last Friday

Among the topics covered was the career high by Chris Paul in the finale against overmatched Utah.

 "CP 3 is fabulous and he has been so good for so so long. But the focus has been more on negative, rather than how good he his.  Remember, he was dominant since his rookie year in New Orleans. The variety he gives Mike on pick and roll gives him a chance at scoring the best mid-range jumper in the league

“His level of assertiveness offensively has been terrific,” the colorful former Rockets coach stated.

Paul’s friendship with Steph Curry goes back to the great shooter’s rookie season.  Chris went out of his way to help the budding star.  The two still hang out together during the off seasons and text during the year.

Curry missed 31 games during the regular season. The fact he is so well rested is yet another major advantage for the defending champs.

Cav-nots?

The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward early, then Kyrie Irving late, but they beat LeBron and the Cavs by 25 in Game 1. It’s yet another reminder to the world of sports why Danny Ainge is one of the great executives in modern NBA history, and why Brad Stevens is the best basketball coach working right now, in either college or the pros.

Just imagine how much more fun the Eastern Conference finals would be if Kyrie were in the gym, doing the same things for his new team the way he used to when he was LeBron's wingman in Cleveland?

Bad Rap?

Raptors coach Dwane Casey   was named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year. The choice on its own did not raise eyebrows, as Casey led the Raptors to 59 wins and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, four games ahead of the Celtics.

A few days later Toronto management fired him. It is important to remember that in life, as well as sports, that the grass can be browner on the other side.

Change can also lead to worse product, worse record or worse balance sheet for the company or franchise that makes the new hire.

Fat chance, Texans

The Texans placed guard Jeff Allen on reserve PUP list.

 If you believe that then you believe in Santa Claus and pigs flying. The Texans are trying to avoid a lawsuit. Cutting the slob was not exactly earth-shattering news.  The former KC Chief guard was signed to take the place Of Brandon Brooks who signed a free agent contract with the Super Bowl Eagles.

It was yet another example of where the former GM Rick Smith Mc Nair made an error.

Allen came here and looked like the Pillsbury Dough boy in uniform.  He was fat, sloppy and not very strong, not exactly looking like an NFL player.  True, he did have both ankle and concussion problems, but losing the Battle of the Bulge cost him a job here.

You bet

Sanity has finally prevailed in the highest court in the land.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has been openly meeting with bookmakers from Vegas casinos. The most visionary of commissioners, the NBA’s Adam Silver, has long been in favor of legalized gambling.

Now that Las Vegas has hockey and the amazing Golden Knights, they too can see the future.

All leagues would see an increase in their revenues by getting a percentage of the take.

But not the league that wallows in hypocrisy, the NFL. Why do you think they had the networks put in the ten-minute ticker? The masses still watch in part because of fantasy football.

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year.

Texas will be among the last states to finally get their heads out of the sand.  We have no casinos, yet the state is content to let millions of dollars go across the border to Louisiana casinos.

On the Astros

Charlie Morton lowered his ERA to 2.03. Two teammates, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, are the only two with lower ERAs in the AL. It was nice to see Evan Gattis finally wake up with a pair of homers and four RBI’s for the streaky DH.

I am concerned about the 0-13 slump of Jose Altuve, sending his batting average to .302.

Dallas Kuechel is now 3-5, as he used his new four seamer to give up only three hits in the Mother’s Day win over Texas.






 

                               




 

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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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