OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Sitting down for a Q&A with Shaq

Barry Warner with Shaquille O'Neal. Courtesy photo

Before Game 2, when the Rockets looked like the 65-win team, I visited courtside with an old friend - TNT Analyst Shaquille O’Neal.  I covered Shaq over 25 years ago when he was playing for Cole High School in San Antonio. A quick Q&A with the big man:

Q: Shaq, as you reflect on your career, what are you proudest of?

A: That a young kid from San Antonio, Texas, a football state, could go on to the NBA and win not just the rings, but meet so many wonderful people. Most of all, that young kids, our future, can look up to me.

Q: What did you learn from your rookie season in Orlando when the Dream schooled you in the 4-0 sweep for the title?

A: I learned a great lesson. If you want to succeed you must be humbled and fail. Always have to learn. We came against the Rockets after beating the Bulls and got manhandled. Dream had four or five moves that were impossible, even at my size, to defend.  He was devastating on the block, then would move away so quickly with the Dream Shake. Dream had four or five moves on each shot.

Q: How about your relationship with Yao Ming?

A: At first, I tried to create a controversy, then my father got very upset. He read my fan mail and reminded me that a 14-year-old kid from Shanghai, China named Yao Ming wrote to me several times. We hang out when I am in China and became great friends. It’s cool how two different people from two different worlds became close.

Q: How great could Yao have been healthy?

A: He would have been incredible and eventually the best center in the world. Yao could shoot from outside with touch and played great defense.  Had he been healthy, there is no question the Rockets would have won some championships.

Q: Is this series more like the main course compared to an appetizer?

A: This is the series America has wanted to see right from the start of the season.

Q: Do you realize that you are a crossover? Older people knowing you as the NBA star, while the millennials see you as the fun- loving pitch man on commercials, the rapping and acting career?

A: I’m just here to have fun and make people smile.

On the Rockets

So, Andre Iguodala may be held out of tonight’s Game Four. Big freaking deal.

Your home town heroes in short pants are the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players.  Harden continues to dribble, dribble until the shot clock goes down. His teammates continue to make turnovers and not defend.

Coach Mike D’Antoni called them soft after getting hit by the haymaker.

The playoffs make and define legacies The Rockets have spent months living up to their promise that this season would be different: They have won more games, defended more effectively, and played with greater consistency than at any point during Harden’s tenure. But now they are down 2–1 with Tuesday’s Game 4 at Oracle Arena, where Curry and the Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs since 2016.

Three seasons ago, the Beard had 13 turnovers in the series ending loss.

And how can we forget Game 6 here last season when he was a no show, acting like a guy from outer space who never played the game, a  39-point drubbing against the Spurs?

Steph Curry’s return to All-World form occurred in the 41-point Game 3 win with 35 points. After getting his groove back, Curry immediately went back for more, torturing Harden with crossovers before stepping back into another ceiling-scraping 3. He celebrated that one in vintage style, breaking into the type of extended shimmy that has long delighted the Oakland crowd and ticked off hoops purists.

Chirp!

 

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Laremy Tunsil's absence is something to note after missing time last season. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The Houston Texans took to the field for OTA practice on Wednesday. Here are 11 observations from the practice.

1. Derek Stingley doesn't take full reps yet. Stingley is working up to full reps after last year's injury-plagued college season. Lovie Smith said the plan is to work to get Stingley, as well as other rookies, up to full reps in practice.

2. Despite not having full reps, it doesn't mean the third overall pick can't impress. Stingley did well in the drills with other defensive backs showcasing his agility and quickness. During one of the team drills, Stingley effortlessly matched step for step with Chris Conley on a play that finished on the other side of the field. It was also surprising to see Stingley working on punt returns as well.

3. It is just shorts and helmets so not much can be gleaned from the team's other first-round pick Kenyon Green. Green worked at left guard with a variety of other offensive linemen. Lovie Smith made it clear there are currently no first, second, or third teams for the Texans. Green's pre-season analysis will pick up when training camp and pads roll around.

4. Max Scharping looks to be in phenomenal shape. The former second-round pick has been a disappointment in his time with the Texans. Scharping enters a year when he will need to battle to remain on the roster. It seems the delicacy of his roster spot led to an incredible offseason for Scharping.

5. Laremy Tunsil and Maliek Collins are two veterans who are not at the optional team activities. Lovie Smith detailed he has spoken to any player who isn't here and understands this is indeed optional.

6. With Laremy Tunsil missing, Charlie Heck saw snaps at left tackle. The team's right tackle for the majority of last year looks, like the above-mentioned Scharping, to be in great shape. He was moving well on a few of the plays which required the line to get out and block.

7. Roy Lopez, who was a surprise contributor last year, had what would have been a great play in a full-speed game situation. Lopez darted past the offensive line sniffing out a reverse and tapped the receiver as he went by. It would've been a 10-yard loss and a smushed wideout in a live game.

8. Nico Collins had a few nice plays. Collins displays his athleticism and he made some nice cuts in his routes to get open.

9. Pharaoh Brown and Marlon Mack had two bad drops in the team portions. Brown made up for it later with the catch of the day, sliding to haul in a Davis Mills pass near the sideline.

10. This is not an impressive tight end group overall. Not yet, at least. There are several new faces and their actual tight end abilities are unknown to this point. Brevin Jordan had some nice plays in the open field and Davis Mills found him a few times on dump-off passes. Rookie Teagan Quitoriano didn't practice today.

11. Davis Mills operates with the calmness of a player who is the for sure unquestioned starting quarterback. As he should, that's what he is for the Texans. Mills didn't show off a lot in this practice but he didn't make too many mistakes. There was a wideout miscommunication that almost went for an interception. There is a clear emphasis on getting the ball out on time for Pep Hamilton's offense. Mills had a few chances to drive a deep pass, but opted for a quick pass to not hold onto the ball too long. This should be expected and obvious, but he isn't anywhere near the quarterback I saw last year have one of the worst training camp practices of all time.

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