THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: Easy street for the Texans, Rockets heading for the next round, big early baseball series

The Texans and Bill O'Brien have a tough start but the schedule is manageable. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

I mean, seriously, who in the heck would sit and watch two hours of the NFL schedule release show Thursday night? Better alternatives: NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, baseball, The Big Bang Theory (still on, yes?) or most anything else. Post it online and let’s go. And so we learned that the Texans open their 2018 season at New England. Should be good to get “can they go 16-0?” talk out of the way and focus on 15-1. I mean for the Patriots. Of course the Texans can go 16-0. Wait, make that they can go 10-6. A silver lining of last season’s total collapse was getting a last place team’s schedule. The advantage of that was greater back in the days when there were four strength of schedule games on the slate as opposed to the current two, but it’s still an edge pointing to 2018. The Texans play the last place Browns and Broncos while the defending AFC South champion Jaguars draw the Steelers and Chiefs. The Texans will do well to avoid an 0-2 start with at Tennessee following at New England. After that, on paper the Texans have the easiest schedule in the NFL.

Inevitable conclusion

As expected, so far so good for the Rockets’ postseason. They were shaky in game one against Minnesota but won on the back of James Harden’s awesome 44 point performance. They needed all of it to win by three with all other Rockets combining to shoot a frigid 12 percent from behind the 3-point line. Any false hope the Timberwolves may have drawn by losing close was snuffed in the Rockets’ Game 2 20 point rout. If the players got bonuses for every point above 20 in their margin of victory the Rockets could have won game two by 35 or 40, and done so on a night where Harden made two of 18 shots from the floor.

Maybe the Timberwolves manage one win in Minneapolis, but the Rockets should be very well rested for their second round matchup vs. the Thunder-Jazz winner. Additionally, if Luc Mbah a Moute’s dislocated shoulder heals well they could be the healthiest they’ve been in months. Provided the Pelicans close out the Trailblazers, perhaps Anthony Davis can help New Orleans give Golden State a series if Stephen Curry isn’t back, or effective. But it sure looks like the anticipated Rockets-Warriors Western Conference Final is coming.

Big early series?

There is no such thing as a huge baseball series in April. But that doesn’t mean Astros-Angels Monday through Wednesday at Minute Maid Park can’t be hugely fun. A.J. Hinch didn’t specifically plan it this way but his starting pitchers line up as Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and Justin Verlander. After four starts apiece Verlander’s 1.35 ERA made him the slacker of the three, which is absolutely nuts. Morton is at 0.72, Cole at 0.96.

Heading into the season the Angels looked to be the most improved team in the American League West, and they played the part in roaring out of the chute to a 13-3 start. Will the Halos have the staying power to hang with the Astros through the summer? I doubt it, but they will hit town with serious star power. Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet, as he routinely has been since his rookie season in 2012.  Trout’s career path to date rates very well vs. Willie Mays’. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons may be the best defensive player in the game. Evaluating defensive performance has come a long way but still lags well behind evaluating offense. Nevertheless, Simmons’s advanced defensive stats suggest that he plays shortstop better than did the generally acknowledged best ever, Ozzie Smith. Albert Pujols is a shell of the player who was the best first baseman in National League history, but is within single digits of becoming the 32nd big leaguer to reach 3000 hits. If he happens to reach 3K here I hope and expect the MMP crowd to be smarter than to boo him.

And then there’s Shohei Ohtani, the 23 year old Japanese sensation pitcher/designated hitter. After he stunk in both roles at spring training some wondered whether Ohtani might be best served by starting the season in the minors. Um, no. Already this season Ohtani has homered in three consecutive games, and on the mound carried a perfect game into the seventh inning. He had a blister problem in his last start, but is expected to pitch one of the games against the Astros. Houston’s population of Japanese descent is small, so Ohtani fans won’t be taking over the ballpark.

Buzzer beaters

1. By NHL standards the 1st round of the playoffs has been a dud.  2. The reigning MLS champ is in town this weekend. Any clue which team is the reigning MLS champ?   3. Best diet sodas: Bronze-Dr. Pepper Silver-Coke Zero Gold-Fresca

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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