Charlie Pallilo: If the Rockets beat the Raptors, how long will this streak go on?

James Harden and the Rockets could carry this winning streak a long way. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A serious threat to the Rockets’ 17 game winning streak looms Friday night at Toronto. The Raptors aren’t ABC, ESPN, or TNT darlings. Toronto doesn’t count in the Nielsen ratings. What the Raptors are is elite. The Rockets don’t have the best home record in the NBA. The Warriors don’t either. The Raptors do (27-5). So if the Rockets run their winning streak to 18 -- while it would be silly to wonder if the Rockets are going to lose again this season -- viewed on a game-by-game basis they shouldn’t lose again this season. Simply meaning that unless James Harden and or Chris Paul are out hurt or resting the Rockets will definitely be favored in all remaining games.

IF they beat Toronto, taking the streak to 19 is a slam dunk at Dallas Sunday. Faded San Antonio would be probable victim number 20 Monday, the Clippers number 21 on Thursday. That would give the Rockets a chance to match the 10 years old franchise-record winning streak of 22, at New Orleans. The Pelicans are the last team to beat the Rockets.

The Rockets started the season 25-4, then lost five in a row; since that losing skid they are 26-4. They are on pace to win 65 games. Yet if they were only 16-1 over their last 17 games, they would be behind Golden State in the Western Conference standings. To use a boxing analogy the Rockets and Warriors are Ali and Frazier in their primes, the rest of the West is a bunch of Butterbeans.

Tough road for Francis

A pretty compelling read from former Rocket Steve Francis this week in a piece he wrote for The Players’ Tribune website. Some harrowing details of spending part of his youth as a real-life version of one of the corner kids on the brilliant HBO series of a few years back The Wire. Chunks of Francis’s post-NBA life have been a mess: alcohol problems, arrests, and some jail time.  I suppose the article should be taken with grains of salt, but Francis seems to be in a much better life place now.

Keuchel wants the ball

Quick props to Dallas Keuchel for honestly admitting he “wasn’t happy by any means” that A.J. Hinch opted for Justin Verlander as the Astros’ opening day starting pitcher. Why should he be? Keuchel has been a stud three of the last four years, and pitched the Astros to victory each of the last three openers with them twice winning by shutout. Verlander is an unassailable choice. Keuchel was respectful, humorous, and forthright in saying what we should hope to hear from any proud and accomplished competitor.

State of tournament teams in Texas

NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday is almost here. UH knows it’s in. Texas A&M is almost certainly in. Texas is iffy and frankly doesn’t look like it belongs. Baylor’s case is shaky as well. TCU is likely to be dancing for the first time in 20 years. Texas Tech is the best team in the state. All six making the field of 68 would double the Lone Star State participation level of a year ago.

Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State are in separate semifinals of the Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, and another Texas representative could emerge from the SWAC Tournament playing out at the Delmar Center Friday and Saturday nights. The second semifinal has Texas Southern vs. Prairie View A&M. Mike Davis has taken the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years; PV has made the Tourney only once in school history (a mere 58 point loss to Kansas in 1998). TSU has seven overall NCAA games to its name, all losses. But once Texas Southern came very close to pulling off what would have been one of the all-time stunners.

In 1995 the Tigers were assigned as 15th seeded designated lambs to be slaughtered by the defending national champion 2nd seeded Arkansas Razorbacks. The Midwest sub-regional site was Austin. Most of the first half went as expected, Nolan Richardson’s Hogs blew out to a 17 point lead. Then TSU clawed back within 11 at the half, before slapping a 17-2 run on the Hogs to start the second half and taking a 52-48 lead. For all but the Pig Sooie shouters it was a blast to watch. Unless specifically rooting for the favorite it’s natural to pull for a huge underdog, plus fans of the other schools in the building were all charged up by the possibility of having the Hogs taken out.

Arkansas led 79-76 in the last 10 seconds when their consensus All-America Corliss Williamson foolishly fouled TSU guard Randy Bolden on a three point attempt. Bolden hit the first two free throws but missed the third leaving it 79-78 Arkansas. Razorback guard Corey Beck then gagged two free throws with three seconds left, but TSU was unable to get a shot up before the buzzer.

Buzzer beaters

1. I’d sign up in a sec for year-round Daylight Saving Time.   2. New Texans’ GM Brian Gaine better come out swinging when free agency starts Wednesday.   3. Best things with peanut butter on a sandwich: Bronze-jelly Silver-marshmallow Gold-banana.

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Houston's losing streak extended to five games

With key Astros missing, Detroit completes the series sweep

An overall bad day for the Astros on Wednesday. Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, the Astros received a big blow to their chances in the series finale against Detroit and potentially longer. Five players: Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado, and Robel Garcia would all be moved to the IL due to health and safety protocols, leaving them scrambling to get a whole team together for the game against the Tigers.

The Astros would not be able to overcome both the loss of players and the onslaught of another strong start by Detroit in Wednesday's game which put them too far out front for Houston to come back from to avoid a series sweep.

Final Score: Tigers 6, Astros 4

Astros' Record: 6-6, third in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Michael Fulmer (1-0)

Losing Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1)

Tigers knock out another starter early

Detroit continued their success of making Houston's starter work hard in early innings, getting after Lance McCullers Jr., and giving him an early exit. After a lengthy fist, they broke through in the second getting two hits, a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI groundout to put up three runs on 34 pitches.

He would have a quicker 1-2-3 third, but after giving up a single, a walk, and hitting another batter to load the bases and reach 87 pitches, he would be removed in favor of Joe Smith. Smith would allow all three of the inherited runners to score, adding those runs to McCullers Jr.'s final line: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 87 P.

Astros try to claw back into it

After Smith would go on to load the bases again in the inning, still with two outs, Houston made another pitching change to bring in Brandon Bielak to get the third out and stop the bleeding at 6-0. The Astros would get on the board in the fifth, getting a runner on base to set up a two-run homer by Jason Castro to cut the lead to 6-2.

Bielak remained in the game to try and eat up as many innings as possible. While he continued to hold the Tigers to their six runs through the six innings, the Astros clawed back into the game. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put their first two batters on base with a walk and single before an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel to make it 6-3. They would threaten for more but be held there for the time being.

Astros can't cash in, Tigers complete sweep

Ryne Stanek was Houston's next reliever in the top of the seventh, getting a 1-2-3 frame to keep it a three-run game, as did Brooks Raley in the eighth. In the home part of the inning, the Astros put their first two runners on base on an error and a walk, then loaded them with a one-out single by Carlos Correa. They'd waste their chance to make something happen, though, with an inning-ending double-play.

Ryan Pressly, who had no save opportunities in recent games, entered to get some work in the top of the ninth. He worked around a leadoff double for a scoreless inning, sending the 6-3 game to the bottom of the ninth. The Astros had yet another chance to make something happen, loading the bases with no outs to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. After two outs, Yuli Gurriel would bring one run in with a walk, but that's as close as they'd come, extending their losing streak to five games and getting swept by the Tigers.

Up Next: Houston will get a much-needed day off tomorrow to try and leave this poor homestand behind them. They'll pick things up in Seattle on Friday, with first pitch of the opener of three games at 9:10 PM Central. The expected pitching matchup is Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) for the Astros and Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA) for the Mariners.

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