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.
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.