THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: Previewing and predicting the Rockets-Warriors series

Steph Curry and the Warriors will be tough to beat. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Some day in the next five or six weeks the Rockets-Warriors Western Conference Finals showdown will get under way. What the hey, we’ve basically been waiting on it for six months so what’s a few more days? Very few would give the Rockets a good shot had they not earned homecourt advantage. But they did. Alas, over the next couple of weeks I think this fantastic Rockets’ season with its slogan of Run As One, winds up Run is Done. So many angles on this series, so let’s go…

The fundamental difference that makes Golden State the better team is Kevin Durant. The Rockets have no remotely close to even match for him.

The backcourt matchup is stupendous, one of the greatest of all-time with three surefire Hall of Famers and with the fourth a decent bet. Can’t come up with an equal since the late '80s when the Magic Johnson-Byron Scott Laker tandem went up against the Pistons’ Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. There is no sound reason to believe that Chris Paul and James Harden will notably outplay Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, or vice versa.

In his 13th NBA season Paul finally gets a taste of the NBA’s version of the Final Four. It is unreasonable to ask or hope for Paul to be as brilliant against the Warriors as he was in the series clincher over the Jazz, but Paul will have to be sensational for the Rockets to pull off the upset. Paul’s presence at least gives them a fighting chance. We’ve seen how the Rockets fare against the Warriors without a second major star turn; they can’t keep up.

Harden meanwhile will have to be much better than he was in the Utah series. After his phenomenal Game 1 Harden generally stunk the rest of the way. 39 percent shooting from the floor and a sub-pitiful 19 percent behind the three point line are numbers more worthy of Marcia Gay Harden, and against the Warriors would be a ticket to shame.

Paul in particular will have a much more taxing defensive burden vs. Golden State than he did vs. Utah. The Jazz had just one gifted offensive perimeter player in Donovan Mitchell, and Paul typically did not guard him. Against the Warriors “Death Lineup” Harden can be placed/rested on Andre Iguodala. Paul then has to be on Curry or Thompson, with Ariza on the other while P.J. Tucker draws the Durant straw with Clint Capela on Draymond Green. Paul’s skill level is extraordinary and his mid-range mastery dramatically improves the Rockets’ chances against the Golden State defense. However, Paul is 33 years old and within a game and over the run of the series his legs will be tested. Neither Minnesota nor Utah plays high pace basketball. The Warriors can obliterate teams with it.

In Curry, Thompson, and Durant the Warriors have three shooters who are better than all Rockets’ shooters. Curry’s and Thompson’s WORST 3-point shooting percentage seasons are better than Harden’s BEST. Curry’s worst equal’s Paul’s best. However, the Rockets hoped for equalizer is in volume, volume, volume. Hardly anybody not knowing otherwise would believe the Warriors were only 17th in the NBA this season in 3-pointers attempted, though Curry missing 31 games explains part of that. The Warriors led the league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and free throw percentage, while the Rockets ranked 15th, 13th, and ninth respectively.

Standard caveat: stats of the long haul have no necessary bearing on the short haul. Golden State’s seeming weaker points could be products of their cruising through much of the regular season. They certainly didn’t have the consistency of intensity and performance the Rockets displayed in securing 65 wins. The Warriors also had more injury problems. But for what it’s worth, this season Golden State was a bottom 10 rebounding team, can be sloppy with the ball (third worst offensive turnover percentage), and after three straight seasons finishing top five in defensive rating, slipped to 11th.

It’s not a monumental surprise if a 65 win team takes down the defending champs. In the end though, seeing is believing. The way LeBron James is playing, if the Cavs beat the Celtics no one should think of the NBA Final as anti-climactic. If James makes an eighth consecutive Finals appearance and wins his fourth championship., the LeBron vs. Michael Jordan for Greatest of All-Time debate gets very serious. Still feels like this series is final exam time for the Rockets. Salutatorian is very impressive. Warriors in 6.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Thru Wednesday Evan Gattis’s batting average plus Derek Fisher’s batting average was .385. At AAA J.D. Davis was at .450.   2. Happy Mother’s Day to all Moms. 3. Best sports Days: Bronze-Todd Silver-Jason Gold-Opening

 

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Houston scored in droves

Astros drub Twins in finale to take series win

Houston's offense showered Minnesota with hits in Sunday's finale. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games, with Houston's offense uncharacteristically ineffective in the loss on Saturday, they tried to turn things around with a win to take the series on Sunday. The Astros would bounce right back at the plate, getting hits and runs all through the afternoon to rout the Twins.

Final Score: Astros 14, Twins 3

Astros' Record: 37-28, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-0)

Losing Pitcher: Michael Pineda (3-4)

Valdez keeps rolling

Framber Valdez continued to impress in 2021 after starting his season on the IL, posting another quality start with a win against the Twins. After four scoreless frames, he allowed a solo homer to start the bottom of the fifth, just the third hit of the game for Minnesota to that point. He went on to retire the next three batters to get through the inning.

He faltered a bit in the bottom of the sixth, allowing a leadoff double followed by a single, with a run coming across on an error on that play. He once again rebounded to finish that frame, then put up a 1-2-3 seventh to finish his day off, notching another quality start and a win. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 97 P.

Houston keeps their foot on the gas

While Valdez's outing was a highlight of its own, Houston's offense was the story of the day. They put their foot down on the pedal all day and did not let up, starting in the top of the first when Jose Altuve turned the first pitch of the game around for a single, later scoring on a sac fly by Alex Bregman to put the Astros in front 1-0.

After two scoreless innings, they got right back on the scoreboard in the fourth with a two-run homer by Kyle Tucker, then kept pouring it on with two runs in the fifth on a sac fly by Yuli Gurriel and an error, making it 5-0 at the time. The runs kept coming in the top of the sixth, with a two-RBI double by Michael Brantley, who would score later on a two-run bomb by Yordan Alvarez. Then, in the top of the seventh, Brantley struck again to push it to double-digits with a two-RBI single to make it 11-2 and give Brantley 4 RBI on the afternoon.

With Houston swapping out starters with the hefty lead, even their pinch-hitters were getting involved, with Chas McCormick leading the top of the eighth off with a solo shot to make it a ten-run game. They then loaded the bases with no outs, setting up a sac fly for Myles Straw to make it 13-2.

Astros take the series

In the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Garza Jr. came in as the first reliever out of the bullpen for Houston. He recorded two quick outs but then met Nelson Cruz, who lasered a solo homer to put it back at a ten-run game before finishing the frame. Houston put their twentieth hit on the board in the top of the ninth, their highest total this season, en route to another scoring inning with a sac fly by Robel Garcia to make it 14-3. Garza came in for his second inning of work to wrap things up in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Astros a successful end to this series and road trip.

Up Next: Houston will travel home before an off day on Monday to rest before 20 days of consecutive games. They'll kick off a six-game homestand on Tuesday, welcoming in the Rangers for two starting at 7:10 PM Central. Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.96 ERA) will make his return from the IL for the Astros, though Jake Odorizzi will "piggy-back" him, and Kyle Gibson (4-0, 2.13 ERA) will take the mound for Texas.

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