Charlie Pallilo: Rockets on record pace, NFL playoffs and more

Clint Capela and the Rockets are tearing it up. Houston Rockets/Facebook

The Rockets hit the court in Phoenix Friday night with a chance to be a 30-win team at the midpoint of their regular season schedule. Stout. In what does not require advanced calculus, that would have the Rockets on pace for a 60-22 record. For all the success the organization has had, no Rocket team has ever won 60 games in a season. That may seem a bit surprising considering the majority of NBA clubs have put up at least one 60 win campaign. The Rocket franchise standard has stood at the 58 wins the 1993-’94 team posted before going on to win the first of the two championships of the Clutch City Era. At Phoenix Friday night then at the Clippers Monday night, not particularly interesting. The Rockets’ two home games next week, verrrrrrry interesting. The vastly improved Timberwolves visit Toyota Center Thursday, then the Warriors are here Saturday to decide the Rockets-Champs season series.

Crunch time in the NFL

The NFL quarterfinals go down this weekend. If limited to watching just one of the four games, the obvious pick of at least a plurality around here would be Saints at Vikings. We have a bunch of Who Dat fans in the area and a solid number of Case Keenum supporters. In the Monday Night Football season opener, Sam Bradford played sensationally and the Vikings rolled the Saints in Minnesota. Alas, Bradford suffered the latest knee injury of his pro career plagued by them and he played in only one other game. One man’s misfortune is another opportunity and oh how Keenum has maximized that opportunity. Just a year ago Keenum was terrible as a Ram, now as a free agent-to-be he’s looking at probably $30 million plus guaranteed. With a strong postseason how could the Vikings let him go? Jacksonville and Arizona would seem two logical suiters; the Cardinals even more so if they hire Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur as their head coach.

On paper the NFC games are both more competitive than their AFC counterparts. The Falcons turned in the most impressive performance of Wild Card weekend in taking down the Rams. Now the only NFC team to make both last season’s and this season’s playoffs tries to take out the NFC top seed in Philadelphia. The Eagles’ offense was downright post-Deshaun Watson Texan-esque (i.e. atrocious) the last couple of weeks of the regular season. Nick Foles is no Carson Wentz. So, for the first time in the 28 years of the 12 team NFL playoff format, a conference sixth seed is favored at the number one seed.

In the AFC even the most devoted Titans’ fans can’t be thinking they have a good shot to stun the Patriots in New England. hence the 13 ½ point spread in that game. In October the Steelers played host to the Jaguars. Pittsburgh was favored by 7 and lost 30-9. Blake Bortles passed for only 95 yards in the game, Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions. Which one of those performances seems more repeatable? In the rematch the Steelers are favored by 7 ½. Major difference from October: Sunday’s high temperature forecast for Pittsburgh…18 degrees.

What is he thinking?

All should wish Kyle Allen good luck, but his decision this week to skip his last season of college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft sure seems odd on the surface. After being one of the multiple quarterbacks to transfer out of Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M program, Allen sat out 2016 and went into 2017 as UH’s starting QB. One week after completing 31 out of 33 passes in a thrashing of helpless Rice in the second game of the season, Allen threw two interceptions in a loss to Texas Tech. Major Applewhite switched QBs, and Allen basically was never seen again. Not exactly the stuff to have the pros drooling over drafting him. Allen graduated in December, so he’s well positioned to get on with life if the NFL doesn’t work out for him. It would seem that taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule and going to play somewhere in 2018 would have made sense, but hey, it was his choice to make. Perhaps Allen could sign with the Toronto Argonauts and spark a hot Ontario rivalry of ex-Aggie QBs if the Artist Formerly Known as Johnny Football winds up signing with the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Did you know that former Ags Head Coach Mike Sherman signed on last month as Head Coach of the Montreal Alouettes. Gig ‘Em, Eh?

Ice, ice baby

A hockey note, promise I’ll be quick. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have the best record in the Western Conference. I don’t watch the NHL much in the regular season (the playoffs are the best postseason in pro sports), but that is amazing.

Buzzer beaters

1. It’s Mark Davis’s money, but Jon Gruden’s contract is absurd.    2. If I’m Jalen Hurts, think I’m leaning toward transferring.  3. Best bagels: Bronze-cinnamon raisin  Silver-garlic  Gold-everything

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The Astros will look to bounce back after a tough week. Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images.

After a 6-3 record to start the season, the Houston Astros had a tumultuous week to say the least. They were swept by the Tigers, lost 2 of 3 games to the Seattle Mariners and placed five players on the COVID injured list.

The Tigers' new manager AJ Hinch returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time since the Astros let him go after the cheating scandal in early 2020.

The Tigers swept the Astros and outscored them 20-8 over their three matchups.

Before the 3rd game of the series, the Astros found out they would be without five players on their active roster. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Martin Maldonado and Robel Garcia were all placed on the COVID-19 injury reserved list.

"It's hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. "And it went on today with some younger players we have here."

Garrett Stubbs, Taylor Jones and Abraham Toro were called up as well as Alex De Goti and Ronnie Dawson who made their major league debuts last week.

The Tigers were able to score runs early on Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Jake Odorizzi (who made his Astros debut) and none of these starters lasted more than five innings in the outings.

Yuli Gurriel was the one Astros bright spot against the Tigers as he had 7 hits and drove in 2 runs. He is still continuing to hit the ball consistently as he finished the series with a .429 batting average.

After a 1-5 home stand the Astros looked to bounce back on the road against the division leading Seattle Mariners (you read that correctly).

Friday night proved to be the Astros' best offensive performance since their home opener on April 8th against the A's.

They scored five runs on Yusei Kikuchi through 7 innings behind good hitting from Aledmys Diaz, Chas McCormick and De Goti who drove in two runs on his first major league hit.

The Astros had a 5-2 lead at this point, but Seattle was able to score 4 unanswered to win the game.

Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek were credited with those four runs.

Ryan Pressly tried to clean up the bottom of the 9th inning after Stanek put the first two batters on base. His effort was unsuccessfully as Ty France hit a game-ending single that scored J.P. Crawford from second to secure a Mariners victory.

Saturday was the best game of the week for the Astros as they finally broke their six-game losing streak.

After failing to pitch more than five innings on Monday against the Tigers, Zack Greinke threw eight shutout innings with 91 pitches.

He struck out six batters and gave up only 4 hits.

"That's what aces do," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "Guys like (Greinke) ... they stop the bleeding and we're about bled out."

Greinke finished the game with 2,705 career strikeouts. He is now third amongst active players in strikeouts behind Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

Ryan Pressly got some redemption too as he threw a perfect 9th inning giving him his first save of the year.

The Astros won this game 1-0 as Taylor Jones drove in the game's only run with an RBI single.

Sunday's game ended the Astros week with a whimper, as the Mariners bested Houston 7-2.

Jake Odorizzi got off to a good start, but he gave up three hits and was pulled after Mitch Haniger's fifth-inning triple made it a 3-2 lead over the Astros.

Odorizzi is now (0-2) with a 10.57 ERA after two starts with the Astros.

Houston's offensive woes continued Sunday, as Aledmys Díaz had their only hit, an RBI double in the second inning that fell in when outfielder José Marmolejos lost the ball in the sun.

"It's tough to take when you only got one hit and the one hit we got was lost in the sun," Baker said.

UP NEXT: The Astros (7-8) will finish their road trip with a two game series against the Rockies who have the worst record in the league (4-12) before starting an eight-game homestead.

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