THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: Rockets should make quick work of the T Wolves

James Harden and the Rockets should have no trouble with the Wolves. Rockets.com

The two most renowned local steakhouses in Minneapolis are Manny’s and Murray’s. Best I can tell neither Manny nor Murray has wolf on his menu, but the Timberwolves should be meat in their first playoff appearance in 14 years. It’s not an automatic that the Rockets dispatch the Timberwolves in the first round, but it is a mismatch on paper.

The Rockets won an astounding 65 games this season, 18 more than Minnesota. Not that regular season meetings are close to foolproof in dictating how a playoff matchup will go, but the Rockets whipped the Wolves in all four games this season winning by 18, 18, 18, and 9 points. The Rockets were the best offensive team in the NBA this season. They should carve up the league’s fourth worst defense. The T’Wolves can score, ranking fourth best offensively. However, Minnesota attempted and made the fewest three pointers in the league. Without stepping up there it’s tough to see the Timberwolves hanging with the Rockets’ firepower over the course of the series. The 22-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns is an absolute stud offensive player. He is a 55-percent shooter from the floor, a 42-percent 3-point maker and 86 percent at the line. And props to KAT for playing all 82 games of the regular season, as did fellow Minny starters Andrew Wiggins and Taj Gibson. The Rockets’ defensive depth takes a hit with the injury absence of Luc Mbah a Moute, but losing Luc is no series shifter. Jimmy Butler is a top tier defender, but unless James Harden’s level of play dramatically dips Butler shouldn’t dramatically disrupt Harden’s effectiveness. Thinking Rockets in five.

The way the cookie crumbled at the end of the congested Western Conference race below the Rockets and Warriors means the Rockets in round two will (better!) face either the Thunder or the Jazz. Upset potential would loom larger there.

Five times since the NBA expanded to 16 playoff teams in 1984, a number eight seed has stunned a number one seed. The first occurrence presumably aided the Rockets’ route to their first NBA Championship in 1994. The first round was a best-of-five in those days, and Denver rallied from two games down to shock Seattle. Most recently the 76ers bumped off the Bulls in 2012 after MVP Derrick Rose tore an ACL in game one. That came the year after Memphis ousted San Antonio. In 1999, The Jeff Van Gundy-coached Knicks took out Miami, and kept on going all the way to the NBA Final before losing to the Spurs. The cake-taker eight topples one was in 2007 when Don Nelson’s 42-40 Golden State team (the Warriors’ first playoff appearance in 13 years) befuddled and overwhelmed Avery Johnson’s 67-15 Dallas Mavericks’ team.

Getting the boot

A little bit of a bummer that the NBA scheduled Rockets-Timberwolves Game 1 for Sunday night, since the Astros and Rangers are the weekend’s Sunday Night Baseball game.

The Rangers ran rings around the Astros for years with the Silver Boot took up seeming permanent residence in Arlington. That was then. Now, the Astros are a juggernaut poised to be excellent for years. The Rangers are naut. As in naut good. And not looking like they’ll be good any time soon. Sunday night’s pitching matchup perfectly frames where the Astros are vs. where the Rangers are. The Astros pitch Justin Verlander, a 35 year old horse in prime physical condition on top of his game. The Rangers pitch Bartolo Colon who next month turns 45, is listed at 5 feet eleven inches tall, weighing 285 pounds.

Nothing wrong with the Astros 9-4 start, though it does leave them in second place in the American League West later than they were ever out of the lead last season. It would be nice to see flashes of George Springer World Series MVP sometime soon. Since his season opening leadoff home run Springer has been sub-replacement level, batting .157 without a second dinger. Over his last seven games Springer has been worse: three measly singles in 28 at bats (.107). Less than 10 percent of the season has been played. Yeah, let’s hold off from any silly notion about suggesting A.J. Hinch demote Springer from the leadoff spot. The guy is in the heart of his prime at 28 years old. Springer can be streaky, but season-to-season he’s been consistently very good, and last year excellent. Of course he could have an off year relative to 2017, but Springer should still hit .260+, with a solid number of walks drawn, and with 25+ homers.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Andre Ingram’s 10 years in the making NBA debut against the Rockets Tuesday is as cool as anything in sports so far this year.   2. It will be laughable if the Cleveland Browns draft Josh Allen No. 1 overall. 3. The NBA’s greatest Allens: Bronze-Lucius Silver-Iverson  Gold-Ray

 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

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.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome