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

 

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Keep your eye on Ryan Blaney this week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

It’s that time of the year again, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega for the Yellawood 500. Over the course of the season, with this new car, tracks like Talladega or Daytona have been frighteningly unpredictable. I expect this week to be no different. There aren’t many times when I worry about the drivers, but this week is one of those races. Let’s hope everyone has a safe race come Sunday and no one gets hurt.

Last week, at Texas Motor Speedway, Tyler Reddick was able to survive the carnage and capture his third win of 2022. As we have seen all season, this was a race that featured many cautions and took a lot of drivers out of contention for a win. It’s clear that this car is becoming more of a problem each week as we continue to see much smaller fields that finish these races. We are beginning to see more drivers get hurt driving them. Kurt Busch has been out of the car since July, and now Alex Bowman will miss Talladega next week as he has also suffered a concussion. Ever since last year, there has been a lot of fear surrounding this car. When I went to Charlotte, I spoke to someone who worked at Jr Motorsports and he spoke about the new car. He mentioned Noah Gragson and his crash at Talladega and how it would worry him if that was today’s car. The sanctioning body has got to find a way to lessen these impacts and make the cars, or else they will continue to lose credibility with their drivers.

Another issue that has arisen has been their spec parts. We have gone from hardly seeing engines fail with the Gen6 car to an engine blowing almost every week. Both Martin Truex Jr and Kevin Harvick have been extremely critical of the exhaust system that has been the cause of numerous fires this season, including at Texas with Chase Elliott. A possible solution to this would be to allow the teams to go back to manufacturing their own parts. While some teams may find an advantage, and it might make things less equal, it’s a much safer model than what they have now. Besides, a lot of the teams that are underfunded are still having a difficult time keeping up with the big teams, so it’s not like much has changed.

More controversy emerged later on in the race as Denny Hamlin and William Byron made contact on the backstretch. After a caution came out for the spin of Christopher Bell, Byron would get his revenge on Hamlin after spinning him into the infield grass. NASCAR completely missed this and Hamlin was moved to the tail end of the longest line for “not maintaining pace car speed.” It was absurdly obvious that Byron spun the 11 under caution and should have been penalized further during the race, but there was much more to worry about considering 3/4ths of the field had crashed. Matters weren’t made any better by NASCAR posting the video on their Twitter account of Byron’s onboard camera when he did it. A couple of days later, Byron would be penalized $50,000 and docked 25 points, which knocked him out of the top 8 in points.

Another fine was doled out to Ty Gibbs after he made one of the stupidest decisions behind the wheel of a race car I have ever seen anyone make. During a pit stop, the 19-year-old driver felt he was being crowded by Ty Dillon, so he decided to swerve into the side of the #42 car, narrowly avoiding a NASCAR official and the Roush-Fenway pit crew. Usually, a suspension would make sense when you blatantly jeopardize the life of a race official and pit crew members, but according to NASCAR, a 25-point penalty and a fine of $75,000 was sufficient. This isn’t the first time they have dropped the ball on this, last season Kyle Busch went speeding through the garage area at Darlington and was only fined $50,000. Aside from NASCAR’s complete disregard for safety, it’s also clear that Ty Gibbs is not mature enough to carry himself in the Cup Series. He needs to be kept at Xfinity for at least another season.

Despite all the negativity, there is still a race this week that needs to be run and someone will punch their ticket to the round of eight with a victory. As we all know, Talladega is a track where anyone can win, but avoiding the big one is the most essential. The driver who has been in the best position so far has been Ryan Blaney. In the past two races here at Talladega, Blaney has been in the picture when the checkered flag falls, not to mention how fast the Fords have been on superspeedways. Blaney’s scored two victories here at this track and also has the third highest average finish among all drivers who have run 15 races or more on superspeedways. If Blaney can stay ahead of the pack and out of trouble, he will be a threat for victory.

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