Charlie Pallilo: Texans-Steelers, Harden's numbers, Herman's first season at UT and more

Le’Veon Bell will be making an appearance at NRG.

What a massive lump of coal for the stocking to have the Texans playing on Christmas Day. Then again, it frees up three hours for more eating, playing with new toys, family time, or anything else besides watching the trash that is the home team playing out the season. Hey, if Jadeveon Clowney can refer to a quarterback who just ripped apart the Texans’ efense (not a typo, there was no d in Clowney’s unit last Sunday) as trash, no way can he reasonably refuse the same categorization for his team. Refuse, get it? Ha ha ha. Actually this time of year, ho ho ho. Amusing that Jaguar fans sent Clowney garbage cans and pails this week via NRG Stadium. Well, perhaps not to Clowney and those who receive the mail at the stadium. Maybe some of the receptacles can be put to use for removal of Bill O’Brien’s clock management binders and Rick Smith’s third round draft preparation manifesto.

It’s a big game for the Steelers Monday as they try to hold off the Jaguars (!) for the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Even without an injured Antonio Brown it would be shocking if the Steelers fail to win. They still have a likely Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, the best all-around running back in the game in Le’Veon Bell, and an excellent offensive line with three Pro Bowlers. The Texans have DeAndre Hopkins. He is the only Texans’ offensive starter who could get on the field for Pittsburgh. Think about that.

The Patriots are the platinum standard in the NFL, but the black and gold standard is pretty darn impressive. The Steelers’ last losing season was 2003. This is their fourth straight season with at least 10 wins. It’s their 12th double digit win season in the last 17, with two Super Bowl wins along the way.  It’s a level of sustained quality that is unreasonable to expect a team to match, and fantasy to think the current Texans’ regime could ever achieve.

On the court

It’s just one game out of 82 but the Rockets at Oklahoma City Monday is roughly a billion times more interesting than the Texans flailing versus the Steelers. The Texans kick at 4:30, the Rockets tip at about 7:00. Should make for an easy remote control choice.

James Harden this week broke Moses Malone’s Rocket franchise record for consecutive games scoring at least 20 points. Moses did it 29 games in a row, Harden hit 30 by pouring in 51 points in a rare Rocket loss, to the Lakers Monday night. If you are wondering if Harden might be in range of the NBA record, he’s nowhere close. In 1961-62 Wilt Chamberlain played every game of what was then an 80 game regular season. The Big Dipper’s smallest output all season was 26 points. Second smallest, 28. The other 78 out of 80 games, 30 points minimum. Overall in ’61-’62 Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game. And 25.7 rebounds. Beyond absurd numbers that no one else has approached or will ever approach. That was the season in which Chamberlain put up his 100 point game.

Hall passes

Six players are first-timers as Basketball Hall of Fame candidates: Ray Allen, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash. This seems easy: yes, no, no, yes, yes, yes. Hill’s NBA career is not Hall-worthy, but it’s not the NBA Hall of Fame. So in conjunction with his spectacular collegiate career at Duke, Hill’s resume passes.

Injury prone

His adductor strain is Chris Paul’s second left leg injury this season. It doesn’t make his breaking down in the playoffs inevitable, but doesn’t help the mood any.

Horns of a dilemma?

I still like Tom Herman’s chances to have major success as head coach at UT, but his first season has clearly been majorly disappointing. The Longhorns are somehow underdogs vs. mediocre Missouri in the Texas Bowl. If the Horns lose, Herman will match the seven losses that Charlie Strong put up in each of his three seasons in Austin. Meanwhile, UT’s arguable four best players are skipping their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft. They include punter Michael Dickson. A punter going pro early! The Australian-born Dickson was consensus first team All-America, but only a draft fool would use a selection on a punter before the 4th or 5th round. The returns of the first early signing period for college football have Herman and the Horns reeling in a class ranked top five nationally, a dominant performance over late-starting Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M whose class doesn’t rate in the top five of the SEC.

Buzzer Beaters

1. With good weather I wonder if the roof is open for the Texas Bowl   2. Eggnog is good. Fresh ground nutmeg on top, NOT cinnamon. Though if no nutmeg available, cinnamon will do  3. Santa’s best reindeer:  Bronze-Blitzen   Silver-Comet   Gold-Dasher

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Houston now focused on postseason

Altuve and Correa homer, Astros drop final regular-season game

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

With no playoff impact at stake if the Astros won or lost the game, Houston took Sunday's final regular-season game as a chance to get their lineup a few more at-bats before shifting focus to Tuesday's first game of the post-season. Here is a quick recap of the game against the Rangers:

Final Score: Rangers 8, Astros 4.

Record: 29-31, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Wes Benjamin (2-1, 4.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Chase De Jong (0-1, 14.73 ERA).

Houston's main bats get a final tune-up

Knowing they'd only have a couple of at-bats to work with, some of Houston's big bats took advantage, starting with Jose Altuve. He crushed a pitch in the top of the first, a solo homer to put the Astros in front 1-0. After the Rangers tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second, Altuve started the third with a walk before moving to third base on a Michael Brantley single, which improved Brantley's season average to .300.

Aledmys Diaz would pick up the RBI on a groundout to score Altuve, putting Houston back in front 2-1. In Correa's last at-bat in the top of the fourth, he extended the lead to 3-1 with a solo home run of his own.

Rangers hand Astros a loss to end the regular season

After getting the early run against Chase De Jong, the Rangers would put together a big inning against him in the fourth. After two one-out singles, Rougned Odor would give Texas their first lead of the day on a three-run homer to make it 4-3.

De Jong would continue to struggle in the inning, getting just one more out while loading the bases, prompting a move to the bullpen to bring in Nivaldo Rodriguez to try and eat up more innings. The Rangers greeted him with a two-RBI single to extend their lead to 6-3 before ending the fourth. Odor would hit his second home run of the game in the bottom of the fifth, a solo shot to make it a four-run lead at 7-3.

Rodriguez allowed another run in the bottom of the seventh, making it 8-3. Diaz, who drove in a run earlier, would account for another RBI in the top of the eighth, getting Houston's third solo homer of the day. That would make it an 8-4 game, which would go final as the Rangers would win the regular season's last game.

Up Next: Houston's first game of the playoffs will be on Tuesday, with the start time and opponent TBD while the rest of today's games wrap up, and the schedule is announced. Regardless, the Astros are expected to begin that best-of-three series with Zack Greinke (3-3, 4.03 ERA).

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