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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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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