The Palillog

Despite nice win over Lakers, no end in sight for Rockets title drought

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General Manager Daryl Morey's preseason assertion that the Rockets were the favorites in the Western Conference was dubious when he said it, and in hindsight, ridiculous. The Rockets confirmed as much with the trade that shipped Clint Capela and a first round draft pick to Atlanta with the Rockets netting Robert Covington and the already ex-Rocket Jordan Bell. The Lakers and Clippers are not shaking in their sneakers, despite Russell Westbrook's brilliance leading the Rockets to a doozy of a win over the Lakers in L.A. Thursday night.

The Rockets had, and have, a good team, but not a great one, and certainly not one to take seriously as an NBA title contender. They weren't going to win the West with what they had, so they roll the dice with super small ball, which in all likelihood won't be good enough to do the job either. They'll continue to jack up three point shots like no other team, too bad they've not acquired one close to elite three point shooter. The Rockets were a bad rebounding team with Capela's nearly 14 boards per game. It should be a worse rebounding team without him. The Rockets now have zero legit shot blocking or rim production. Their mediocre defense likely remains, mediocre.

It's also obvious that Morey had marching orders from owner Tilman Fertitta to dump some salary going forward and avoid the luxury tax this season. No one likes to pay taxes they can avoid. And remember, Morey's moral but for business moronic China tweet is costing Fertitta millions of dollars.Capela has more than 50 million guaranteed dollars guaranteed left on his contract after this season. Covington has about 25 million. Nene and Gerald Green outgoing, simply salary dumps.

Two seasons in a row the Rockets have passed on using their mid-level exception. Two seasons in a row the Rockets have had a below average bench. In the coming weeks they will shop the buyout market from which last year they added Kenneth Faried and Iman Shumpert. Yippee.

This June will mark the 25 year anniversary of the Rockets having last played in the NBA Finals. Who next plays for their sport's championship first: the Rockets or the Texans?

Seems a good time to note the Astros open spring training next week.

Another body

In what amounts to a meaningless swap the Rockets traded Jordan Bell to Memphis for Bruno Caboclo, who has shown basically nothing to suggest he's an NBA player. When the Toronto Raptors drafted Caboclo in the first round ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla had the great line "he's two years away from being two years away." Fraschilla said that over five and a half years ago.

XFL, part deaux

The second version of the XFL launches Saturday, including the Houston Roughnecks playing the Los Angeles Wildcats. An eight team, 10 game late winter-early spring football league can be of only limited interest, but the Roughnecks will not arrogantly and/or absurdly have a closed roof for any of their home games. They'll play at UH's stadium. The XFL is trying some interesting rules. Among them, offenses can throw two forward passes on the same play provided both passes are made behind the line of scrimmage. There will be no kicks for points after touchdowns. The scoring team can go for one point from the two yard line, two points from the five yard line, or three points from the ten yard line.

Chiefs set the standard

So the Texans had a 24-nothing lead over the eventual Super Bowl Champions. Hail to the Chiefs for snapping Kansas City's 50 year drought between Super Bowl victories. Next season, Houston will probably make it 0 for 50 in pursuit of winning a Super Bowl. Probably 0 for 50 in getting to a Super Bowl. The Oilers were 0 for 31. The Texans are 0 for 18.And counting. Only three other existing franchises have failed to reach a Super Bowl: the Browns, Lions, and Jaguars.

Or just maybe next season, the Texans produce a little football miracle. Hey, the 49ers went from 4-12 last season to the Big Game the just concluded season. For your planning purposes, Super Bowl LV will be played in Tampa.

Watt vs. The Emperor

Which is funnier: J.J. Watt's Saturday Night Live host performance, or the idea of Bill O'Brien coaching a Super Bowl winner? J.J. was okay in the comedy realm. O'Brien delivering a Super Bowl seems more the science fiction realm. However, keep in mind It took Andy Reid 21 seasons as a head coach to finally clutch a Lombardi Trophy. Bill O'Brien has 14 seasons left to beat that! Of course, Emperor O for eternity is more likely.

Buzzer beaters

1. Maybe the Roughnecks win the XFL championship this spring! 2. Good in town hoops doubleheader Sunday: UH-Wichita St at 2, Rockets-Jazz at 6. 3. Worst tasting vegetables: Bronze-kale Silver-peas Gold-lima beans


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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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