SHOWDOWN WITH THE CHAMPS

Even though it is early, tonight's Warriors matchup has greater meaning for Rockets

No Steph Curry tonight for the Warriors makes this a big chance at a win for the Rockets. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It's best not to operate in hyperbole when discussing a single game of any sport that isn't football. In football, the season is so condensed that any one loss could very well spell disaster for a team.  In baseball, or in this case basketball, teams have scores of contests so the impact of one game usually goes unnoticed.

The problem is when one bad game becomes two, and two becomes five, and five becomes seven. The problem is when chemistry development is hamstrung at the hands of injuries and suspensions. And the problem could quite possibly be distractions.

It is through this unique set of coinciding circumstances that the Rockets find themselves in a seemingly hyperbolic situation halfway through November. Tonight is Houston's first must-win game.

Houston hosts the 12-3 Golden State Warriors tonight, a super team of super teams and clear favorite to run away with yet another NBA championship. The Rockets, conversely, are 6-7 at the moment as they drag themselves out of a the 1-5 hole they face planted into to start the season.

Houston has since recomposed and put together a 5-2 run. Their defensive rating has flipped from 26th (115.6)  in their first six games to 10th (106.6) in their last seve, and in those same spans their offensive rating has swung from 24th (105.1) to 14th (109.3). All of that is to say that Houston isn't quite the dog that their record would necessarily suggest.

That swing, though, is exactly what makes tonight's matchup so pivotal. Critics will point to two of Houston's wins being against bottom feeder opponents, but supporters could counter with Houston's wins over playoff contenders in the Pacers and Nuggets. Beating the Warriors would end that argument for the moment.

Make no mistake, this isn't some pipe dream either. Houston is perfectly capable of winning this game. In fact, as of this writing, they're currently 1.5 point favorites to win. I wouldn't exactly bet the farm with those odds, but with Stephen Curry out and the Rockets as healthy as they've been all season, it's entirely possible that Houston could win tonight.

So there is is. Houston is in about as much of a must-win game as an NBA team with championship aspirations can be in November. Would a loss derail the season? No. A win, however, could all but erase their awful start. Wins against Golden State are the only metric by which the Rockets have measured their success for the past few seasons, and tonight we'll get our first opportunity to see just how they stack up this year.

 

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Paying a kicker 17 million dollars? Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien engineered questionable moves during the off-season that already have come back to bite the Texans in the butt. Fans have yet to see the Texans on the right track, at least on television for now. Here are the top three, or bottom three, contracts that have Houston raising eyebrows, shrugging shoulders, and shaking heads.

Randall Cobb: 3 years, $27 million

The 30-year-old wide receiver has been quiet so far this 0-2 season with seven catches for 82 yards. New offensive coordinator Tim Kelly is favoring "12 and 21" schemes which render Cobb the third option behind Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks. This could change now with Fuller nursing a hamstring injury sustained against the Ravens. To be fair, with no preseason games or extended practice, Cobb has not had time to build chemistry with quarterback Deshaun Watson. So let's mark him, "bad contract," but jury still deliberating.

David Johnson: 3 years, $39 million

Johnson has carried the ball 22 times for 111 yards. Normally, these would be acceptable, even commendable stats. However, Johnson carries the burden of being involved in the trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. BTW, Hopkins in tearing it up in Arizona with 22 receptions for 219 yards. Also, more evidence condemning Johnson's contract, the Texans could have made a run at Leonard Fournette (17 carries for 108 yards) or Adrian Peterson (21 carries for 134 yards), both chewing up more turf for less money.

Whitney Mercilus: 4 years, $54 million

Here's another 30-year-old who was being paid big and producing little. He was MIA against the Ravens with no tackles and no sacks, despite being on the field for 70 percent of the Ravens snaps. Mercilus was able to squeeze the Texans for huge money last year when he picked up the workload of injured J.J. Watt.


Honorable Mention

Ka'imi Fairbairn: 4 years, $17,650,000

Fairbairn is the third highest-paid kicker in the NFL. Fairbairn had a rough start against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, missing an extra point and a deep 51-yard field goal attempt. Meanwhile, up in Dallas, Greg 'The Leg' Zuerlein is being paid half of what Fairbairn makes, but knocking them down from the logo, including a last-second, game-winning field goal to beat the Falcons. Former Texans kicker Randy Bullock is enjoying greater success in Cincinnati for considerably fewer dollars, too. Fun fact: Fairbairn is paid more than most Texans secondary defenders.


But really, the worst, and most regrettable Texans contract of all might be Bill O'Brien's deal- 4 years, $20 million.

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