FALCON POINT

Fred Faour: Observations on the Rockets, Derby and more

James Harden and the Rockets will be playing the Warriors soon. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

To the surprise of no one, the Rockets took a 3-1 lead in their series with the Jazz with a grind-it-out, wire-to-wire win Sunday night in Utah. Chris Paul took control with his midrange jumpers, scored 27 points and the Rockets are one inevitable win from what we have all been waiting for -- a series with the Warriors. 

There really is not much left to say about this series. The Jazz had a nice season, and should be happy to get this far. But they are simply not in the same stratosphere as the Rockets, who did not play all that well Sunday night, yet still did the Jazz in their own barn. 

Consider this: The Rockets shot just 42 percent -- 26.3 percent on 3-pointers -- and turned the ball over 13 times. They played a Jazz-style game, and still they coasted to a 13-point win. Their defense carried the day, and Utah simply does not have the weapons to compete with the Rockets in a seven-game series. The Rockets should close this out in five and we finally get what has been inevitable for months -- Rockets-Warriors for the whole thing. 

Derby daze

If you followed us leading up to Saturday's Kentucky Derby, you did not win money. But you did see a historic performance from Justify. He survived ridiculous early fractions, and accomploished something that had not been done since 1882 -- won the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. His trainer, Bob Baffert, compared him to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and the incredible Arrogate afterwards. He might even be better than those two monsters. To win the Derby in just his fourth start is incredible.

Our horses did not have much excuse. Bolt D'Oro chased the hot pace, then wilted when the real running started in the worst performance of his career. Combatant should have had the perfect setup, but he did not fire either. Enticed had a world of trouble -- like about 10 other horses -- and never had a real shot. 

As we move to the Preakness, Justify looks very tough to beat. We will be trying to make money off exactas and trifectas with long shots behind him. One of the oddities of the Derby is with 20 horses, you will always have at least six or seven that get taken out due to traffic. Saturday's race eliminated even more than that. That will give us some good prices on legitimate contenders. But barring something weird, we are probably looking at another Triple Crown winner. Horses make their legacy by accomplishing special things, and what this horse did Saturday could not be done. On a side note, it was great meeting so many blitzers on raceday. Nothing better than getting a chance to meet fun people. We did not win, but expect us to bounce back in a big way two weeks from now.

Stop being jerks, please

I am going to dive into this with more detail later in the week, but the inner city is really growing when it comes to the bike community. As such, car drivers need to be more aware and considerate. But it goes both ways; cyclists need to do the same. We did a ride on Sunday, and many of the cyclists were frankly inconsiderate jerks who almost caused several issues. Stay tuned to SportsMap for more details later in the week.

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Composite photo by Jack Brame

As things continue to relax as far as the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned, a return to a semblance of normalcy seems imminent. The NBA has some parameters in place for a potential return. Training camps are set to open late this month and the season is supposed to open July 31. Whether that's the rumored Disney-centered one-stop shop or another form, they have a plan in place to return. There's also no argument between the league and players going back and forth about money either (MLB could learn a lesson here).

So when it comes to the potential return, how does that fare for the local team? The Rockets were 40-24 and tied for the fifth seed in the West when the season was shut down. Since they're getting ready to return potentially, we need to be looking at what chances they may have in making a run in the playoffs towards an NBA title.



Harden's new physique

According to his new trainer, James Harden has done more cardio workouts and lost some weight. Specifically, he's done more football player workouts as opposed to basketball player workouts. There was a pic of Harden floating around showing an obvious loss of weight. His new-found cardio and weight loss could mean more late-game and late-season success for Harden and the Rockets.

Westbrook's edge

Russell Westbrook has a competitive fire that can't be put out. It's like one of those never-ending burning torches you see at monuments. He wants nothing more than to prove he's a winner on a high level. Given that he's reunited with a long time friend in Harden, his competitive nature could help fill the gap where Harden may lack. These two have proven they can coexist very well this season. Now could be their time to take surge.

Small-ball

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela, they fully committed to small-ball. There were times they didn't have a guy in the lineup over 6'5. The tallest guy that gets regular time is roughly 6'8. The smaller, quicker lineup is an advantage on the offensive end, but can be a huge liability on the defensive end. Given the stoppage and restart of the season, it could help them. Suppose other teams are sluggish and can't get their chemistry straight. Houston's advantage is that they go through one or two guys and eat off their shooting. Shooting can be worked on during times like these, whereas other aspects of your game can't.


I'm not saying the Rockets have a built-in advantage, but they have as good a shot as they've ever had in the past. The field is wide open to any team that's in the playoff hunt. No team will have a built-in advantage over others. With the Rockets' unique brand of ball, they may be able to make a run at a title this season. Couple that with Harden's weight loss and Westbrook's competitive nature, it could be very interesting. Whenever the NBA comes back this season, which I believe they will, I think this team has a legit shot at winning it all.

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