Astros Red Sox rematch, Verlander on a roll and more

Harden is first team All-NBA, but is there a problem with Paul?

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

James Harden was named first team All-NBA Thursday. The vote for him was unanimous as it was for Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will likely wrest the NBA MVP Award from Harden. It's Harden's fifth first team selection. Hakeem Olajuwon was named first team six times. LeBron James is the all-time leader with 12 first team selections, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant each made it 11.

Sounds as though Chris Paul may not have sent Harden congratulatory flowers or candy. It seemed weak of the Rockets to not hold customary exit interviews and media availability soon after their season ended. Some light may have been shed on that if the report is accurate that Paul had done some chafing over the extent of Harden's ball dominance (maybe more so after Harden's four fourth quarter turnovers in the game six capitulation vs. the Warriors?) and stand around nature of Harden iso-ball. That style coupled with the relentless heaving of three point shots generally served the Rockets well, but has its flaws. For years Paul was a brilliant and low turnover orchestrator of offense so some frustration for him is understandable. But with that, Paul needs to understand that he's not the player he used to be. It's the Rockets' problem that over the next three seasons they'll be paying Paul as if he's better than ever.

On the Astros

The Astros are a loaded team but certainly not perfect. General Manager Jeff Luhnow has no need to act now but things may be moving in the direction of him looking hard for a starting pitcher addition between now and July 31. Collin McHugh failed and is now injured. Josh James has been wild and shaky, Corbin Martin the same two starts in a row. Framber Valdez isn't very highly regarded, and Forrest Whitley has been awful in four straight starts at AAA. Any one of those guys could wind up stabilizing the fifth spot in the rotation. Or maybe it's an acquisition like the Blue Jays' Marcus Stroman.

After a disappointing series split with the White Sox the Astros spend a second consecutive weekend with the Boston Red Sox. Last weekend they took two of three at Fenway Park, without Justin Verlander pitching. If Tal's Hill still existed at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday night against the White Sox Verlander might have pitched his third career no-hitter. Verlander goes Sunday in pursuit of his ninth win already this season. He's 8-1 with a sparkling 2.24 earned run average. Verlander's career season to date is 2011 when as a Detroit Tiger he won 24 games (with just five losses) and posted a 2.40 ERA enroute to winning both the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. The Yankees Domingo German has come out of nowhere to be 9-1 with a sub-three ERA, but Verlander is well out front to win his second "Cy." That would go with his three second place finishes and one third place finish.

Verlander is now basically a surefire Hall of Famer on top of his game at age 36. Among the seven pitchers to win a "Cy" after turning 36, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is the "Wait. What is he is doing with these other names?" guy. The others are all 300 game winners, and except for Roger Clemens, all Hall of Famers. The Rocket won three Cy Young awards after turning 36, the last as an Astro when he was 43. Randy Johnson won four in a row STARTing when he was 36. The other golden relative oldies: Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Gaylord Perry, and Early Wynn.

Home run derby

The juiced baseballs are flying out of big league ballparks at a record rate this season. The Astros have certainly done their part, hitting 90 home runs in their 51 games. Their season homer pace is at 285. The 2017 World Series winning offensive juggernaut hit 238. The Yankees set the team season record last year with 267. The surprising Minnesota Twins belted eight homers Thursday in improving the best record in MLB to 33-16. The Twins have 98 dingers in 49 games. That's exactly two per game on average, meaning a season pace toward 324. The record for most homers allowed in a season is 258, by the Reds three years ago.The Orioles' atrocious pitching staff has already given up 107 home runs. That's on pace to give up 339. 339!

Boston common

The Stanley Cup Final starts Monday night with Boston against St. Louis. The Red Sox won the most recent World Series. The Patriots won the most recent Super Bowl. Go Blues! Um, that's St. Louis. Thank goodness the Celtics flamed out in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Buzzer beaters

1. Only a boob wouldn't have voted Harden first team All-NBA. 2.The two who voted Harden first All-Defensive team are no Rocket scientists. 3. Greatest scientists not named Einstein: Bronze-Pasteur Silver-Galileo Gold-Newton

There are nights in the NBA where you just get completely outplayed and for Houston, this was one of them. The Nuggets came into the game with a simple, but effective gameplan: double team James Harden and let his teammates beat you. On most nights, they will, but tonight, the Rockets shot a putrid 31.6% (12-38) from three-point range. Houston also turned the ball over 20 times - really poor for a team that was averaging just 15.2 turnovers per game (12th).

The Rockets had opportunities midway through and late in this game to capitalize on Denver mistakes, but they were flummoxed by the swarming defensive approach, missed shots, and turned the ball over. The Nuggets are one of the few teams that can run with Houston and they took advantage of that, scoring 20 fast break points.

The Rockets may have had a fighting chance in this one had Danuel House not gotten hurt on an unfortunate play in which Nikola Jokic got called for a moving screen foul. House had to leave the game with shoulder soreness and did not return for the rest of the night. Without House and Gordon, the Rockets were lacking their two best shooters and had poor spacing against a Nuggets team that was trapping James Harden all night.

This doesn't excuse how badly the Rockets played. If Houston had limited their turnovers, played better defense, and hit just a fraction of the shots they missed, they could have won this game. They didn't and that's why they took home just their second regular season loss in three years against a Denver Nuggets squad that looks ready to contend in the Western Conference.

Star of the game: It's hard to pick a star for Houston after a loss like this, but I suppose the guy who played the least bad would probably be Clint Capela. Capela had 12 points, 21 rebounds, and a steal on 6 of 9 shooting from the field. Capela had to defend a handful in Nikola Jokic (27 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists), but managed to be a +0 in a game in which the Rockets lost by 10.

Honorable mention: The award for "second least bad" would have to go to James Harden who logged 27 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 63.1% true shooting. It's also worth noting that Harden wasn't particularly good defensively, turned the ball over 8 times, and was a -17. Harden did the best he could on Denver's impressive trapping, but his performance was nonetheless a mixed bag at best.

Key moment: Denver really pulled away from Houston in the third quarter, where they outscored the Rockets 28 to 22 and hit 41.7% (5 of 12) of their three-pointers while allowing the Rockets to shoot a measly 33.3% (3 of 9).

Up next: The Rockets travel to Los Angeles at 9:30 p.m. on Friday to take on the newly healthy duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome