THE PALLILOG

Here's what the Rockets-Lakers series could come down to

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

The late college basketball coach Jim Valvano coined the phrase "survive and advance" to characterize all that matters in the NCAA Tournament. The Rockets borrowed "survive and advance" in getting past Oklahoma City to earn their shot at the Lakers in round two of the NBA Playoffs starting Friday night. A first round elimination at the hands of Chris Paul and the Thunder would have been a disaster for the Rockets. Would have been.

It is no miracle if the Rockets take down the Lakers to reach the Western Conference Final for the second time in three years, but the Lakers are better. At 35 years old LeBron James remains an amazing force, but it's Anthony Davis for whom the Rockets have zero answers. If A.D. is on his A game he'll destroy the Rockets inside and out. The Rockets are a poor rebounding team, so is Oklahoma City. The Lakers are one of the better rebounding squads in the NBA.

There are beacons of hope for the Rockets' cause. The Lakers do not have a physical and quick guard a la OKC's Luguentz Dort to disrupt James Harden. Their best perimeter defender is Avery Bradley, who opted to skip the NBA bubble. Harden's tremendous block of Dort's shot that could have ended the Rockets' season saved Harden from being pilloried for another elimination game woeful offensive performance. Maybe that which did not kill him makes Harden stronger.

The Lakers are not a good three point shooting team. Neither are the Rockets, who bank on decent mega-volume three point shooting to swing the math in their direction. As always, in a short series of games the big picture stats can be rendered irrelevant.

Lakers in six, to set up an all L.A. in Orlando Western Conference Final vs. the Clippers who should make quick work of the Nuggets.

Astros hit the road

The Astros want to win their division but compared to normal seasons it just isn't a big deal. Getting and keeping Alex Bregman healthy is much more important. Jose Altuve has been horrible in this short season, but his leaving Thursday's game and needing an MRI of his surgically repaired right knee is not good news. After four games in Anaheim this weekend against the awful Angels over the Astros have a five game series with the A's in Oakland. Win three of five or better from the A's and the Astros could reclaim the division. If not, probably not. But the Astros are a virtual lock to make the eight team American League field and that's all that really matters.

NFL is right around the corner

With no preseason games (yay!) and the NBA and NHL playoffs ongoing, the NFL regular season seemingly sneaks up on us more than ever before. The Texans have the toughest opening threesome of games in the league starting at the Chiefs, home for the Ravens, then at the Steelers. At Kansas City probably means the Texans start 0-1. They did win at Arrowhead Stadium during the regular season last year. You may recall it worked out differently in the playoff game. The Chiefs are allowing 22 percent seat usage for their first three home games. Normally one of the loudest crowds in the NFL, fewer than 17-thousand on hand this time make one part of the Texans' task simpler.

I don't know if there's an over under for games played by J.J. Watt this season, but he better go over. Without him the Texans defense is simply weak. With the now 31-year-old Watt the Texan D won't be special, but he is still usually a difference maker. I doubt Watt needs fuel added to his fire for a season opener, but lest he or anyone else have forgotten, 99 was a zero in the playoff embarrassment at K.C. Zero sacks, zero quarterback hits, zero solo tackles, zero assisted tackles. He did tip one Patrick Mahomes pass.

As ever the Texans look no better than a B-list contender in the AFC. If Philip Rivers gives the Colts above average quarterback play I take them over the Texans in the AFC South. Who knows what level Ryan Tannehill settles in at after performing wildly over his head for Titans relative to the rest of his pro career. The Jaguars are a laughingstock. Reminder: over Bill O'Brien's six seasons as Texans' Head Coach, three AFC South franchises have reached the AFC Championship game. Then there are the Texans.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. What an annoyance that Rockets-Lakers game 4 will go head-to-head with the Texans-Chiefs opener.

2. My annual proselytizing for the NHL playoffs: pretty much every year the most intense second by second postseason in sports. Two decisive seventh games Friday, another Saturday!

3. Best Canadian cities (when they let us visit again) Bronze-Vancouver Silver-Montreal Gold-Toronto

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Houston gets another victory in Anaheim

Astros overpower Angels again as magic number dwindles

Kyle Tucker had 3 of Houston's RBI on Tuesday night, including a two-run homer. Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

After a beatdown of the Angels on Monday in the opener, the Astros entered Tuesday's game looking to replicate that success. Though Los Angeles would put up more of a fight, Houston still used their potent offense to keep the game out of reach.

Final Score: Astros 10, Angels 5

Astros' Record: 90-61, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (8-3)

Losing Pitcher: Packy Naughton (0-3)

Houston's bats keep connecting to back up Urquidy

The Astros picked up on Tuesday's game where they left off on Monday, launching homers to take and extend a lead. A leadoff walk by Carlos Correa in the top of the second set up Kyle Tucker, who drove a two-run shot. Aledmys Diaz was next, making it back-to-back jacks to push the new lead to 3-0.

That gave Jose Urquidy a lead to work with, which came in handy as former Astro Jack Mayfield cut the lead to two runs with a leadoff solo homer in the bottom of the second. Other than that, Urquidy did well through five innings, allowing just two other hits over that span. LA got to him in the sixth, getting two singles to set up a three-run homer to end his night. His final line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 79 P.

The runs keep coming

He would still leave in line for the win, though, as before that bottom of the sixth, the Astros had put up seven more runs across the fifth and sixth. A leadoff walk in the top of the fifth was followed by a two-run homer by Jose Altuve, then later in the frame, an RBI single by Aledmys Diaz made it 7-1. They pushed that to double digits in the sixth, with a leadoff solo shot by Martin Maldonado, a sac fly by Carlos Correa, and an RBI groundout by Kyle Tucker, putting them up 10-1 before the homer allowed by Urquidy cut that to 10-4.

Astros win to reduce magic number again

In the sixth, Cristian Javier took over for Urquidy, finished that inning, and returned for a scoreless seventh. He ran into Shohei Ohtani to lead off the bottom of the eighth and left a fastball in the zone, which Ohtani turned around 445 feet to make it a five-run game. Javier still got through the inning, leaving just the ninth for Houston's second reliever of the night, Josh James. James would get through a scoreless inning, erasing a leadoff walk as the lopsided win paired with an A's loss reduces Houston's magic number to 4.

Up Next: The third of this four-game series will be another 8:38 PM Central start on Wednesday. Janson Junk (0-1, 2.25 ERA) will make his third career start for the Angels, while Luis Garcia (11-7, 3.37 ERA) will have the ball for the Astros.

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