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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The Astros are a force at home. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

PROBABLE STARTERS

Fri, Sept. 18 - ARI: Zac Gallen (1-2, 3.15) vs. HOU: Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.77)

Sat, Sept. 19 - ARI: Luke Weaver (1-7, 6.70) vs. HOU: Cristian Javier (4-2, 3.22)

Sun, Sept. 20 - ARI: Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) vs. HOU: Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70)

STORYLINES

Staying Hot at Home? The Astros are now 18-7 at home in 2020 after taking two of three from the Texas Rangers. Conversely, the Diamondbacks are 8-19 on the road. It's a perfect blend for the Astros to continue their winning ways at home and position themselves in a more ideal spot for the playoffs.

Staff Settling in: Greinke and Urquidy taking the bump in a three game series brings a sense of normalcy to the Astros rotation. The days of Brandon Bielak and Luis Garcia getting starts are in the past. McCullers looked fantastic in his outing against the Rangers, and Justin Verlander is close to returning. That is a staff capable of winning a World Series.

Sinking Ship: The Astros win over the Rangers Thursday night kept the Mariners three games back of the Astros with just 10 games left to play. The Astros also own the tiebreaker over Seattle, meaning Seattle really needs to make up four games to jump the Astros for a playoff spot. Of course, the Astros' series in Seattle starting Monday will play a big role in that.

PREDICTION

The Diamondbacks are reeling, and the Astros are a force at home. Zac Gallen presents some problems for a slumping offense, but the Astros break out against Weaver and Bumgarner to take two of three.

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