How the Rockets are counting on a lot of ifs this season

The new-look Rockets have a lot to prove. Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Russell Westbrook out. John Wall in. The Rockets' Westbrook Era sure was brief. It was an entertaining failure. The team got worse, and the Rockets' return from the Washington Wizards for trading Westbrook to them is vastly less than what the Rockets gave to Oklahoma City to get him. On top of that, while Westbrook was brilliant for a couple of months early in 2020, Chris Paul was a better player in his one season with the Thunder than Westbrook was here.

In desiring the deal to D.C., Westbrook has admitted (without admitting it) that winning is not his highest priority. He wants to dominate the ball, The End. However, it's not as if he's foregoing a realistic championship run with the Rockets to go be the lead Wizard. Westbrook and James Harden may have been besties off the court, but their games/egos obviously didn't mesh well on the hardwood for each of their tastes. Paul lasted two seasons before Harden wanted him gone, Westbrook one. How long before Harden decides that Wall cramps his style? This given the non-secret that Harden already would love to become an ex-Rocket if he could get to Brooklyn or Philadelphia.

Westbrook's contract was pretty much untradeable except in exchange for another ridiculous contract or contracts. Wall's is essentially a carbon copy, three years left at about 133 million dollars. The Rockets are crossing their fingers that somehow Harden takes to Wall and has rejuvenated good feelings about staying, and that sign and trade acquisition Christian Wood lives up to high hopes pinned on him.

Wall last played in an NBA game December 26, 2018. Since then he's had one season ending heel surgery, and then a season costing Achilles tendon tear. At 30 Wall is two years younger than Westbrook, but that is worthless if he doesn't have back most of his speed and quickness. Pre-injuries Wall was as fast as Westbrook, but less forceful. Some might say less ball-hoggy. He's a better three point shooter than Westbrook, but who isn't? In his nine NBA seasons (the last two partial seasons) Wall has shot league average from three, once. He was not a good defender the last season or two before his major injuries.

If Harden doesn't have one foot and half his head out the door, and if Wall is healthy and 85 percent of what he was, and if DeMarcus Cousins is healthy, and if Wood is worthy of three years 41 mil, the Rockets should be pretty good. That's a lot of ifs. Regardless, the Lakers won't be shaking in their sneakers over this incarnation of Rocketball.

This is all another reminder that ex-General Manager Daryl Morey failed the smell test when he set forth wanting to step back and desire for family time as his reasons for leaving the Rockets. I don't blame him for wanting out to take the 76ers job, but am not a fan of BS.

The Colts come to NRG this Sunday

The 4-7 Texans are home Sunday versus the 7-4 Indianapolis Colts. Stifle that yawn! The Colts come to town off Derrick Henry and the Titans trampling them last Sunday. That in itself shouldn't spike local optimism because the Texans basically have no running game. The Colts also played without stud d-lineman DeForest Buckner who was out after a positive COVID test. Buckner's status for Sunday is undetermined.

The Texans are only three and a half point underdogs as they play without their best wide receiver (Will Fuller) and their best cornerback (Bradley Roby) after each flunked a PED test. Classic. That's one way for Fuller to finally get through an NFL season without a major injury.

College hoops

Sadly, college basketball isn't much of a thing around here. Doesn't change the facts that Baylor looks tremendous and is ranked number two in the nation. The Bears play number one Gonzaga Saturday at noon our time in Indianapolis. The Houston Cougars cracked the top 10 this week. The Texas Longhorns may crack the top 10 next week. SARCASM ALERT. It's a good thing UT is a hoops first fanbase or Longhorn fans might be really disgruntled with Tom Herman.

MLB free agency

Major League Baseball's winter meetings open (virtually) on Monday. Next week could be the week George Springer picks a new team. Ditto Michael Brantley. It's ridiculous that with free agency underway MLB still hasn't settled on whether the designated hitter sticks in the National League. That would almost certainly expand Brantley's market, and possibly Springer's as well.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. I wonder what Westbrook would have said if the Rockets asked him are you in if we trade Harden for Bradley Beal? Then, as a Rockets fan would you rather have Wall/Harden or Westbrook/Beal?

2. Did you know James Harden has a restaurant named "13" opening in town New Year's Day?

3. Harden restaurant questions: Bronze-Does the dessert menu offers a variety of turnovers? Silver-Think Harden has any idea who James Beard was? Gold-Suppose delivery range includes Brooklyn and Philadelphia?

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Houston gets the best of the Dodgers

Astros behind McCullers Jr. get shutout win in hostile Dodger Stadium

Yordan Alvarez added some big insurance runs against the Dodgers on Tuesday night. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Having dropped two of three in San Francisco against the league record-leading Giants over the weekend, the Astros exited an off day on Monday and entered a hostile environment at Dodger Stadium in the first of a two-game series on Tuesday night. With some timely hits and an excellent start from their starter, Houston would grab the win.

Final Score: Astros 3, Dodgers 0

Astros' Record: 65-42, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (9-2)

Losing Pitcher: Walker Buehler (11-2)

Houston scores first as McCullers Jr. out-duels Buehler

After nearly turning the game's very first pitch around for a home run but instead going foul, Jose Altuve still started the game with a single in the top of the first. A double play would erase him, though, as the game remained scoreless into the top of the third. Martin Maldonado led that inning off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch by Walker Buehler, then scored on an RBI double by Michael Brantley, putting Houston ahead 1-0.

Houston threatened again in the top of the fourth, getting two on with two outs, bringing up Martin Maldonado with an empty base, which the Dodgers would use by intentionally walking him to get to Lance McCullers Jr., who grounded out to strand all three runners. He made up for it on the mound, though, out-dueling Buehler, who finished six innings while allowing a run by getting into the seventh scoreless. He would get two outs into that frame while giving up a single and a walk, leaving two on base for Blake Taylor, who came in to get the third out. McCullers Jr.'s final line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 110 P.

Alvarez adds insurance as Astros take the opener in LA

Clinging to the one-run lead in the top of the eighth, Carlos Correa worked a one-out walk to bring Yordan Alvarez to the plate, who demolished a 415-foot two-run homer to add two big insurance runs, extending the lead to 3-0. Kendall Graveman took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the eighth and, despite allowing a leadoff single and hitting a batter, was able to finish a scoreless inning.

With Ryan Pressly on the paternity list, Houston handed the ball to Ryne Stanek to close things out in the bottom of the ninth. He would get the job done, earning the save by retiring the Dodgers in order, giving the Astros the win at the dismay of the fans in Los Angeles.

Up Next: This short series's second and final game will begin thirty minutes earlier on Wednesday at 8:40 PM Central. For the Dodgers, they will get the debut of Max Scherzer (8-4, 2.76 ERA), while Jake Odorizzi (4-5, 4.30 ERA) will take the mound for the Astros.

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