THE PALLILOG

It's not just the Rockets with something at stake this weekend

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

Quite a week as it pertains to sports. The Milwaukee Bucks opting to not play their scheduled playoff game Wednesday created an unprecedented domino effect of others choosing to do the same across multiple sports. The hope is that the one game pause will be means to a long game end of fixing some of America's ills such as police brutality against black people. Those who don't see nobility in the objective are largely beyond hope. The players pulling the plug on the season would have been foolhardy and financially catastrophic for them. Hence, plug unpulled. Principles should always matter. Principal usually does.

It is an American disgrace that so many on each side of the political aisle so often adhere to a "we're 100 percent right and they're 100 percent wrong" attitude. The casualization of lying is its own epidemic.

Rockets relaunch

And now back to the games. The additional time off between games four and five of their first round playoff series certainly isn't a bad thing for the Rockets. Despite Russell Westbrook's absence they seemed in control with a two games to none lead over Oklahoma City. That edge disappeared as the Rockets squandered leads in games three and four. Westbrook had been upgraded to questionable for game five had it been played Wednesday. An extra 48 hours or more of rehab time for Westbrook's injured quad could well make the difference on the will he or won't he play front, and if he will then his of level of explosiveness should benefit. The Rockets could get through this series without Westbrook. Against the Lakers they'd have little chance without him. That is unless LeBron James or Anthony Davis went down injured.

If two weeks ago I told you that Westbrook won't have played through four games of the series and that James Harden thus far would be maybe the fourth best guard in the Western Conference this postseason, you'd probably think the Rockets were in dire straits. It's not as if Harden is having a bad series. Utah's Donovan Mitchell and Denver's Jamal Murray have been spectacular and then some. Dallas's Luke Doncic may have produced the single best all-around game anyone will put up in the bubble.

Astros get another shot at the A's

The Astros and A's open a three game series Friday night at Minute Maid Park that is both huge and of little significance, and that is within a purely baseball context. If the Astros hope to win the American League West for a fourth year in a row, it's just about a must that they take at least two out of three this weekend. The A's lead is four and a half game with only a month to play. If they increase that lead here, it's close to curtains for the Astros AL West hopes. That's the huge part of the series. The insignificance comes in that the Astros are probably better than 95 percent to make the expanded playoff field by finishing at least second in their division. The Rangers, Angels, and Mariners are all terrible. It's extremely unlikely the Astros drop below any of them in the standings. About the only way it could happen is if the Rangers whip up on the Astros over the 10 head-to-head matchups they have in September.

The A's have been a lot better than the Astros in this short season to date, most notably sweeping them out of Oakland a couple of weeks ago. The Rockies swept three from Arizona this week to creep a game over .500. That means the Astros in their 31 games to date have four wins over teams presently with a winning record, their four over the Rockies last week. The only good teams the Astros have faced are the A's, Dodgers, and Padres. Against those three teams the Astros are 0-8. But none of that matters when the playoffs start.

With the Astros' schedule disrupted by the Hurricane Laura scare and the A's skipping their scheduled finale in Arlington as part of the social injustice protest, the pitching matchups for Astros-A's get tweaked. Chris Bassitt isn't Jacob DeGrom or Gerrit Cole but he has been the A's best starter so far. Bassitt was to have pitched against the Rangers Thursday. Instead he'll open vs. the Astros and Lance McCullers. Mike Fiers will not pitch in the series for the A's.

Out of tune

Anyone else wonder how much Elton John freaked out (not in a happy way) at Ivanka Trump using "I'm Still Standing" as her intro music before speaking Thursday night?

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Inside two weeks now to the Texans at Chiefs regular season opener. The Chiefs are favored by 10. Taking the points. Lukewarmly.

2. MLB's seven inning doubleheaders are silly.

3. Reginald Dwight's best songs: Bronze-Saturday Night's Alright Silver-Bennie and the Jets Gold-Someone Saved My Life Tonight

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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