Like the year after keeping up with a Kardashian, maybe losing the MVP will motivate the Beard to elevate his team as well as his game?

James Harden: You mad bro?

James Harden.

I said it all season long and I will say it again right now, James Harden deserved the NBA MVP Award given out Monday night in Los Angeles. The numbers he put up were out of this world and historical as they mesmerized the league while almost single-handedly carrying his team from the bottom of the Western Conference to a top 4 seed at playoff time. The 30 point streak and all the numbers that put him in elite company with names like Jordan and Chamberlin were as impressive as any season put up by any player in the last 20 years. However, lost in all the numbers and statistics is the underlying reason why he didn't win; it's a popularity contest too. The award is voted on by media members that cover the league on a regular basis and we all know that in an election, even if it's just for an award and not for public office, anything can happen and lately it usually does.

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Since we don't know the criteria for winning this award, it's hard to pinpoint why Harden lost and Giannis Antetokounmpo won. Did it come down to defense and who plays both ends of the court better? Was it about team success and who had more wins? The year the Beard lost to Steph Curry, they said it was about the team with more wins. Then when Russell Westbrook won it, it was about a spectacular individual campaign that no one had seen since Oscar Robertson and wins weren't as big a factor? The Greek Freak and his Milwaukee Bucks had the best record in the NBA this season, but Harden had better individual stats than Giannis. So, which is it? What factors matter the most and can we get some sort of explanation as to why one individual was chosen over the other deserving candidates? At the end of the day, as much as we all crunch numbers and decipher the stats and box scores, the fact of the matter is, likeability matters too.

James Harden, Giannis AntetokounmpoComposite photo by Brandon Strange

Giannis is the Cinderella story coming from rags to riches as he achieved stardom and national acclaim all while playing in the small market of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He appreciates everything and everyone, every day. He is humble, honest and respectful as he gives more credit out than he ever accepts for himself. He makes it less about SWAG and more about humility and class. He has matured quickly in his short time in the league and he has never lost sight of where he came from and all the people that helped him to get where he is now. He loves his teammates and coaches and appreciates their effort both good and bad because, without them, you are alone on a sinking ship with no chance for team success. He conveys passion and grit, plays both ends of the court with a tenacity that sets a tone for everyone around him and accepts blame instead of passing the buck. Team wins are more important than individual accolades and his goals are centered around winning an NBA title for the city of Milwaukee. In short, he walks the walk and talks the talk.

Hakeem Olajuwon playing for the Houston Rockets in 1993Photo by Tim DeFrisco/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

You see, in sports, like society these days, people don't miss anything and thanks to advanced technology and social media, everybody sees and hears just about everything. They see the good and the bad and they pass judgment as quick as a news cycle. When the media is involved with voting for an award and they see you every day and bombard you with a plethora of questions every night, how you act and the way you answer is almost as important as how you play. Oh, and they see that too. For every game-winning shot and big-time three, they also see every play you quit on and every complaint and "T." The eyes of the world see and hear what you do and don't do and know when you were sleeping and when you were out too late. When you get to the highest level, under the brightest of lights, how you lose can be as important as how you win and how you carry yourself is your calling card. Giving credit to others, supporting your squad, picking up your teammates and showing humility all matter. Showing emotion is a good thing when done the right way and doing so with respect and professionalism can elevate a player in ways that just putting the ball through the hoop alone simply cannot do. When you lose a tough series, stick around to shake hands. When the odds are against you, show up anyways and give props to the victor, just like they did for you one year ago. It may not seem fair, especially when your favorite player, who plays for your favorite team, loses the biggest individual award in the league, but life isn't fair and sometimes you have to play the game, both on and off the court.

Rockets Chris Paul , James Harden, Clint CapelaPhoto by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

My hope for James Harden going forward is that he takes this loss and uses it as motivation. I hope he finds fuel in knowing they gave his award to someone else and it may have nothing to do with how he played the game. I hope he uses this experience as motivation to work harder and train longer and become more focused. The catch is that I don't want him to just focus on his individual game, I want him to focus on his team, teammates, coaches and how he can elevate everyone around him with the way he carries himself on a daily basis. Support more, complain less. Accept blame as easily as you welcome praise. Do less and achieve more.

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Which pitcher should start Game 2 for Houston? Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Another magnificent Astros’ regular season is complete, all 106 wins worth. The 162 game marathon truly determines the best teams in a given year. Now it’s the postseason sprint where a really good four weeks is what it takes for any of the twelve teams hoping for autumn glory. The path is notably easier for the Astros, Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves who earned byes past the new best-of-three Wild Card series. Since the first Wild Card was introduced in 1995 there have been 27 postseasons, so that makes 54 World Series spots over those 27 years. Only 35 percent of the time (19 of 54) has the team with the best record in its league advanced to the World Series. In only seven of the 27 years of the Wild Card era has the team with the best record in the Major Leagues gone on to win the tournament. This year the Astros are obviously the best team in the American League. The Dodgers obviously are the class of the National League. The likelihood that we get another Astros-Dodgers World Series matchup five years after the first? Definitely less than 50-50. Maybe not even 30-70.

Should Framber Valdez start Game 2?

After getting rocked in consecutive starts following his record 25 consecutive “quality starts” streak, Framber Valdez had a strong peace of mind five innings no runs 10 strikeouts showing in the season finale Wednesday. For most of the season it was quite evident that Framber would/should slot behind Justin Verlander as the Astros’ number two playoff starter. But should he? Things have recently changed. On season body of work Framber is an easy call, but as the Astros can attest to from two of the last three World Series outcomes, teams don’t win in October (and early November) based on their body of work. They win on what they do in October (and early November). Cristian Javier has been much better down the stretch. He’s been darn near untouchable, firing 23 shutout innings with just six hits allowed over his last four starts. Lance McCullers also factors into the equation.

Game two is at Minute Maid Park. For his career McCullers has been excellent at MMP (2.67 earned run average) and not at all trustworthy on the road (4.43 ERA). He made only eight starts this season but the form chart held: 1.50 ERA at home, 3.57 away. Framber meanwhile was notably better on the road. 3.54 ERA in Houston, a sparkling 2.27 everywhere else. Javier had the most even splits, 2.26 home, 2.84 road.

Remember that with the TV-dictated schedule, if the series goes to a game four (on the road) Verlander would have four days rest if the choice was to use him trying to closeout if up two-one, or stay alive if down 2-1. Using Verlander in game four would mean if a decisive game five (at Minute Maid Park) was necessary the fourth different starting pitcher would be needed.

So…there is no definitive right answer, but I’d go Javier at home in game two, Framber on the road in game three. Then if up 2-1, McCullers in game four hoping to win then and have Verlander set for game one of the League Championship Series. If Verlander went in game four or five of the Division Series he’d be unavailable until game three of the LCS, and that would be his only LCS start unless brought back on three days rest if there was a game seven. Verlander in game four would have McCullers ready for game five, at home.

Path of least resistance

The Astros await the Blue Jays-Mariners survivor. There is no huge gap between the two but if the Astros I slightly lean toward preferring to face the Mariners. The Blue Jays’ batting order is way more potent than what the M’s put forth, it’s a better lineup than the Astros have. On the other hand, the Mariners have the better pitching and defense. Tiebreaker? No customs to deal with in Seattle!

Some of this is on Dusty Baker

Ultimately it falls on players to perform when called upon, but it seems reasonable to cast some blame Dusty Baker’s way for the generally lousy production of trade deadline acquisitions Christian Vazquez and Trey Mancini. Upon arrival Vazquez was having a substantially better season than Martin Maldonado, Mancini notably better relative to the tumbled over the hill Yuli Gurriel. Baker opted to ride the incumbents more than use the newbies. That could not have helped Vazquez and Mancini. Mancini looks broken at the plate, hitting into more double plays than he has hits over his last 45 at bats (six GIDP, four hits). With Maldonado and Gurriel obviously to be used as the primary if not every game starters, the most notable lineup decision to be made is who is the designated hitter (or plays left field if Yordan Alvarez is DHing). Aledmys Diaz looked to be making the best case, but went one for 19 to finish the season.

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