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NASCAR: Pocono preview and predictions

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The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Tricky Triangle this weekend for a doubleheader weekend. This will be a milestone race for NASCAR as for the first time there will be two races on both Saturday and Sunday. The first race on Saturday will be a 130 lap race around the two and a half mile track and the race on Sunday will be a little bit longer as it is a 140 lap race. The field will be set similarly as it has been all season after the shutdown. The top 16 in points will start from a random draw. After the race on Saturday, the field will see an invert like we have seen for the mid-week races only this time the invert will only include the lead lap cars. The one thing about these races is that the drivers will use the same cars for both races should they finish on Saturday. The backup car regulations will remain the same as any other weekend. I personally can't wait to see how this goes.

Last week, Ryan Blaney took home the checkered flag in one of the most sensational finishes in NASCAR History. On the final lap, Blaney edged out Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a photo finish as Aric Almirola finished third backwards. The race was unusual for Talladega's standards as the dreaded "big one" didn't happen until the final 300 yards of the race. Coming to the checkered flag, Ryan Blaney threw a block to try to stop Erik Jones from taking the spot. This led to a chain reaction causing Jones and John-Hunter Nemechek to smash into the wall causing a melee at the finish-line. The finish reminded me much of the 2007 Daytona 500 when Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick both finished side-by-side as chaos took place behind him. It was truly a spectacle to behold and it definitely made up for the rain-delay that pushed the race back to Sunday.

I would be remiss if I didn't talk about what happened with Darrell Wallace Jr. Overall, the sport was in the headlines once again after it appeared a noose was found in Wallace's garage stall. This sparked outrage not only on the track but off it as well as major news outlets picked up this story. Before the race started, the sport rallied behind Wallace and walked with him and his car to the front of the grid and stood with him at the front of the grid. Even car owner and legendary driver, Richard Petty, made the trip to be with his driver. After a fourteenth place finish for Bubba, the FBI concluded that the rope was indeed fashioned like a noose but Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime. It was discovered that the noose on the rope pull was there since October 2019. How or why it got there is beyond anyone's knowledge. Was it maliciously placed there, absolutely not, but was it the right move for NASCAR to look into it? Yes.

In these times of racial tension in America and with everything that has gone on with the Confederate flag, NASCAR took every precaution to make sure their driver wasn't a victim of a hate crime. And I commend them for that. Was the statement that was put out by Steve Phelps worded the best? No, but you have to realize what the man was dealing with over the past couple of weeks and why he felt so strongly about what was going on. And for everyone who says this was a hoax or wants to compare it to Jussie Smollett, they obviously didn't look at the rope and see how strongly it resembles a noose. These people claim that they see knots like this at tracks all the time which is ridiculous considering NASCAR looked over all 1,684 garage stalls and came to the conclusion that only one was tied like that. Any person that sees all that evidence and is still convinced it's a conspiracy is lying to themselves and should never be taken seriously when it comes to anything.

Okay so on a much lighter note, the driver that I have winning Saturday is Kevin Harvick. Over the course of his illustrious career, Harvick has come extremely close to victory here but somehow has yet to win. Back in July 2017, he seemed to have the race in hand until Kyle Busch moved him out of the way. In 2018, he led with 89 laps only to fall to fourth as Martin Truex Jr. went on to win. On Saturday, I can see him finally breaking the streak and getting his third win of the season. He has been too strong here to be winless, and this weekend I think there is a very good chance he at least gets a victory in one of the races. Look for Harvick in the #4 Mustang to take the checkered flag.

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Composite image by Brandon Strange.

In recent reports, there have been multiple rumors that the 76ers could make a push for James Harden if they can sign Mike D' Antoni as their head coach. As the 76ers fired Brett Brown in August, they are now looking for a culture change. So, it won't come as a surprise if the 76ers try to trade Joel Embiid for Harden. Hopefully, Daryl Morey recognizes the talent of Harden and rejects the idea of trading him.

Harden is easily the second greatest Rocket of in franchise history, including being second in scoring. In Harden's eight-year tenure with the Rockets, he has become an NBA MVP, made the All-NBA team seven times, three-time scoring champ, and an eight-time All-Star. Harden's resume with the Rockets is impressive, including going to Western Conference Finals twice. Ever since Harden came to Houston in 2012, he revamped the Rockets' franchise with eight consecutive playoff runs. Before Harden came to the Rockets, this franchise had missed the playoffs three times in a row.

Harden also attracted huge free agents like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, which helped him succeed in his Rockets tenure. He has made the Rockets an attractive team to play on since being in Houston for eight years.

Even though Harden has been great with the Rockets, he has not reached the Finals yet. That has been the huge question mark on Harden's resume while playing for the Rockets. Honestly, there are certain moments when Harden has disappeared in big games. In 2015 versus the Clippers in Game 6 of the Western Semifinals, Harden shot 5 of 20 from the field, and was benched in the 4th quarter by Kevin McHale, as the Rockets were led by Josh Smith to force a Game 7 in Houston. Also, during the Spurs-Rockets Western Semifinals of 2017, Harden had another disappearance in Game 6. Harden shot 2 of 11 from the field with only 10 points as the Rockets lost to the Spurs 114-75 without Kawhi Leonard.

Despite those two horrible examples, Harden was extremely close in 2018 versus the Warriors but an injury to Paul's hamstring stopped the Rockets' momentum, as they lost in game 7 by missing 22 straight three-pointers. The following year, the Rockets lost to the Warriors again without Kevin Durant because Paul and Harden were not on the same page in the Western Semifinals. Things were not different this year, as the Rockets were overpowered by the Lakers 4-1.

Trading the 32-year-old Harden could be tempting because of the recent playoff failures, but he is a generational player. In the last 5 years, Harden has dominated the NBA with his elite scoring. Harden has averaged over 30 plus points per game in the last three seasons. He is also classified as one of the greatest scorers of all-time behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Wilt Chamberlin.

Stephen A. Smith lays out why he thinks Harden is the greatest scorer currently in the NBA in the video below.

James Harden is 'the greatest scorer in the NBA' - Stephen A. | First Take youtu.be

After all the things Harden has accomplished in Houston, is he still untouchable? Honestly, if Harden is traded, the culture for the Rockets will drastically change, especially with new players coming to Houston. In my opinion, Harden and Morey are very close but Morey is blinded by his own decisions because of Harden. Morey built this team around James and does anything to please him. He wanted to keep D'Antoni around because of Harden, which is not helpful for the Rockets. If the Rockets are going to win big, Morey has to be stronger with his own judgement of the team, and not Harden's.

If the Rockets decided to trade James Harden to the 76ers, they could receive Embiid and Josh Richardson, which is still good. The Rockets would get a big man, who is a superstar, and a great wing defender, which gave Harden problems two years when he played for the Heat. This would not be bad decision if the Rockets decided to move on from Harden.

Before Morey decides to pull the trigger, he needs to digest Harden's accolades, including his shortcomings. Hopefully, the right decision is made for the Rockets' organization.

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