The Pallilog

On Kelvin Sampson's 21-1 Cougars, the Rockets, Astros and Texans

On Kelvin Sampson's 21-1 Cougars, the Rockets, Astros and Texans
Kelvin Sampson is rolling along.

Blackjack for the Houston Cougars! 21. 21 wins just one loss. They will never be a citywide big deal, but they are a heckuva story. With some help this weekend UH could crack the Top 10 when the polls come out Monday. The Coogs get the weekend off ahead of their biggest back-to-back games of the season (at Central Florida then home vs. Cincinnati). Right now they'd likely be looking at a number three seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Shooting blanks

It's on to February for the Rockets, who will be challenged in the short term to move on from the stink of the gigantic rotten egg they laid Tuesday against the Pelicans. The Rockets would do fine to split their back-to-back games at Denver and Utah Friday and Saturday, coming off of their worst loss of the season. And remember the Rockets have a loss to the Cavaliers.

Without Clint Capela the Rockets are a simply awful defensive team, but Tuesday night was especially lame as they gave up 121 points to a ravaged Pelicans' lineup that was down superstar Anthony Davis and three of its next four leading scorers on the season. The silver lining in defeat was James Harden extending his 30 point games streak to a crazy 24 in a row, though Harden was part of the night's overall mess in making just 11 of 32 shots. It may just be a shooting slump, or maybe the fact that Mike D'Antoni continues to let Harden lead the league in minutes played per game is taking some toll. Over the last four games, Harden from deep, has been more The Brick than The Beard making just 17 of 63 3 pointers. That's a wretched 27 percent.

Overall, Harden's January was one of the most prolific in NBA history. 14 games played, an average of 43.6 points per game. No matter how you slice it, that is stunning output. But it is also fact that Harden's January shooting percentages both overall and from three finished lower than his season averages.

Speaking of Anthony Davis (and Capela), unless Tilman Fertitta balked at what would become a massive luxury tax bill going forward it's likely Daryl Morey offered Capela to New Orleans as the centerpiece of a Rockets' bid for Davis. Problem is the Rockets have no other assets worth a darn in trade and while Capela has evolved into an elite role player there is no way that an offer of Capela and chaff can compete with what the Lakers and Celtics can offer.

Another arm

Inside two months to the Astros' season opener, General Manager Jeff Luhnow finally fulfilled his objective of adding a starting pitcher. Turns out the Astros still have a bearded soft-tossing lefty in their rotation! It's not that exciting. It's also not Dallas Keuchel. At one year for four and a half million dollars, Wade Miley is a favorable risk/reward investment. The 32 year old Miley basically stunk for four years before reviving his career in 2018 with the Brewers. He posted a 2.57 ERA over 16 starts then was sensational in four abbreviated playoff starts, though a couple of things seem fluky about Miley's '18 results. For the Astros, he's rotation depth who at minimum helps bridge the gap until superstud prospect Forrest Whitley's expected Astros' debut sometime this year.

Miley's signing slams the door on any possible Keuchel return. Keuchel went into free agency with agent Scott Boras "demanding" a five year contract, target range 100 million dollars. Dreams don't always come true. Keuchel may not yet even have a four year offer. He's 31, not as good as he used to be, and there is a long, long list of long term pitcher contracts that have turned out to be huge mistakes for the signing team.

Never blame a player for taking the very maximum money he can get, if that's the choice made. If you were Keuchel would you take two years 30 million guaranteed to stay with a great team like the Astros or grab three years 45 mil from a projected also-ran? You'd probably take the extra 15 million. Me too.

An odd move

Interesting move with now former Texans quarterback coach Sean Ryan leaving for the same position with the Detroit Lions. All else being equal, would you opt to work with the still developing and darn exciting 24 year Deshaun Watson, or middle of the pack guy Matthew Stafford who turns 31 next week? It's not as if the Lions offer some stable and successful franchise environment. First year Head Coach Matt Patricia drew lousy reviews. Maybe Ryan winds up the play-caller in Detroit. Bill O'Brien wasn't going to give Ryan that opportunity here. Will O'Brien cede control of his offense to anybody?

Buzzer Beaters

1. Marquese Chriss asking the Rockets to play him more or trade him is sadly funny. The Rockets would give him away if they could. 2. The Texans hiring two time PED test flunker Brian Cushing as an assistant strength and conditioning coach is funny. 3. Super Bowl predictions: Bronze-Gladys Knight's national anthem performance will be stellar Silver-Maroon 5's halftime performance gets panned Gold-Patriots 34 Rams 31

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Justin Verlander will start for the Astros on Friday night. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros (22-28, third in the AL West) vs. Oakland Athletics (21-31, fourth in the AL West)

Oakland, California; Friday, 9:40 p.m. EDT

PITCHING PROBABLES: Astros: Justin Verlander (2-2, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 26 strikeouts); Athletics: Ross Stripling (1-8, 5.19 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 32 strikeouts)

BETMGM SPORTSBOOK: LINE Astros -170, Athletics +142; over/under is 8 1/2 runs

BOTTOM LINE: The Oakland Athletics begin a three-game series at home against the Houston Astros on Friday.

Oakland has a 21-31 record overall and a 12-14 record in home games. The Athletics have hit 65 total home runs to rank third in the AL.

Houston is 22-28 overall and 8-13 in road games. The Astros have a 13-4 record in games when they did not allow a home run.

The teams match up Friday for the fifth time this season. The Astros lead the season series 4-0.

TOP PERFORMERS: Brent Rooker has 11 home runs, 17 walks and 32 RBI while hitting .286 for the Athletics. Max Schuemann is 12-for-35 with a double and two RBI over the past 10 games.

Kyle Tucker leads Houston with 17 home runs while slugging .638. Alex Bregman is 9-for-38 with three home runs and six RBI over the last 10 games.

LAST 10 GAMES: Athletics: 2-8, .225 batting average, 5.25 ERA, outscored by 27 runs

Astros: 7-3, .272 batting average, 3.13 ERA, outscored opponents by 20 runs

INJURIES: Athletics: Esteury Ruiz: 10-Day IL (wrist), Darell Hernaiz: 60-Day IL (ankle), Alex Wood: 15-Day IL (rotator cuff), Paul Blackburn: 15-Day IL (foot), Joseph Boyle: 15-Day IL (back), Freddy Tarnok: 60-Day IL (hip), Luis Medina: 60-Day IL (knee), Sean Newcomb: 60-Day IL (knee), Aledmys Diaz: 60-Day IL (calf), Miguel Andujar: 10-Day IL (knee), Ken Waldichuk: 60-Day IL (elbow), Trevor Gott: 60-Day IL (elbow)

Astros: Oliver Ortega: 60-Day IL (elbow), Bennett Sousa: 60-Day IL (shoulder), Penn Murfee: 60-Day IL (elbow), Luis Garcia: 60-Day IL (elbow), Lance McCullers Jr.: 60-Day IL (elbow), Jose Urquidy: 15-Day IL (forearm), Kendall Graveman: 60-Day IL (elbow)

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