Pallilo's View: Why aren't the Rockets creating more of a buzz?

James Harden is doing historic things.

Houston is in a bit of a sports malaise phase right now. That is in largest part on the 4-8 Texans, playing meaningless games other than to employees, their family members, close friends, and of course…gamblers. It certainly isn’t on the Rockets, their phenomenal start at 19-4 headed by the best offensive player on the planet these days in James Harden. So the other part of the Sports Houston ennui is on…Houston. On the individual level there are always plentiful reasons (not excuses, reasons) to not be in to a particular team, but on the broader scale it’s a bit of an indictment of a sports town when a team kicking tail and taking names has very little buzz attached to it.

No doubt the Astros’ dramatic run to World Series glory drained the emotional tank for many. It’ll be tough to ever have a Houston team generate the emotional investment that so many poured into the Astros earning history. So tough that I doubt that the Texans winning a Super Bowl would match it.  I just hope if the Rockets are playing in June most at least deem them worthy of paying attention.

The Chicago Bulls are an atrocity this season and going on 20 years removed from their last championship, yet they sell out every game in an arena much larger than Toyota Center. The Sacramento Kings last made the playoffs and last finished a winning season in 2006. The Kings are outdrawing the Rockets this season, barely, but they are. Yes the Kings are the only game in Sac-town but it’s a small town compared to Houston. The Dallas Mavericks have sold out every game this season. The Mavs stink. They stunk last season and haven’t won a playoff series since winning the championship in 2011. Uncomfortable reality for the south end of I-45: Dallas rates as a better sports town than Houston. Heck, the Rangers outdrew the Astros this year. And Dallas has the NHL. Pull it off Tilman Fertitta!

This is a Rockets town, when the Rockets win big. Wait, they are winning big…and…  

There is some hangover from the way the Rockets went out last year. James Harden was so awful in the humiliating elimination loss vs. the Spurs that until there is on court atonement in the postseason some just won’t pray at the Rockets’ altar. But that seems throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Three guys in the NBA are averaging 22 points and seven assists: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Harden put up at least 22 points and at least seven assists in the Rockets first 22 games! Durability is a component of greatness. The three seasons before this one Harden missed two games total: one because of a suspension for a below the belt shot to LeBron, the other because the Rockets basically made him sit out one late last season.

Harden is ascending toward all-time top 10 shooting guard status.  Michael Jordan is the unchallenged #1. Then come in either order Jerry West and Kobe Bryant. Then the tier with Dwyane Wade, Clyde Drexler, George Gervin, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, old-timer shout-out Sam Jones, and a few other plausibles. To Houston-ize it: James Harden or Tracy McGrady?

So cool that Jose Altuve and JJ Watt this week shared Sports Illustrated Sports Person of the Year honors. Not the first time two guys in different sports in the same city share it. In 1979 Willie Stargell and Terry Bradshaw won as Pirate and Steeler. Altuve and Watt get there in some ways at diametrically opposite points in their careers. What a 2017 for Altuve. MVP, World Series champion, at or darn near the peak of his vast abilities. Altuve does good works off the field but fundamentally his SI salute is for his season on the field. 2017 for Watt on the other hand is the lowest point of his playing career. Just last week walking for the first time since his October tibial plateau fracture, on top of two major back surgeries, it’s unlikely that Watt will ever be an on-field superstar again. But what he did in the aftermath of Harvey laying waste to Houston, a noble goal of raising 200-thousand dollars for relief efforts, multiplied more than 185 times to more than 37 million raised, all on the back reverence for Watt?  Superduperstar.

Altuve has work to do to be a Hall of Famer. You know, if he bangs out 200 hits for another nine consecutive seasons Altuve would total 10 fewer hits than Craig Biggio? Altuve is the best second baseman since Joe Morgan, who is generally considered one of the four best second basemen of all time. None of the others (Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie) played more recently than 80 years ago.

Watt meanwhile is probably a Hall of Famer already. With Terrell Davis in, Watt’s three Defensive Player of the Year Awards (only Lawrence Taylor matches that) should do it. Watt has no shot to match the quantitative stats of the all-time greats. He has more than 125 fewer sacks than Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Watt’s 76 sacks are exactly half as many as has Julius Peppers.  Ray Childress finished with 76 ½. But during his window of greatness Watt could hang with anybody who ever played. 15 years from now is there a Texan whose career you’d rather have had than Watt’s? The Texans sure need that answer to be DeShaun Watson. Or Rick Smith’s 26 years as General Manager will really have underwhelmed.

BUZZER BEATERS: 1. Thumbs up for egg nog, fruitcake not so much   2. LaVar Ball: Shut up and go away.   3. More appealing than committing to three hours of Texans-Niners: Bronze-watching paint dry.  Silver-watching grass grow.  Gold-snail races.

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Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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