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

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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Cristian Javier is in better shape this season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.

Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).

Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.

But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.

In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.

Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.

The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.

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