THE PALLILOG

Pallilo's view: You might have missed it in your World Series celebrations, but the Rockets are rolling

James Harden and Chris Paul have only had one game together. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Almost completely overshadowed by THE ASTROS RUN TO WIN THE WORLD SERIES!...The Rockets have ripped off a 9-3 start.

For the most part so far this season no Chris Paul, no problem. Though for the Rockets to max out on their potential they will need a healthy and high-level Paul come playoff time in the spring. For now however James Harden sure isn’t missing his new to-have-been running mate. With Paul having been out since aggravating his sore knee in the season opener, the Rockets’ offense has been what it was last season: really good with everything revolving around James Harden. With Paul for a full season, Harden probably had little shot this season at the NBA MVP award for which he was runner-up last season. Without Paul for at least a quarter of the regular season schedule with Harden again putting up monster numbers and the Rockets running with Golden State at the top of the Western Conference,  he may be the early favorite. With Paul George and Carmelo Anthony added to the Oklahoma City roster, Russell Westbrook’s chances of repeating as MVP are very small. And with the MVP based entirely on the regular season, voters should not penalize Harden for any doubts they have about his ability to deliver deeply into the postseason.

The Cavaliers here Thursday meant the only visit of the season from LeBron James. Such visits are to be savored. LeBron is at worst is the fourth greatest player of all-time. Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the others in the Fabbest of Fours. LeBron might be number two. In the 80s I was in my teens and 20s. LeBron James is better than were Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. And they were awesome! LeBron vs. Kobe Bryant isn’t close. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Tim Duncan, and Hakeem Olajwuon are four more legends of the game. Bill Russell is the greatest winner in hoops history. None were as great a player as LeBron.

King James turns 33 next month, with little slippage showing in his game. He’s off to a start of a 14th consecutive season averaging more than 25 points per game. No one else has done 12. James is the greatest physical specimen to ever play basketball and still has a shot to make it a legit argument vs. Jordan for greatest player ever. Those who knock James for his 3-5 record in NBA Finals series need to grasp a couple of things. Number one, LeBron has led eight teams to the NBA Finals! Two, only once has he lost in the Finals as a favorite. Three, the 2007 Cavs’ club he carried to the Finals as a 22-year old is, except James, arguably the weakest Finals roster ever. Or maybe I’m grossly underrating the Daniel Gibson, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavolic, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas quintet. They were the other Cavs who started games during the Spurs’ easy four game sweep.

On to LA

The Texans play at the Rams Sunday in what must be one of the lesser anticipated games in Texans’ history. With DeShaun Watson finished until 2018, their season is functionally finished at 3-5 (and as 12 point underdogs at the super-surprising Rams, likely 3-6). More interesting this week was Head Coach Bill O’Brien sounding ridiculous in talking about how Colin Kaepernick “hasn’t played football in a while” as a reason for not signing him, after having signed Matt McGloin and T.J. Yates off the street. And then this week cutting McGloin to sign Josh “I last threw an NFL pass in 2011” Johnson. It wasn’t the first absurd utterance from O’Brien when talking about his QBs. In this instance though his owner did him no favors. Look, regardless of how you feel about Kaepernick’s social activism, it’s Bob McNair’s decision to make, whether on a football or personal level. In the end they are McNair’s Texans not Houston’s Texans. If McNair is timid after his botched (though unfairly excoriated) “can’t have the inmates running the prison” remark, so be it. But if the following is true then McNair should simply and directly have said or issued a statement: “There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Colin Kaepernick will play for the Texans.”  

For your attention if of interest…I had the chance to narrate an audio book written by Chris Campise celebrating the Astros run to the ultimate in their sport. It is called “History Earned.” It’s available via download at www.historyearned.com  Cost is $13.99 with $1 from every purchase earmarked toward ongoing (and will be for a long time) Harvey relief efforts.

Buzzer beaters

1. Which game is less interesting: UT-Kansas or A&M-New; Mexico?  2. I wish Houston wasn’t as lousy a major college basketball market as there is in America   3. Best puddings:  Bronze-chocolate  Silver-tapioca  Gold-butterscotch

Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans Saturday play a lousy 4-9 Jets team Saturday now without its leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and leading pass catcher (Quincy Enunwa). Then they face a probably Carson Wentz-less Eagles team seeing its Super Bowl championship defense die away. Then the awful Jaguars come to Houston. 12-4 is right there for the Texans, but that will only be enough for the number three seed in the AFC and a Wild Card weekend home game unless the fading Steelers rise up Sunday to knock off the Patriots. That game is in Pittsburgh. The Patriots' final two games are both at home against the Bills and Jets.

With the Patriots losing their game to the Miami Miracle, on one hand you can say the Texans blew a massive opportunity in losing at home to the Colts. On the other hand the Colts were clearly the better team in ending the Texans' nine game winning streak.

The loss to Indy was a reality check. The Texans are a pretty good team, but glaring areas of weakness keep it from being a reeeeally good team. The offensive line is flat lousy in pass protection, though sometimes Deshaun Watson makes it look even worse by holding on to the ball too long. Pending free agent moves in the offseason, one of the Texans' top two draft picks next spring MUST be spent on an offensive lineman, the other on a cornerback (if not on another o-lineman). Even in their zone-heavy scheme, the Texans lack corners who run well enough. If the pass rush isn't raising hell, the secondary is Swiss cheesy. Remember, the Texans have an extra second pick this spring, acquired from Seattle in last year's Duane Brown trade.

If somehow the Texans chump up two of their remaining three games, as long as one of the losses isn't to the Jaguars they still win the AFC South even if the Titans or Colts win out.

Coogs' house

None of the Phi Slama Jama era Houston Cougar basketball teams started a season better than 5-0. Sunday Kelvin Sampson's Coogs go for a Bo Derek (perfect 10, anybody remember Bo?) start. Only UH team ever to open 10-0: the Elvin Hayes-led '67-'68 squad that went 31-0 and along the way beat UCLA in the Game of the Century before the Bruins obliterated the Cougars at the Final Four.

The new Fertitta Center is a modest-sized gem, and currently offers the hands down best sports environment in town. Non-Cougars are never going to embrace UH in big numbers especially not in a major league sports town, so UH's "For the City" slogan doesn't hit the mark. But so what? Drawing more of the Cougar base, plus any outside of it who might have some interest piqued by intensely played quality college basketball is good enough.

Rockets rumors

The Rockets have been vastly less excitement-inducing this season, though James Harden's closing brilliance in a 50 point explosion Thursday night to put away the Lakers was a doozy. Getting back to and then over ,500 is the Rockets' near term goal. A good month of sustained quality play is needed to restore credibility. Chris Paul's overall level of play remains a serious concern. The rumor this week of their interest in Cleveland malcontent J.R. Smith, egads! That would render Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey Desperate Daryl. Morey is trying to recover from his awful offseason, but I can't believe he sees J.R. Smith as worthwhile.

Speaking of Morey's offseason work, the Rockets Saturday gain the right to trade Carmelo Anthony. What a bonanza must await in return!

Astros still armed

Not a great look for the Astros that they tugged on their purse strings while the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams guaranteed Charlie Morton $30 million dollars over the next two years. The Astros did not err. Morton was on balance outstanding in his two Astro seasons but he wore down badly this year, and at 35 years old his arm is a ticking bomb. The Astros should add an established starting pitcher, but even if Jeff Luhnow doesn't, the Collin McHugh/Brad Peacock/Josh James/Framber Valdez quartet isn't an indefensible plan to cover three rotation spots while waiting on elite prospect Forrest Whitley's arrival during the 2019 season. If poor performance/injuries are issues, nothing precludes a notable in-season trade. That Verlander fellow worked out okay a couple of seasons ago. A left handed hitter is the obvious other logical Astros' target.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Pipe down Tony La Russa. Harold Baines making the Baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous. 2. La Russa also used to lambaste those who dared to believe that Mark McGwire might have been a steroid guy. 3. Best teams in the AFC: Bronze-Patriots Silver-Chargers Gold-Chiefs (but barely post-loser Kareem Hunt).

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