The Pallilog

Rockets are better, but are they good enough? Astros shuffle reassigns Reid Ryan, while Nolan Ryan is out

So how pumped are you about this Rockets' season so far? Are you willing to fake it a little? Their 5-3 start is OK, but nothing to fire up the masses.

The Rockets are going to be very good again this season. Somehow that's probably part of the problem with the relative apathy for this team. Other than within the Rockets organization, or among the most loyal and hopeful fans, the Rockets are not considered a first tier NBA championship contender.

Russell Westbrook makes them a more compelling game to game watch. Other than that (and The Brodie is a big that), the Rockets have a bit of same old same old feel to them. Their same old same old isn't bad. It's quite good. James Harden is going to keep putting up astounding stats. The Rockets are going to keep firing up three point shots like no other. They will win plenty of games. But does it excite you on a regular basis? Even with the Warriors out of the way this season, until or unless the Rockets are in at least the Western Conference Final, they're not going to be vigorously embraced as a title threat. That's a tough standard. But it's where the Rockets are.

Astros making off-season news

It's still kind of letdown mode from the Astros losing the last two games of the World Series. Plus the off season Hot Stove of transactions isn't even warming yet, as we wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs to pitch for the next several years. Among many other moves.

Anyone can understand a father wanting to set up his son going forward. UH basketball Head Coach Kelvin Sampson has done a stupendous job rebuilding the Cougars, so in his new contract was able to have his son Kellen designated as "head coach in waiting." Jim Crane is the lead owner of the Astros, so we should all grasp his moving son Jared into Astros' business operations, and moving out Reid Ryan in the process. I now note that I don't know Reid really at all on a personal level, and not all that deeply on a professional level. While it's the on field results that by far most shape the image of the franchise, when the Astros were a joke in this city, bringing on the relentlessly upbeat, approachable, and classy son of Nolan as President of Business Operations was a notable step in the Astros' return to relevance. With Reid reassigned, in a non-shocking non-coincidence, Nolan is out as an Astros Special Advisor.

Key stretch for Texans after off week

Allow me a brief semi-screed about the Texans' open week. Most of the sports world refers to it as a "bye" week. Most of the sports world is wrong! A bye is when an individual or team advances in a tournament bracket without having to play. If for the first time in franchise history the Texans finish as one of the top two seeds in the AFC, they will earn a bye week past the Wild Card round directly into the Divisional round of the playoffs. A week during the season when a team has no game scheduled is not a bye week. It's an open week, or an off week, or a week without a game. It's not a bye week! I feel a little better for that, thanks.

As for the Texans, their open week (!) finds them in good position in the AFC South. At 6-3, they'll pick up tackling the defining stretch of their regular season schedule. Deshaun Watson gives them hope in any game anywhere, but it's unlikely the Texans win two road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl. They need the playoff bye which means one home win from a spot in AFC Championship game. There are two division leaders ahead of the Texans in the AFC. The Ravens are 6-2, the Patriots are 7-1. The Texans play both within their next three games: at Baltimore, home vs New England. Those challenges are sandwiched around a home game with the Colts. Indy is behind the Texans at 5-3 (before the Colts play the dismal Dolphins Sunday) but with a win at NRG Stadium would own the AFC South tiebreaker. With a loss in Baltimore they're probably Texans Toast with regard to securing a bye. With a win they'd have a real shot at bit, winning tiebreakers over both the Ravens and the Chiefs.

SEC showdown

College football's latest regular season game of the year has LSU at Alabama Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide has rolled the Tigers in their last eight meetings. Two of the last three years LSU didn't even score.This season's Alabama's defense isn't up to usual elite Nick Saban unit standards, LSU has an explosive modern up-tempo attack for the first time, well, ever. With a strong showing and a win Tiger quarterback Joe Burrow can about cinch up the Heisman Trophy. LSU's only Heisman winner did it 60 years ago, Billy Cannon in 1959. Entirely gratuitous follow up fact!: Syracuse won the National Championship that season, beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

Buzzer Beaters

1. I'll take LSU +6 ½ 2. Toronto or Seattle Sunday? MLS Cup matchup! 3. Best rarely used synonyms for steal: Bronze-snaffle Silver-purloin Gold-filch





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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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