THE PALLILOG

Rockets are set to pick up where they left off

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

While Major League Baseball and its players jerk around with regard to coming to terms that yield a 2020 season, the NBA path back to the hardwood is firmed up. An on or about July 31 resumption with a postseason running as late as October 12 has risks and all kinds of logistics to navigate, but we're almost certainly getting there.

When we last saw the Rockets, they were at 40-24 in the sixth seed slot in the Western Conference. They can move up (or down) as one of the 22 of the 30 NBA teams that will gather in Orlando for a partial schedule conclusion to the regular season before it's on to the playoffs. The basic outline for the schedule is teams will pick up where they left off when the season was shut down and play the next eight games on the schedule as of March 12, minus games against the eight teams not heading to Florida. That should make the Rockets' first game back against the Lakers. Their other opponents would be the Trail Blazers, Kings, Mavericks, Bucks, Pacers, 76ers, and Raptors.

James Harden has evidently dropped somewhere from 10 to 20 pounds and is said to be fitter than he's ever been. Russell Westbrook is always in peak physical condition. Could make for a fun couple of months. Or the Rockets could get bounced in the first round.

MLB

As for baseball, the two parties seem as close together on a deal as Muggsy Bogues and George Muresan are close on the all-time NBA height chart. The owners offered an 82 game season with huge additional player pay cuts. The players responded with a 114 game season and no additional cuts. Both proposals were wastes of time. The owners' latest proposal is no further pay cuts, but for only a 50 game schedule. Rome is burning and we have dueling Neros fiddling away.

NFL

I am a white man who cannot possibly on the same level as a black man (or woman) feel or comprehend the struggle, pain, and anger that comes with facing endemic racism both overt and covert. If you are white like New Orleans Saints' quarterback and icon Drew Brees, you can't either. In the ongoing aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Brees struck another nerve Wednesday with his remarks iterating his position about what he considers "disrespecting the flag." Outrage response was swift including from several of Brees's teammates. His comments were not evil. Brees can feel how he wants about the flag/anthem, as can any person. Brees's remarks were insensitive and as he put it "missed the mark" and "lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy." His Thursday apology was comprehensive and reads fully genuine, and was accepted by every teammate who commented. If lasting positives are to emerge from this sorry episode in American history, millions of white Americans are going to have to deal with (maybe embrace is a better word) uncomfortable conversations. I fear the unfortunate reality through this is that most of those who most need to change and for starters really listen, are least likely to have any interest in doing so.

Citing the flag as a symbol of unity is a nice notion. Realities supersede symbols and notions. Those who pour out disgust at anything short of complete oath and fealty to the flag and national anthem would be well served to remember or learn that the Star-Spangled Banner was written in 1814. The "land of the free" didn't mean a damn thing to the slaves of that time. The Star-Spangled banner officially became our national anthem in 1931. 33 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Lenny Dykstra in the news again

Lenny Dykstra was one heck of a baseball player for several years. His 1993 season with the Phillies is one of the greatest ever put up by a leadoff hitter. As tremendous as he was on the field for significant stretches, off the field Dykstra has been as big a slimeball of a human being. He's done time in federal prison for money laundering and fraud, and has a long list of character stains on his record. Dykstra sued former Mets teammate Ron Darling for defamation and libel over information about Dykstra included in Darling's autobiography. Dykstra's suit was dismissed last Friday by a judge who said Dykstra's "reputation for unsportsmanlike conduct and bigotry is already so tarnished that it cannot be further injured." Beautiful.


Buzzer Beaters:

1. There sure have been a lot of NASCAR races lately. At least gas is cheap these days. 2. Probably not as interesting as the Lance Armstrong doc, but I'm in for the Bruce Lee 30 for 30 Sunday night. 3. Greatest sports Bruces happen to all be football: Bronze-Isaac Silver-Matthews Gold-Smith

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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