Rockets' fall to fourth disappointing, but matchup with Jazz favors them
Quite a two night stretch that saw the Rockets blow the second seed in the Western Conference and fall to fourth. Second time this season the Rockets wasted a huge lead against the Thunder. This time up 14 in the fourth quarter wasn't enough. It seemed as if Wednesday night Denver would grant the Rockets a reprieve, then the Nuggets rallied from 11 points down with under three and a half minutes to play to pull a game out of their posteriors vs. Minnesota to clinch the two seed. That as Portland wound up rallying from 28 points down to win a game it blatantly had set itself up to lose. As a result, with the Trail Blazers' season series win over the Rockets giving them the tiebreaker, the Rockets drop to a fourth seed first round matchup pairing with fifth seed Utah.
On the radio show Thursday Jeff Van Gundy said the Jazz is by far the toughest first round opponent the Rockets could have drawn. Not sure I agree with that relative to the Thunder, but Utah definitely looms as more problematic than seventh seeded San Antonio likely would have been if the Rockets had secured the two seed. Before losing a meaningless season finale the Jazz won 13 out of 15 games. However, only two of the wins came over playoff teams.
Utah's offense is middling, led by second year guard Donovan Mitchell. In the second round last spring the Rockets rendered then rookie Mitchell very inefficient in dusting the Jazz four games to one in the second round. The Jazz defense is elite, anchored by center Rudy Gobert, the best defensive big man in the game. If the Rockets get Gobert in foul trouble, the Jazz should be muted pretty easily. His presence in the paint and ability to recover in pick and roll situations is the biggest reason Utah can aggressively contest and close out on the perimeter and leads to the most fascinating statistical contrast in this series: Jazz opponents took the fewest three point shots in the league. You well know about the Rockets' again record-shattering bombs away mode.
There is no such thing as a baseball showdown series in mid-April, but the Seattle Mariners try to make a modest statement as they play host to the Astros for three games at newly renamed T-Mobile Park this weekend. The M's 13-2 start is the biggest early season positive surprise in Major League Baseball. In the last 33 seasons Seattle is just the third team to win 13 of its first 15 games. The Mariner offense has been crushing it, scoring at least five runs in all but one game thus far. The Mariners have blasted 36 home runs already, becoming the first MLB team ever to hit at least one homer in all of its first 15 games.
The Astros' stumbling 2-5 season opening road trip already seems a distant memory. After a stink bomb of an offense on that trip, the obviously potent attack has roared to life, leading to the Astros sweeping a multi-series home stand for the first time since the end of the 2004 season when they won six straight games to snare a National League Wild Card spot. Jose Altuve looks great, Carlos Correa looks great. That's because given good health, they're great! Michael Brantley is performing right about as one would expect, George Springer similarly. Alex Bregman is Alex Bregman (don't push it on that minorly tweaked hamstring Alex). This lineup should score truckloads of runs.
It's dueling six game winning streaks and dueling southpaw Wades in the Friday night series opener, with Wade Miley pitching for the Astros, Wade LeBlanc for the Mariners. Then we'll see how much slugging the Mariners can muster Saturday and Sunday when faced with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. The Mariners last played a postseason game in 2001. That's the longest drought in the big four North American leagues.
What a great Final Four it was in Minneapolis. Virginia capping its bounce back from ultimate humiliation of last year being the first ever number one seed to lose to a 16, to ultimate jubilation of topping Texas Tech in overtime to win the National Championship. If a Red Raider, given the choice would you take: A. having won the title but head coach Chris Beard then opting for a job elsewhere, or B. runner-up with Beard staying in Lubbock? I'd think A would win a secret ballot vote tally. The reality of B is quite good.
1. More likely: Rockets fall to the Jazz in round 1 or the Rockets dethrone the Warriors in round 2? 2. Less than two weeks to an extra critical NFL Draft for the Texans 3. Best present NBA nicknames: Bronze-Kevin Durant "The Slim Reaper" (though supposedly KD doesn't like it) Silver-Rudy Gobert "The French Rejection" Gold-Rudy Gobert "The Stifle Tower."