The Pallilog

Rockets' fall to fourth disappointing, but matchup with Jazz favors them

Rockets Mike D'Antoni, James Harden
Composite photo by Jack Brame

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.

Early test 

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.

Final thoughts


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.

Buzzer beaters

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."

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CJ Stroud and Will Anderson Jr both made the list. Composite Getty Image.

Coming off a surprising playoff run with a rookie quarterback in 2023, expectations couldn't be higher for the Houston Texans heading into 2024.

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco recently put his 2024 NFL Top 100 players list together, which includes six Texans players. Here's how Prisco has them ranked, and his outlook for the season.

No. 99 Edge Rusher Will Anderson Jr.

Just squeezing in the Top 100 is the Defensive Rookie of the Year, Will Anderson. “He was the Defensive Rookie of the Year after getting seven sacks. But he was much more than those sack numbers and his talent shows a player who can take a big jump to 12-15 sacks this season,” said Prisco.

No. 80 Cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.

Next on the list is ballhawking corner Derek Stingley Jr. Prisco weighed in on Houston's standout defensive back. “After a disappointing 2022 rookie season, he flashed star potential last year for the Texans. He is a long corner who is capable of matching up in coverage with the game's best receivers.”

No. 77 Wide Receiver Nico Collins

This is where we see the first offensive player makes the list. Prisco shares his thoughts on Houston's top pass catcher. “After having 70 catches in his first two seasons, he had his breakout season in 2023 with 80 catches and a 16.2 yard-per-catch average. He is truly a big-play threat who should continue to grow with quarterback C.J. Stroud.”

No. 57 Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil

Prisco adds another offensive player to his list here. “He is one of the best in the league in pass protection, which is great news for C.J. Stroud. His ability to hold up in one-on-one situations is key to their offense,” said Prisco.

No. 38 Quarterback CJ Stroud

Can Stroud deliver an impressive sophomore season? “He was special as a rookie, leading the Texans to the playoffs. Now comes the hard part: Doing it again. I don't think that will be a problem because he has the look of being a star for a long time,” said Prisco.

No. 35 Danielle Hunter

The final player to make the list is the Texans' prized offseason addition. “He had 16 1/2 sacks for the Vikings last season, continuing to be a force off the edge. In Houston, he will team with Will Anderson Jr. to give the Texans a nice duo of pass rushers,” Prisco said.

One glaring omission is Texans superstar receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs had a down year in 2023 based on his standards. But don't be surprised if Diggs makes this list next year after a bounce back season with Stroud pulling the trigger at QB. And he'll be highly motivated, with the possibility of another mega-contract in sight.


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