The Pallilog

Rockets find themselves in a familiar position. Will the result be different this time?

Two years ago Saturday the Rockets suffered the most pathetic loss in franchise history. Down three games to two in the Western Conference semifinals, the Rockets had a home game to win and force a decisive seventh game. They were playing a San Antonio Spurs team without its best player (an injured Kawhi Leonard). The Spurs humiliated the Rockets 114-75. James Harden made two field goals the whole game (two for eleven from the field).

That was then this is now. The Rockets trail three games to two in the Western Conference semifinals, with a home game to win and force a decisive seventh game. The two-time defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors are without their best player (an injured Kevin Durant). So now what?

Obviously the Warriors can win at Toyota Center. Friday night's game either extends or ends the Warriors' amazing NBA record streak of 20 consecutive playoff series in which they have won at least one road game. With Durant sidelined by his strained right calf, the Rockets are a bigger favorite in game six than either team was in the first five games. Add it all up, and if the Rockets don't force game seven it will be widely viewed as a colossal choke job.

That is too simplistic. Could they choke by, say, missing 27 consecutive three point shots? I guess. Just remember that before they had KD the Warriors won a title then added a 73-9 season and another Finals appearance. If Stephen Curry came out of his poor play rut in the fourth quarter of game five, he, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green can lead the way to victory though this squad is not as great as those teams of three and four years ago.

James Harden has an unfortunate track record of clunker games in closeout losses. As great as he's been for years, this Harden is a clearly better player. He needs to come through. No way in a competitive critical game should Harden go more than eight minutes of the fourth quarter without taking a shot as he did in game five. For an offensive machine who shoots step back threes by the truckload and can get to the paint for floaters and layups like few others, "making the right plays" does not entail going almost all of crunch time not taking a shot unless being double teamed upon every touch, which was not the case Wednesday.

Chris Paul's decline has been on display in this series. Can he summon up one big performance over the next two games? Sure would help the Rockets' chances. If he cannot and the Rockets get taken out, the three years 124 million left on Paul's contract is going to look flat out depressing.

My guess is the Rockets win game six handily, Warriors' coach Steve Kerr concedes earlier than he ordinarily would and saves what the champs have left for the winner takes all game seven at Oracle Arena Sunday. As for Game Seven, I have no good idea.

In the end you will or you won't, you do or you don't.

Astros are doing just fine

The Astros mash away, as they begin to pull away in the American League West. No division leader in Major League Baseball tops the Astros four-game cushion. They have hit 66 home runs in their first 38 games, a season pace toward a whopping 281. The Astros set the franchise record for homers in the first season of Enron Field in the peak of the steroid era. They hit 249 that year. Last season the Yankees set the MLB record with 267 homers. They did so with only Giancarlo Stanton hitting 30 or more (38). 12 Yankees hit at least 10. As the Astros cross the one quarter mark of the regular season this weekend they have five guys on pace to hit 35+: George Springer, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve.

This while Altuve endures the lengthiest slump of his career. Over his last 18 starts Altuve is just 10 for 67, bad for a .149 batting average and a .523 OPS. Reference point: in his 10 seasons with the Astros the offensively anemic Brad Ausmus never finished with an OPS below .593.

Springer last season endured a nightmarish stretch in which he went eight for 87. Bregman began his big league career one for 32. It's no hyperbole saying hitting a baseball is the hardest fundamental skill required in a major sport.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Albert Pujols is pretty much a washed up player. But one of the three greatest first basemen of all-time getting his 2000th RBI Thursday is still quite an achievement. 2. The NHL seventh games this week were beyond fantastic. If the Stanley Cup Final goes seven, pledge to watch! 3. Greatest 1Bs of all-time: Bronze-Pujols Silver-Jimmie Foxx (though Pujols over Foxx is fine) Gold-Lou Gehrig

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The Rockets selected Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

The city of Houston can finally rejoice as Jalen Green was selected as the number two pick by the Rockets at the 2021 NBA Draft. It was already suspected that the Rockets would draft Green from past reports. Shams Charania of The Athletic already reported that the Rockets narrowed their decision down to Green.

Green is an explosive shooting guard that can get in-and-out amongst the perimeter and paint. With the G-League Ignite, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is an excellent free throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Like James Harden, he is incredibly good at getting to the free throw line. Green has a good trigger from three by shooting 36.5 percent on 5.7 attempts a game. His mature status since high school has prepared him for the NBA.

"His down-hill playmaking is really hard to guard", as Joey Fucca, his ex-coach told TDS. "If he says he's going to get to the rim, good luck. He is very good at getting to the free throw line, he is also very explosive to finish above the rim. When his three ball is on, you're just going to have a long night. I wouldn't be excited to guard him."

Green has blistering speed with outstanding handles to blow by his defenders and score. Spectators have compared Green to a younger Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Bradley Beal, and Zach Lavine, which are superstar players. He is a particularly good midrange shooter underneath the perimeter, as he shot 35 percent on a small quantity of attempts in a shorter season.

"Jalen is a uniquely blessed guy. He's a transcendent athlete," as Rockets GM Rafael Stone said. "He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. Normally, people that athletic aren't as skilled. We think that combination of tools makes him an extraordinarily exciting prospect."

During his press conference on Thursday night, Green emphasized the achievements he wants to accomplish with the Rockets. Green even discussed his desire of being a better defender, as he wants to continue to get better. He has a great wingspan and lateral movement to stay with opposing players on defense and be disruptive in the passing lanes.

"They're going to say it's a great choice," Green said. "Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We're doing it big."

"Yeah, I think I can be that piece. I think I'm going to bring that dominant mentality, that defensive mindset…They already got a lot of star players"

As the draft continued, the Rockets sent future draft picks from the Wizards to land the 16th pick in the draft, which was 6'10 Alperen Sengun from Turkey. The 16th pick did belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder until Rafael Stone executed an interesting deal with Sam Presti.

"We did not think he would fall to us at 23, so we were really aggressive to try and move up all throughout the first round to acquire him," as Stone said.

Sengun's abilities on the court revolve around his post ups and skillful passing. He even maintains good feet along the baseline. In his press conference, he mentioned his passing skills can become better. There are clips of him looking impressive on shovel passes, passing the ball behind his back, and finding the cutting man towards the basket. Sengun looked good in double teams by showing he can still find the open man with his back turned.

While playing in the Turkish Super League, Sengun was an MVP at 18-years-old, averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assist, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He could be another huge figure next to Christian Wood on the court, and a safety blanket for the Rockets if they cannot bring back Kelly Olynyk.

Usman Garbua is similar to former Rocket Luc Mbah a Moute. He is 6'8 with a tremendous wingspan at 7'3 and can guard anyone on the court, which is 1-5. Garbua was seen guarding Kevin Durant in the Team USA vs. Spain matchup and had interesting battles. The Rockets will get a ton of energy out of the 19-year-old player. He knows how to run the floor in transition, so he can finish around the rim. As I see it, he could be on a defensive first team in the future as he matures more. Garbua will become a defensive nightmare against opposing players.

"I think he's the best defender in the world outside of the NBA, and he's just 19 years old," Stone said. "I think he potentially could be really, really impactful on that side of the ball."

As the Rockets made their last selection, they selected Green's AAU buddy, Josh Christopher from Arizona State. He impressed a ton of scouts during his draft workouts and scrimmage against other prospects. Christopher had a double-double during his third scrimmage, which was 16 points and 10 rebounds. He is a very shifty guard with a ferocious step back.

While playing with the Sun Devils, he averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. Just like Green, he loved the midrange opportunities, as he shot 49.6 percent underneath the perimeter. He is another shifty big body the Rockets will have in their back court at 6'5. Christopher is very good at rebounding and playing defense. Stone loves watching him in defensive one-on-one situations. Christopher has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him because of his stocky body type and upside.

Hopefully, the Rockets have an exciting summer league and training camp along with their season.

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