The Pallilog

Rockets-Jazz is barely a contest

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Other than James Harden bizarrely announcing his immediate retirement, the only remaining risk for the Rockets in their first round playoff series with Utah might be assumption of victory. After destroying the Jazz in both games one and two, the talent gap between the teams is obvious. While momentum shifts can happen seemingly out of nowhere, underdogs can get on a roll, and favorites can tense up, it is just about unfathomable that the Jazz can beat the Rockets four out of five games. Utah has a traditionally strong home court advantage, but last year the Rockets rolled in Salt Lake City in games three and four. Blowout losses to the Rockets have become a recurring Utah nightmare. Perhaps appropriately it was February 2 of this year (Groundhog Day) that the Rockets battered the Jazz, in Utah, by 27. A game in which neither Chris Paul nor Clint Capela even played.

Despite all that, Utah is actually a small favorite in game three. No team in NBA postseason history has rallied from 0-3 down to win the next four.

The earliest a Rockets' second round series would start is a week from Sunday. The afternoon slot that day is no doubt reserved for the Warriors, be it for a shocking game seven in their series with the Clippers or game one of the Western Conference Semifinals. Golden State losing DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the playoffs is a big blow to the champs. They've won three titles without him but adding a skilled low post threat and quality rebounder was not purely a "luxury" addition. Specifically against the Rockets, Cousins on his game is too big and strong for Clint Capela to effectively single cover. Against the Warriors "Death Lineup" the Rockets will dare Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to take all the jumpers they want.

Astros take on the Rangers again

In a scheduling oddity the Astros are back in Arlington this weekend for their second series there already this season. At 10-7 and riding a four game winning streak the Rangers are a modest early season surprise. At 12-6 the Astros ranking among the elite are not. Exactly no one (no one credible anyway) sees the Rangers having the staying power to challenge the Astros in the American League West.

The Rangers and some other anticipated AL mid to bottom feeders could have more hope for a Wild Card spot. The defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox enter the weekend 6-13. One way to think of the 162 game regular season is as nine innings of 18 games apiece. Before tacking on yet another loss Wednesday the Sox finished the first inning at 6-12. I'd say that's like falling behind 3-0 after the first inning. There's plenty of time to come back and win but the odds don't favor it. In no 18 game stretch last season did the Sox play sub-.500 baseball.

Keuchel still waiting

So Dallas Keuchel is open to a contract covering just the rest of this season. He could have taken one year 17.9 million guaranteed from the Astros. Agent Scott Boras evidently wanted Keuchel bidding in the six year 150 million dollar range. And I wanted to marry Halle Berry after seeing her in Boomerang. And Swordfish. And Die Another Day. Anyway… Keuchel is a class act, and had just one bad season in the last five years. As a short term play he makes sense as rotation depth for a number of playoff contenders. Signing Keuchel before the June MLB Draft costs the signing team a draft pick so his waiting game could take another six weeks.

Big week for Texans

Ahead of next week's critical for the Texans NFL Draft, the 2019 schedule release this week reminds that the Texans will be hard-pressed and unlikely to equal last season's 11 wins. The 2018 Texans took advantage of a heaping platter of below average to awful starting quarterbacks. Among the starters they beat who they don't face in 2019 are Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Josh Allen, Case Keenum, and Brock Osweiler.

Among QBs new to the opponent list this year are three of the last four NFL Most Valuable Player winners: Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton. The other MVP of the last four years is Tom Brady. He's back on the schedule, though the Texans finally get the Patriots in Houston. As an Eagle Nick Foles shredded the Texans' defense, now the Texans face him twice as a Jaguar. Unmentioned to this point, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. Brees showed slippage down the stretch last season but at age 40 he'll start 2019 still considered a top 10 QB expected to be part of a Texans' season opening loss in New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Kevin Durant is an all-time great, but sure can seem emotionally needy. 2. Caddyshack was a movie with Bill Murray, not a Bill Murray movie. 3. Best Bill Murray movies: Bronze-Lost In Translation Silver-Stripes Gold-Groundhog Day

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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