THE PALLILOG

Rockets need Harden to be a monster to have any chance against Warriors

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The Rockets are very good. The Warriors are better. In the end it seems that simple. Not head, shoulders, and torso better, or by a country mile better. But better.

At the start of this Western Conference semifinal series I said of course the Rockets have a shot, but if both teams play their best or to a similar percentage of their capabilities, the Warriors win, with Kevin Durant the fundamental difference. Hey, I miss on plenty of predictions, but it's not looking like this will be one of those.

After returning from his eye scratches, James Harden had a solid game two, but not a tremendous game two. To have a shot at what would now be a shocking series victory, the Rockets need tremendous Harden.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, as Chris Paul sets to turn 34 years old Monday, it looks more and more that as big a gamer as he is and as ferocious a competitor as he is, Paul doesn't have it in him at this point to string together superstar level games. Austin Rivers made a more positive impact in his time on the court in Tuesday's game two loss.

Maybe the three days off between games two and three put a little extra bounce in Paul's step. But the same can be said for Golden State's 35 year old Warrior Andre Iguodala who has gashed the Rockets for 30 points over the first two games, on 12 of 16 shooting, while playing his still stellar defense.

Another way of framing the Rockets' challenge: they're down 2-0 and neither Stephen Curry nor Klay Thompson has had a hot shooting game. That's actually true for Durant too.

Beating Golden State four out of seven games is a huge mountain to climb. Beating Golden State four out of five games is a mountain that looks down on Everest. All the Rockets can try to do is start with winning once. They are small favorites in game three.

A hot new prospect

The Astros have no grave concerns these days. Yes, the starting pitching isn't as good as it was last year. Collin McHugh, Wade Miley, and Brad Peacock all bring question marks. At AAA Round Rock Forrest Whitley has had two solid outings and two lousy ones. Apart from Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna the bullpen is shaky. There are still hardly any pitching staffs you would even consider swapping with soup to nuts. Offensively, despite three anemic games out of four at Minnesota this week. the lineup is deeper and more potent than last season's, if not as stout as 2017's World Series Champion. No other American League West squad is giving indication of being 90+ win quality. Through what can be considered a meh 18-14 first one fifth of the season the Astros are on pace to win only 91.

The clock ticks on promoting lefthanded hitting monster Yordan Alvarez as a way to potentially fortify the offense. It's still not a month of games, but Alvarez has blown past Kyle Tucker as the bat most deserving a call-up to the big leagues. Through his first 24 games at AAA Alvarez's slash line is an awesome .402/.490/.931. (Tucker is batting .191). His defense is considered shaky at best, be it in the outfield or at first base. Yeah, well, American League teams use the designated hitter and Tyler White is not proving worthy of that gig. White is 28 and of limited upside. First baseman Yuli Gurriel may merely be off to a slow start, but it is a verrrrry slow start. Gurriel slipped a bit from 2017 to 2018, and turns 35 next month.

Jon Singleton was a hyped left handed slugging prospect who epically flopped. A.J. Reed was a hyped left handed hitting first baseman/DH prospect who now has no meaningful future in the organization. The left handed hitting Tucker could be a "can't miss" guy who misses, though he still has time to figure things out. Alvarez is performing at a higher level than those guys ever did/have in the minors.

In August of 2016 General Manager Jeff Luhnow acquired the then 19 year old Alvarez from the Dodgers in exchange for middling relief pitcher Josh Fields. It would be silly to think the deal plays out as lopsidedly in the Astros' favor as the Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell deal, but it might be a lot of fun to see. The Astros obviously prefer to keep Alvarez in the minors until June, to delay his salary arbitration eligibility a year.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. Few care about horse racing these days, but the Kentucky Derby is still an exciting two minutes. 2. Congrats to Daryl Morey key aide Gersson Rosas, now the highest placed Latino executive in NBA history as President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. 3. Best BBQ entrees when done right: Bronze-pulled pork Silver-brisket Gold-ribs


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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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