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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