THE PALLILOG

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

James Harden
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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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We're not saying this is the greatest photo of Alex Bregman ever…but we're not saying it's not. Photo by Bread & Water Productions.

Only Alex Bregman, his tireless crew (we’re looking at you, Tyler Straub), and his endless business and charity interests could make Major League Baseball’s quiet offseason seem so 24/7.

The latest: Wild Sol, the spicy and saucy new Southwest food brand that Alex and his wife Reagan have created — and just toasted with a totally fire launch party at EaDo hotspot Chapman & Kirby.

Alex and Reagan welcomed a star-studded, invite-only list of party people to celebrate the Wild Sol official launch and sample some savory — and spirited, literally — salsas (more on the “spirited” part in a moment). The party also saluted the Wild Sol team who have been working for more than a year on the launch: Laurice Howard, Reagan’s mother (and an Instagram treasure); the aforementioned Tyler Straub (whom we here at CultureMap have dubbed “Tyler the Creator”); Michael Posey, and Adrienne Price.

While hot Houston DJ Mr Rogers spun his party-perfect beats, the VIP crowd sampled Wild Sol’s line of Hot, Mild, Salsa Verde, and Mango Habanero salsas. Flecha Azul Tequilaprovided the perfect way to cool off from the spicy Mango Habanero and Hot salsas. Considered the fastest growing additive-free, ultra-premium tequila in the world, Flecha Azul was founded by A-list friend of the Bregmans — Mark Wahlberg — along with his partners Aron Marquez, and Abraham Ancer.

A Sol-powered party

Astros star shortstop Jeremy Peña (aka La Torrenta) hit the party. Photo by Bread & Water Productions.

As for the crowd, it was a family affair and a who’s-who list of sports celebs. Guests included Alex’s mother, Jackie De Oliveira Bregman; and Reagan’s parents, Laurice and Grant Howard, with her brother Kyle Howard. Other guests included Flecha Azul Tequila founder Aron Marquez; Houston Astros star shortstop Jeremy Peña; Astros business development director Kyle McLaughlin; Astros’ reporter Julia Morales Clark and husband Matt Clark; Adrienne and Jared Crane; rap legends Slim Thug and Paul Wall (who attended with his wife, Crystal); Warren Moon; former NFL star Adrian Peterson and his wife, Ashley; Madison Straub; Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale; former Houston Texans star Chester Pitts; Madelyn Payne; Haleigh Broucher; and Southern songstress Lenora and her fiancé Jarren Small.

The normally Navy SEAL-composed Alex Bregman tore it up on the dance floor and posed for an epic photo with his beloved Mom and with Paul Wall and Straub — making us wish they three would start a hip-hop act.

“I am so grateful for all of our friends and family who showed up to support,” said Alex Bregman of the party. “We’ve got great momentum and we’re looking forward to taking this to the next level.”

A little about the new Wild Sol salsas: each brings the heat and is made with an actual splash of Flecha Azul tequilas. Here’s the Wild Sol starting lineup:

Ladies and gentlemen, your Wild Sol starting lineup. Photo by Bread & Water Productions.

Hot Salsa: robust and spiced with dried chilies that really bring the heat; made with a splash of Flecha Azul Blanco Tequila

Mild Salsa: rich with limes, tomatoes, and dried chilies for a touch of heat; made with a splash of Flecha Azul Blanco Tequila

Salsa Verde: herby and smokey with tomatillos and vibrant serrano peppers; made with a splash of Los Coyotes Mezcal

Mango Habanero Salsa: sweet up front with fresh mangos and a punch of fiery habañeros; made with a splash of Flecha Azul Reposado Tequila

“We are excited to collaborate with our friends at Wild Sol,” said Flecha Azul Tequila founder Marquez. “Over the last year, I received samples of recipes, and their desire to produce a salsa that is unique and spirited shines through. You can’t have the best spirited salsa if you are not using the best tequila.”

No, you can’t, Aron. Those on the hunt for Wild Sol’s salsas can find it online at WildSol.co. — expect even more products this year. Houston shoppers can also look forward to Wild Sol on H-E-B and Kroger shelves in the coming months, the company promises. Score the Flecha Azul tequila line at local Spec’s, Total Wine & More, or online.

Breggy talks his bomb offseason

Bregman poses with his manager Tyler Straub just before he headed back to Phoenix after attending Astros Fan Fest. Photo by Steven Devadanam.

As we mentioned, few — if any — MLB stars have put in the work like Alex Bregman this offseason — on and off the field. Just how committed is the All-Star third baseman? In January, he flew in from Phoenix, where he’s been training, just to attend the Astros Fan Fest — only to hop a flight immediately after the event.

Seriously, does he sleep?

“Oh yeah,” Bregman told us at the event. “Sleep is the key. The sleep’s where you recover — you gotta sleep. I feel like that’s the best form of recovery for any athlete. So, we try to sleep eight to 10 hours a night.” When we jokingly asked if the headline is that Baby Knox (his son) is letting him sleep eight to 10 hours a night, Bregman chuckled.

“Oh, Knox sleeps — Knox might sleep 12 hours himself. He’s growing so much and I think it’s because he sleeps so well.”

Bregman, who (somehow) turns 30 on March 30, is well aware of all the speculation as to whether he’ll extend with the Astros, like his teammate José Altuve. He revealed good news for his fans who are waiting for an epic season.

Big things ahead

“I feel better than I’ve ever felt,” he told us. “I feel younger than I’ve ever felt. I feel more athletic than I’ve ever felt. I’m really looking forward to having a really good year.”

He’s also working on every part of his game as he readies for another World Series run, and is ready to play ball —as he works on every part of his game. “I think it’s every single aspect of the game, trying to get a little bit better,” he said. “This offseason’s been really hitting-focused and it’s been fantastic. I cannot even tell you how excited I am to get down to Florida and get going.”

We also caught up with Bregman at the annual Cactus Jack Celebrity Softball Tournament put on by Travis Scott this past week, where he hit the field with a host of all stars and celebrities. Having just headed up his Bregman Cares Classic tournament at Sugar Land’s Constellation Field, a ball game for a special cause meant that much more to him.

“It means so much,” he told us before the game. “Being able to help any community is such an honor.”

We also asked Bregman about his Super Bowl experience, where he partied with Houston Texans superstar quarterback C.J. Stroud and newly minted NFL Hall of Famer Andre Johnson, the first Texan to be inducted into the halls of Canton, Ohio.

“It was an honor to be able to hang with him and Andre,” Bregman added, “and celebrate their amazing seasons.”

And we’re ready to celebrate an amazing Bregman season, too.

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