THE PALLILOG

Russell Westbrook's recent surge makes the Rockets much more dangerous

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Rockets at Celtics Saturday night is a longshot but not a no-shot NBA Finals preview. The Rockets' five game winning streak has them within two games of second place Denver in the Western Conference, one game behind the third place Clippers. The Rockets have 24 regular season games remaining. Only nine of them are against teams with winning records.

Russell Westbrook has always been phenomenally exciting to watch. Recently he's been straight up phenomenal. Over his last six games Hurricane Russ is blowing people away at a clip of 34 points per game on 57 percent field goal shooting. He is destroying people attacking the basket pretty much at will, while largely eschewing his awful three point jumper (he's actually made six of 14 3s during this jag). Westbrook has scored at least 20 points in each of his last 29 games. This Westbrook with the Rockets full-time spread offense, makes him as potent, if not more potent and valuable than James Harden. How sustainable is it, especially against a steadier diet of good and focused defenses come playoff time? It will be fun to find out.

Boos

An auction house this week announced it is putting up for bid several items of Kobe Bryant memorabilia. Is this more: capitalism at work or crassness at a sad level?

Nothing of consequence has happened with the Astros over their first week of spring training games. That's a good thing. The only things of major consequence at this point are injuries. Ask the Yankees. The Astros have been booed a lot. And life goes on. Yes, some are reeeeally angry at the Astros' cheating. For many it's something to do at the games. Like two year olds, they will mostly cry themselves out.

Kelly's Deep Steel Blue Playbook

So Bill O'Brien is giving up calling the plays for the Texans offense. Tim Kelly gets a turn, after last season being the offensive coordinator only in job title. In 2015 O'Brien gave George Godsey the offensive keys to the can, and then he pressed the ejector seat button on Godsey after one season, with O'Brien putting himself back in complete charge of the offense. Godsey had for different starting quarterbacks that season: Brian Hoyer for nine games, Ryan Mallett for four, T.J. Yates two, and Brandon Weeden for one. The Texans did manage 9-7 that season, good enough for the first of those four cute little AFC South Division Champion banners of the O'Brien era.

With Deshaun Watson at the controls, unless Kelly turns out to be a lightweight his chances of avoiding a one season and done term in the play-calling gig should be pretty good. It's not as if he has a super tough act to follow. Kelly doesn't have to be the next Bill Walsh or Kyle Shanahan to produce better offensive results than the Texans have been putting forth. It was O'Brien who schemed the offense that for the 15 meaningful games of last regular season, not once produced an opening drive touchdown. O'Brien was hired as an offensively oriented head coach. In his six seasons, while four division titles shouldn't be laughed off Emperor O's O has yet to finish higher than 11th in the NFL in scoring, and yet to finish higher than 13th in yards gained.

UH-UC Chapter 2

As I noted early in the season, it's ridiculous that the Houston Cougars do not have one Saturday home game all season. TV is the tail that wags the dog so UH finishes American Athletic Conference regular season play with two Sunday home games, at noon and 11AM. Just fantastic for Sunday brunchers and churchgoers. The AAC title is probably on the line this Sunday with Cincinnati at the Fertitta Center. With a win the Bearcats sweep the season series to take the tiebreaker and a one game lead with two games to play. That would likely be curtains for the Coogs' title defense. UH is 11-4 in conference, unbeaten at home with the four road losses coming by a combined six points.

Just for Kicks

The Houston Dynamo begins its 15th Major League Soccer season with a Saturday matinee against the Los Angeles Galaxy. It's amazing that the Dynamo struggles for much relevance here while in the notoriously soft sports market of Atlanta attendance averages over 50-thousand per game. The Dynamo having stunk five of the past six seasons obviously plays a notable role. Good franchises can do more with less. The Dynamo has done less with less, ownership maintaining payrolls among the lowest in MLS. Still, there must be more to it than that.

​Buzzer Beaters

1. If Jim Crane got a two billion dollar offer for the Astros (his group paid 615 million), how strongly does he consider it? MLB might say "Take It!" 2. Last weekend before Daylight Saving Time kicks in! 3. Best "Time" songs: Bronze-Peter Gabriel "Big Time" Silver-Jim Croce "Time In A Bottle" Gold-S.O.S. Band "Take Your Time"

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The Houston Texans have just a couple of practices before their preseason debut. Here are 11 observations from Tuesday’s workout.

1.The offense stunk on Tuesday. It was inconsistent and resembled more of last year’s disappointing performances than any other practices in this training camp.

2. Davis Mills and his receivers had a few miscommunications on Tuesday. Mills sailed a pass to nobody when he and Brandin Cooks weren’t on the same page. There were some other throws to nowhere in the day. It was something that hadn’t been present at all in training camp to this point.

3. There were a few “good coverage” notes on Tuesday. Not to say there was one specific player, but a handful of team-level efforts that led to the note.

4. It wasn’t all wrong from the offense. After a pass to nowhere Davis Mills and the offense bounced back. It was a second down during a team drill and Mills fired a pass to Chris Moore for six yards. Rex Burkhead would pick up a first down on a rush a play later. A non-positive play last year on first down doomed this team. That hopefully won’t be the case for this year’s team.

5. Chad Beebe is going into his fifth season in the NFL, his first with the Texans. The former Vikings pass catcher has flashed a few times in training camp. He has an uphill battle being new to the team but is trying to make himself a factor.

6. Phillip Dorsett had a big catch over the middle. Davis Mills stood back and delivered as the offensive line held up and Dorsett reeled it in for a huge gain. No defenders were around him. It is between Dorsett and Chris Moore for the chance to be the slot wideout opening day. With Dorsett’s return to practice, it is becoming a fun camp battle.

7.Speaking of returns to practice, Tytus Howard was back. Howard has his reps managed and after practice, offensive line coach George Warhop Howard was “getting his wind” back. When Howard was having his reps managed rookie tackle Austin Deculus played at right tackle. Deculus looks much more consistent than minicamp and OTAs.

8. Kenyon Green is still out with an injury. It is getting to a critical time where the time missed might prevent the first-rounder from starting week one. Max Scharping hasn’t looked bad in his chances with the first team. Offensive line coach George Warhop said they believe in Green and his ability and he has been in meetings to stay up to date.

9. Ka’imi Fairbairn was perfect in one of the special team periods. He drilled all five kicks, each further than the last, and was crushing the football.

10. Derek Stingley was very sticky in some early reps on Nico Collins. The third overall pick is so smooth when he is working. Later his coverage forced a throw from the offense that had no chance of being completed.

11. The play of the day was made by Derek Stingley. The offense was about five or six yards out of the end zone needing a touchdown to win. With six seconds left on the clock, any completed pass that wasn’t a touchdown was game over. Davis Mills dropped back a step and fired to Nico Collins who Stingley covered. The rookie kept the second-year player out of the end zone to earn the defense a win. This was one of the better Stingley days and he did a lot of work. At one point, it looked as though he and Rex Burkhead had some words and almost led to an offense and defense scuffle, but it stayed to just some shouting. The rookie shined today.

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