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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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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