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 Rockets selected Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

The city of Houston can finally rejoice as Jalen Green was selected as the number two pick by the Rockets at the 2021 NBA Draft. It was already suspected that the Rockets would draft Green from past reports. Shams Charania of The Athletic already reported that the Rockets narrowed their decision down to Green.

Green is an explosive shooting guard that can get in-and-out amongst the perimeter and paint. With the G-League Ignite, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is an excellent free throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Like James Harden, he is incredibly good at getting to the free throw line. Green has a good trigger from three by shooting 36.5 percent on 5.7 attempts a game. His mature status since high school has prepared him for the NBA.

"His down-hill playmaking is really hard to guard", as Joey Fucca, his ex-coach told TDS. "If he says he's going to get to the rim, good luck. He is very good at getting to the free throw line, he is also very explosive to finish above the rim. When his three ball is on, you're just going to have a long night. I wouldn't be excited to guard him."

Green has blistering speed with outstanding handles to blow by his defenders and score. Spectators have compared Green to a younger Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Bradley Beal, and Zach Lavine, which are superstar players. He is a particularly good midrange shooter underneath the perimeter, as he shot 35 percent on a small quantity of attempts in a shorter season.

"Jalen is a uniquely blessed guy. He's a transcendent athlete," as Rockets GM Rafael Stone said. "He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. Normally, people that athletic aren't as skilled. We think that combination of tools makes him an extraordinarily exciting prospect."

During his press conference on Thursday night, Green emphasized the achievements he wants to accomplish with the Rockets. Green even discussed his desire of being a better defender, as he wants to continue to get better. He has a great wingspan and lateral movement to stay with opposing players on defense and be disruptive in the passing lanes.

"They're going to say it's a great choice," Green said. "Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We're doing it big."

"Yeah, I think I can be that piece. I think I'm going to bring that dominant mentality, that defensive mindset…They already got a lot of star players"

As the draft continued, the Rockets sent future draft picks from the Wizards to land the 16th pick in the draft, which was 6'10 Alperen Sengun from Turkey. The 16th pick did belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder until Rafael Stone executed an interesting deal with Sam Presti.

"We did not think he would fall to us at 23, so we were really aggressive to try and move up all throughout the first round to acquire him," as Stone said.

Sengun's abilities on the court revolve around his post ups and skillful passing. He even maintains good feet along the baseline. In his press conference, he mentioned his passing skills can become better. There are clips of him looking impressive on shovel passes, passing the ball behind his back, and finding the cutting man towards the basket. Sengun looked good in double teams by showing he can still find the open man with his back turned.

While playing in the Turkish Super League, Sengun was an MVP at 18-years-old, averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assist, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He could be another huge figure next to Christian Wood on the court, and a safety blanket for the Rockets if they cannot bring back Kelly Olynyk.

Usman Garbua is similar to former Rocket Luc Mbah a Moute. He is 6'8 with a tremendous wingspan at 7'3 and can guard anyone on the court, which is 1-5. Garbua was seen guarding Kevin Durant in the Team USA vs. Spain matchup and had interesting battles. The Rockets will get a ton of energy out of the 19-year-old player. He knows how to run the floor in transition, so he can finish around the rim. As I see it, he could be on a defensive first team in the future as he matures more. Garbua will become a defensive nightmare against opposing players.

"I think he's the best defender in the world outside of the NBA, and he's just 19 years old," Stone said. "I think he potentially could be really, really impactful on that side of the ball."

As the Rockets made their last selection, they selected Green's AAU buddy, Josh Christopher from Arizona State. He impressed a ton of scouts during his draft workouts and scrimmage against other prospects. Christopher had a double-double during his third scrimmage, which was 16 points and 10 rebounds. He is a very shifty guard with a ferocious step back.

While playing with the Sun Devils, he averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. Just like Green, he loved the midrange opportunities, as he shot 49.6 percent underneath the perimeter. He is another shifty big body the Rockets will have in their back court at 6'5. Christopher is very good at rebounding and playing defense. Stone loves watching him in defensive one-on-one situations. Christopher has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him because of his stocky body type and upside.

Hopefully, the Rockets have an exciting summer league and training camp along with their season.

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