CHARLIE PALLILO

So long, Carmelo, the Rockets will be just fine without you

Mike D'Antoni and the Rockets have moved on from Carmelo. Harry How/Getty Images

So what’s your favorite Carmelo Anthony Houston Rocket memory? A dubious move at point of signing, it played out worse more quickly than even the most hardened cynic could have anticipated. The Rockets looked ridiculous with their BS claim of Anthony having been sidelined by “illness” the last few games. Yeah. His performance level made Mike D’Antoni sick. His defensive contribution was a malignancy.

By all accounts Carmelo Anthony is a good guy. As a Syracuse alum I’ll forever have a warm spot for his carrying the Orangemen to the 2003 NCAA Championship. That was a long time ago. Anthony hasn’t been a big-time player for a while now. Before last season when dealt to Oklahoma City Anthony thought he made for a big three with Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Not close. Then after being traded to and then bought out by Atlanta, Melo joined the desperate for bench help Rockets. Melo thought he’d make a big three with buddy Chris Paul, and James Harden. Not close again. It was never even a possibility. William Shakespeare wrote “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow.” Not always. No sorrow on this one.

Meanwhile the Rockets have exhaled after their 1-5 mess of a start and settled in to playing some darn good ball. Getting back to .500 merits no celebration, but winning six of eight including this week’s wins at Denver and over (granted, Stephen Curry-less) Golden State is quality. The Western Conference is ferociously deep this season, but the Rockets schedule softens over the next couple of weeks so they should be leaving the .500 mark in their rearview mirror.

A Cougar low

Divergent agendas can make for ugly moments. Such happened during UH’s Thursday night rout of Tulane when Ed Oliver grew furious with head coach Major Applewhite when Applewhite told him to take off a jacket that was reserved for players playing in the game. Applewhite is the Cougars’ second year head coach trying to avoid a second disappointing season. His defense had been godawful in multiple recent games, the most recent played without All-America defensive lineman Oliver. Oliver was injured by an illegal block October 20. Two weeks later UH announced Oliver would play that night against SMU. Oliver did not, and has missed two more games since. The obvious undercurrent is that a number of people (maybe including the head coach) think Oliver is healthy enough to be playing. As much as it’s a team sport and any player on a team should feel obligation to his teammates and school, Ed Oliver cannot be blamed for taking no chances. He’s a surefire top 10 NFL Draft pick. That’s millions and millions of guaranteed dollars waiting for him. A blown out knee could wreck that. It’s not as if UH is chasing a national championship.  

On the road again

The Texans play at Washington Sunday in a matchup of 6-3 teams that really don’t seem to be all that good. With the possible exception of the Bears, the Texans and Washington are certainly the two weakest division leaders in the NFL. Which means, they are division leaders. Play the course.

The Texans somewhat surprisingly are road favorites by a field goal. That means unless they falter badly the Texans will be favored in six of their remaining seven games, the lone underdog role being at Philadelphia, and that could change since the Eagles’ Super Bowl defense could be dead by the time that game rolls around. So by the chalk the Texans should finish…12-4. 12-4!!!

But why are the Texans favored at Washington? The Texans offense hasn’t been very good this season, legitimately topping 20 points only twice. Washington’s defense has been stout, giving up more than 17 points only three times. Well, flip the script. Washington has won three of its last four games but hasn’t scored more than 20 in any of them. The Texans front seven has been hell-raising. J.J. Watt is probably running second behind Andrew Luck for comeback player of the year. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and friends should maul Washington’s injury ravaged offensive line. Both of Washington’s starting guards are out injured, and so is Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams. If the Texans don’t lose the special teams matchup or the turnover battle, they should have a seven game winning streak going into the huge Monday nighter upcoming against the Titans.

In the AFC South race the Texans’ ideal Sunday is they win while the Colts beat the Titans in Indianapolis. That would give the Texans a two game division lead and margin for error ahead of the Titans’ visit. If both the Texans and Titans win, control of the AFC South race will ride on that Monday nighter. If the Texans lose and the Titans win, the Monday nighter becomes a virtual must win for the Texans.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Justin Verlander had a fabulous season, but Blake Snell was the best pitcher in the American League in 2018.  2. Go Orange! Beat Notre Dame! 3. Most absurd games with SEC teams this weekend: Bronze-LSU/Rice Silver-Georgia/UMass Gold-Alabama/The Citadel.


 

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The new-look Texans won't get started until September, but the Roughnecks' season is about to begin. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Without much fanfare, or seemingly any, the Houston Roughnecks are preparing for opening night of the XFL 3.0 season just a couple of weeks away.

The Roughnecks will host the Orlando Guardians, 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18 at TDECU Stadium on the UH campus. That’s less than a week after the NFL’s Super Bowl.

Before one pass is thrown, one run rushed, or one groin pulled, Las Vegas has set odds for the 2023 XFL season. Our Roughnecks and the Orlandos are tied for the longest odds on the board, +750. The early betting favorite is the St. Louis Battlehawks at +400.

Just a note: if you’re like Cosmo Kramer and think wagering on early-season XFL games is “some sweet action” – well, “you really need help, you need a team of psychiatrists working around the clock, thinking about you” and George Costanza.

Not surprisingly, good seats remain for opening night. Lousy seats, too. And seats in the middle.

If the Houston Texans and the all-mighty NFL couldn’t fill half of NRG Stadium, do the Roughnecks stand a prayer of drawing big crowds to TDECU Stadium?

One thing in the Roughnecks favor: affordable seats for their five home games on the XFL’s 10-game schedule. Season tickets for Roughnecks games start at $110 and go up to $480 at xfl.com. Individual game tickets, available on Ticketmaster, are $24 and higher. Reasonably priced food and drink (I kid because I love), plus an array of team merch will be available, including T-shirts ($25), baseball caps ($28-$34), sweatshirts and sweatpants ($45-$60), and bucket hats ($45).

Of course, nothing sells seats like winning. The Roughnecks were 5-0 and dominating the league last time the XFL played. That was 2020 when Covid-19 cut the season short. That was then …

This is now. Much like the Texans (as of this week), the most recognizable and popular figure on the field will be the head coach. The 2023 Roughnecks will be led by NFL veteran Wade Phillips, who has a lot of history and DNA in Houston. Quarterbacks currently on the roster are Cole McDonald from Hawaii, Kaleb Eleby from Western Michigan and Brandon Silvers from Troy State.

Most of the roster will be new names for Houston fans, although the league is bragging that 255 XFL’ers have been on NFL rosters at some point.

The Roughnecks will compete in the XFL South division along with the Arlington Renegades, Orlando Guardians and San Antonio Brahmas. That’s three out of four teams from Texas. The XFL North is comprised of the D.C. Defenders, Seattle Sea Dragons, St. Louis Battlehawks and Vegas Vipers.

Every XFL game (40 regular season, two playoffs, one championship) will air somewhere across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and FX, plus streaming on ESPN+. As they say, check your local listing to find the Roughnecks.

If you think that the XFL is just “too soon,” hold on until April when the Houston Gamblers take the field for the 2023 USFL season. Although don’t get too excited about attending home games. Houston’s “home” is in Birmingham, Ala. I know, silly.

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