THE PALLILOG

Sports return in less than two weeks, and Justin Verlander looks great

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As sports fans we're in the midst of a big game of "hold your breath." We're less than two weeks from the start of a truncated Major League Baseball season, inside three weeks from the resumption of a trimmed down NBA season, and as this posts two months to the day from the scheduled start of the NFL regular season. They'll all likely get going. College football, shakier. What is the likelihood of successful finishes? Major League Soccer resumed play this week in a so-called bubble in Orlando, and already two teams have been eliminated before ever playing because of multiple positive COVID-19 tests. In the spirit of hope let's address the locals preparing for play.

Not saying I'm desperate for MLB (yes I am!), but with no sound via the Astros' Twitter feed I watched about three innings of the Astros Thursday intrasquad scrimmage, their first scrimmage since regathering at Minute Maid Park. Worked for me. While Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and George Springer (twice) might disagree, it was great to watch Justin Verlander strike out all of them. With no coronavirus Verlander would have missed the first two months of the season recovering from injuries. A healthy Verlander for the full 60 game sprint season obviously greatly enhances the Astros' chances of getting back to the postseason, regardless of how anyone values the season.

You can watch the highlights from Verlander's performance below.

How the 2020 MLB season plays out is a very open question. Nevertheless, having to plan ahead MLB Thursday released the 2021 regular season schedule. Opening Day, April Fool's Day! The Astros are slated to be in Oakland.

Rocket launch

The Rockets settle at Disney World for a second training camp ahead of starting the eight game finish to the regular season. General Manager Daryl Morey has asserted that the Rockets "should win this thing," this thing being the NBA championship. As assertions go that is ridiculous. They certainly belong in the second tier of contenders behind the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. That does not translate to "should win this thing." Given the variables of top seeds no longer having homecourt advantage, players choosing to not play because of COVID concerns, players who get sidelined by COVID, and the Rockets having a good team, of course they have a shot. That is much different from "should win this thing." Getting a look at "Slim Jim" Harden will be interesting. He's reportedly trimmed down 15 to 20 pounds. How will Harden's game be impacted at each end of the court?

Big deal coming for Deshaun?

The Texans are slated to gather for training camp in a couple weeks to begin the run up to their season opener at Kansas City. The talk of the NFL this week was Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes getting about 140 million dollars guaranteed as part of his whopping 10 year 450 million dollar contract extension. Among those delighted for Mahomes is Texans' quarterback Deshaun Watson. Mahomes was the 10th pick in the 2017 draft, Watson went two selections later. Mahomes has obviously been much better in his two seasons as a starter winning an NFL Most Valuable Player Award and the following season leading KC to its first Super Bowl win in 50 years. Still, the Mahomes deal sets some parameters for what Watson can command from the Texans.

There has been scuttlebutt about Watson preferring a shorter term extension. If so that would clearly indicate uncertainty about believing in the long term potential for consistent legitimate Super Bowl contention for the franchise. That's reasonable since the Texans have never been a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Watson is under contract for this coming season and 2021. If necessary the Texans could then easily use the franchise tag on him for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, but hammering out an extension makes sense for both parties. Even though no deal would not mean Watson could leave any time soon, it would be a bad look for the Texans. Watson has avoided calamitous injuries the last two seasons but given his ACL history securing generational wealth in one form or another makes sense. So, there are two positive viable outcomes. In a shorter extension Watson would have to get basically all the money guaranteed, say, three years 115 million dollars. Or in a longer extension even more money guaranteed at a sub-Mahomes level, say, 7 years 275 million? Teams should not be compelled to match questionable to stupid deals other teams commit to, but in Watson's case there would seem no way he takes less than the nearly 108 million guaranteed dollars the Eagles gave Carson Wentz in his extension or the 110 million the Rams laughably lavished upon Jared Goff.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. How come hand sanitizer is now easily found, but not wipes?

2. UFC "Fight Island" seems impressively constructed, I'm just not into it.

3. Biggest losses if non-conference college football games are wiped out for 2020: Bronze-Ohio St. at Oregon Silver-Clemson at Notre Dame Gold-Texas at LSU

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Rockets get another much-needed win. Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets went on a redemption tour by beating the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks. But the most pivotal win was against the Mavericks as the Rockets finally showed their true potential. John Wall finally made his return from his injury hiatus and played with a lot of energy. DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon combined for 61 points. It was great to see Stephan Silas crack a smile as he was able to beat his former team.

The Rockets clearly missed Wall during his eight-game absense. This season, the Rockets are a .500 team with Wall on the court. Wall is the Rockets' floor general that leads, constructs, and also pushes his teammates to become better.

Wall only played 21 minutes in the 133-108 win over the Mavericks but still had eight assists. Even though Wall only had 7 points, his presence was still felt by finding his teammates for open looks beyond the perimeter. Wall made sure Cousins and Gordon got a plethora of touches. He called multiple actions, so they got open looks from three, which was mainly Gordon. Gordon and Cousins' struggles have been similar but with Wall on the court, they were successful against the Mavericks. According to NBA Stats, Wall posted a 111 offensive rating with the starters versus the Mavericks, which included Gordon and Cousins.

"He's the engine to this team. He gets everybody going. He makes the game easy," Cousins told a reporter after the game. "The pressure that he constantly puts on the defense is a tough thing to deal with."

Gordon has struggled all season long with three-point shooting and relied on his slashing abilities. Saturday night, Gordon made six three pointers against the Mavericks, which was 66 percent from beyond the perimeter. Gordon increased his three-point percentage from 31 percent to 34.5 percent after Saturday night's game. Gordon's 33 points came from being able to attack the entire Mavericks' defense. Willy Cauley-Stein didn't stand a chance against Gordon as he was burned multiple times. Gordon's been a lifesaver for the Rockets in the last two games, and hopefully he maintains his play.

Cousins played fantastic against the Mavericks scoring 28 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. This is Cousins' first double-double with the Rockets this season. Cousins became the vintage player from the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. It was extremely fun watching Cousins push the ball up the court and aggressively snatch rebounds. Boogie shot 50 percent from behind the arc by making four three-pointers. He was dominant inside the paint as Cousins went 7/8 from the restricted area versus the Mavericks. This was the game Cousins needed after having a poor performance against the Pistons Friday night.

"It was really, really good. He did it all. He's a physical presence on both ends of the floor," as Silas said on Cousins' performance.

David Nwaba and Mason Jones were big factors off the Rockets' bench by having a combined total of 34 points together. Nwaba has been great in transition for the Rockets the entire season. Keep in mind that Nwaba is returning from an Achilles injury he suffered with his former team, the Brooklyn Nets. Nwaba has became a great defender, slasher, and is averaging a career-high nine points per game with the Rockets. He finished with 18 points on Saturday night versus the Mavericks.

Mason Jones has become a fan favorite of the Rockets because of his confidence. Silas is loving the usage of Jones off the bench but wants to find more minutes for him. Jones had a breakout performance versus the San Antonio Spurs with 24 points off 66 percent shooting from the field. He continues to get better with his reads from the point guard position. Jones' knowledge of running the offense has helped his efficiency on the court. He is never afraid to take clutch shots in pivotal moments of the game.

"To have a young kid who can come in and not be afraid of the moment, that's big. That's a tough position to be in as an undrafted rookie. I trust him. It's a good problem to have," Silas mentioned after the game. "He's showing me he's ready. He's a confident kid, and he should be. That's why he's good. He's not afraid of the moment, at all. He can get us organized, run plays, and score the basketball."

Hopefully, the Rockets can sustain their level of play when Victor Oladipo returns against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday. It will be interesting to watch Oladipo and Wall play in the same backcourt.

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