CHARLIE PALLILO

Texans' next few opponents provide opportunity; Bregman on a tear for Astros

J.J. Watt made an impact in his return. Jadeveon Clowney did not. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Texans-Titans game in Nashville Sunday is basically a pick ‘em. The Titans are off making the playoffs but no one thinks they have a special squad, especially if Marcus Mariota remains a mediocrity of a quarterback. The Texans have no shot at making the playoffs if Deshaun Watson is a mediocrity of a quarterback, which is what he was at the Patriots. He is not consistently accurate as a thrower and is prone to some dubious choices. The need is Watson doing enough spectacular things to carry more days than not. But that offensive line he’s behind, yuck. Four new starters represent an upgrade over last year’s talent cesspool but by NFL standards it remains a weak unit, especially at tackle. Julie’n Davenport looked in over his head against Deacon Jones. Wait. I mean against Trey Flowers. Martinas Rankin isn’t developed yet, but will have to OJT it with Seantrel Henderson lost to a broken ankle. At least that’s not like trying to replace a Jonathan Ogden or Anthony Munoz.

After generally being a non-entity in the first half at New England J.J. Watt showed flashes in the second, but no one should be holding his or her breath on a return to superhero level dominance. If Watt doesn’t sack Mariota, Tuesday will mark the two year anniversary of his last sack.

At least Watt flashed something. Jadaveon Clowney was close to a zero, clearly not up to off speed coming of knee surgery. For a guy dreaming of a contract extension in the league of what fellow 2014 draft class defenders Khalil Mack (90 million dollars guaranteed) and Aaron Donald got (87 mil guaranteed) Clowney better ramp it up substantially.

A 1-1 split of season opening road games at 2017 playoff teams and the Texans are fine. Should the Texans lose and Jacksonville beats New England in Florida Sunday, the Texans will already be in trouble re: chasing an AFC South title.

Each of the Texans’ next five opponents also lost their season openers: Titans, Giants, Colts, Cowboys, Bills.

Best record doesn't always matter

The Red Sox have clearly been the best team in baseball this year. That’s over the run of the 162 game regular season. Boston will have homefield advantage for all playoff series it plays. But with 3 rounds of playoffs to survive in order to win the World Series, the best team of the season usually doesn’t win the Series.  Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, only five times in 23 years has the team with the best regular season record in the majors gone on to win the World Series.

The Astros were phenomenal last season, but the Indians (102) and Dodgers (104) won more regular season games than did the Astros (101). The Astros are cruising toward clinching their playoff spot, though the A’s deserve truckloads of credit for keeping a little suspense in the American League West race. But most of the sand has slipped through the hour hour glass. Up four in the loss column going into the weekend the Astros would have to falter to wind up in the Wild Card game.

Bregman stock is booming

Alex Bregman is brash and borderline cocky, yet somehow remains grounded at the same time. It’s a helluva package because Bregman is entitled to thinking every waking moment right now: “I AM AWESOME!”

With 16 games to spare Bregman made reality the statistical combo platter I suggested a few weeks ago as within reach for him. 50 doubles, 30 homers, 100 runs batted in, and 100 runs scored. He’s the first third baseman ever to hit the 50 double 30 homer daily double.

It’s a bit early to load up on Alex Bregman Hall of Fame stock. This could turn out to be the best season he ever has. But Bregman’s season is about as awesome as the campaign Chipper Jones put up in 1999 as the Atlanta Braves third baseman. Chipper was a stud and then some, his unbelievable second half in ‘99 distanced him from Jeff Bagwell to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Chipper Jones went into the Hall this summer.

Bregman’s season would fit very well on a Hall of Fame resume. Not as great as, say, Mike Schmidt or George Brett’s best. But it’s so good, that at 24 years old, Bregman is now a plausible blip on the Hall radar. Fewer third basemen have been elected to the Hall than players of any other position. Several who are in never had a season as tremendous as Alex Bregman’s 2018.

Buzzer Beaters

1. In the last 18 games that count Bill O’Brien is 4-14. One win for every year of his contract extension.  2. Texas! USC! Meh. TCU-Ohio St. is much bigger and more interesting, though not predicted to be as close. 3. Best NFL helmets: Bronze-Raiders  Silver-Rams Gold-Bengals

 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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