THE PALLILOG

The Astros' offense will be fine and the return of the Rockets

Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The problems caused by COVID-19 remain plentiful but for those who love sports the past week sure has been a port in the storm. First Major League Baseball made it back (though already possibly imperiled) and now the NBA. Life is a bit better.

First the Astros. If George Springer is going to bat .048 this season, with Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman each at .174, the Astros are finished! In Springer's case it would be the worst job ever by a player making his case for a massive free agent contract. There of course is no chance of those numbers remaining where they are, so for anyone hyperventilating over the lousy starts we recommend a few deep breaths into a paper bag. Overall the offense should be fine, especially when Yordan Alvarez fortifies the lineup within a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately, the results of the Astros' mediocre 3-3 opening homestand were vastly exceeded in importance by the lousy to devastating Justin Verlander injury. He holds out hope that his forearm strain will allow a return in perhaps a month. The smart money is probably on worse than that. The ugly elephant in the room is the possibility of Tommy John surgery which would sideline Verlander well into 2021 when he'll be 38 years old and approaching free agency. If Verlander's total output for 2020 turns out to be six innings for more than 12 million dollars, the Astros aren't doomed for the season but they drop from the top echelon of World Series contenders. With the postseason fielded expanded to eight teams per league the Astros certainly still should make the playoffs with one of the eight best records in the American League, it's just no longer a virtual lock.

It's amazing that within the first five games of the season Dusty Baker called on seven different relief pitchers to make their major league debuts.

Rockets Relaunch

The Rockets start their "seeding games" eight game finish to the regular season Friday night playing the Dallas Mavericks in Orlando. The Rockets sit in sixth place in the Western Conference, a game and a half ahead of the Mavs. A Rocket win would pretty much assure they would finish no lower than sixth. Does it really matter? The Lakers have cinched up the top seed in the West. Unless you think another team is going to upset the Lakers or Clippers, or the Clippers fall to fourth or fifth which would mean they'd play the Lakers in the conference semis, the Rockets are going to have to beat both the Clippers and Lakers to win the West. That's the simplest reason why the Rockets probably will not be winning the West, notwithstanding Daryl Morey's claim that the Rockets "should win this thing." But, hey, without upsets and dramatic runs we'd have little reason to care about sports to begin with.

Fabulous return to play for the NBA with a pair of two point games Thursday night. The look of the venues in Orlando is good. The virtual fans thing is silly but it works. Shocked that the NBA didn't make the virtual seats a "sellout." During the Clippers-Lakers game I even almost enjoyed Reggie Miller using the word "here" every two-point-three sentences! Marv Albert will forever to me be the play-by-play voice most synonymous with the NBA, but honestly, Kevin Harlan and Ian Eagle are a better one-two play-by-play punch now. At 79 years old Marv opted for caution and is skipping the "bubble."

NFL Top 100

NFL Network finished it's ranking of the top 100 players for the 2020 NFL season as voted upon by NFL players. The criteria are nebulous. Is it purely on expectations for 2020? Does body of work matter, and if so more so than 2019? Whatever the criteria, leaving out the Ravens and the Chiefs, how many NFL teams do you think would rather have Patrick Mahomes as their quarterback than Lamar Jackson? I would think 30 out of 30 or darn close to it. The players voted Jackson the best player for 2020. The guy was MVP last season but…

Tom Brady was ranked 14th, Deshaun Watson 20th. If they knew nothing else about their roster I would think more coaches and general managers would opt for Watson now. Watt came in at number 25. T.J. Watt. J.J. was number 45. Attendance is part of the grade and J.J. has failed on that front three of the last four seasons. The lone other Texan in the top 100 was Laremy Tunsil at number 66.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Joe Kelly's 8 game suspension may be too harsh (he didn't actually hit anyone and while his purpose was obvious it's not a 100% certainty), but better a penalty too harsh than too lenient on this.

2. Who'd have thought it would be the SEC to go with the plan of longest delay to the start of its college football season?

3. Best ever basketball announcer teams: Bronze-Marv Albert, Mike Fratello Silver-Dick Enberg, Billy Packer, Al McGwire Gold-Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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