Kevin C. Cox
I'm glad it's over.
There. I said it.
I'm glad James Harden's streak of 30 point games ended on Monday night.
Sorry Hardenites or whatever James Harden fans are called.
I was sick of it. It's a nice personal achievement but basketball is a team sport. And it was boring. Iso ball sucks. I hated it during the Steve and Cuttino days and I hate it now.
You can't tell me that a team with one of the best point guards of all time can't move the ball around and get guys open looks. Case in point, the Warriors game. Without James, Chris Paul had 23 points and 17 assists and led a team that was overmatched talent-wise to a 118-112 win.
I'm going to divide this season into three parts. The crappy start to the season, the #unguardabletour season and the gang is back together season.
The crappy start to the season was well, crappy. Coming off the 65 win season they began this one 12-14 which was inexplicable. They just plain sucked. It's a time I would rather not dwell on. It's best to leave these things in a dark place in the deep recesses of your mind and never touch them again.
Then there was the #unguardabletour. It has its place in Rockets history. I'm not going to put it up there with all time Rockets achievements. It was a great individual achievement. James got a bunch of national media attention which was nice. They were 21-11 during that stretch which was good too but not spectacular. They did have a bunch of injuries which meant they had to rely on James to carry the load. He did.
Those days are over and they are healthy again playing better basketball. Since the All-Star break and the return of Clint Capela and the resurgence of Chris Paul they look different. They look cohesive offensively. They look like a winner and they're doing it with James struggling, further proof that they are better playing team basketball as opposed to iso ball.
The win over the Warriors without James was eye opening. No they're not better without James but they have proven this past week that they are not nearly as reliant on him as was previously thought.
In their last three games they beat the Warriors without James and they beat the Hawks and Hornets while James was less than stellar. These past two games while the Rockets were scoring 119 and 118 points James has shot just 34% from the field and under 10% from 3. He's made just 1 of his last 21 three-point attempts. That's bad. Real bad.
Yet the other guys are picking him up. Against the Hornets the other guys shot 52%. Against the Hawks 46%. That's really good. This notion that James has to do it all himself has got to change. He doesn't, not with a heathy supporting cast. They can make shots if you put them in position and give them opportunities to make shots. When you only get a couple shots a game it's hard to get into any kind of rhythm. The more shots you get the better the chance you'll make them.
Plus it's just more fun to watch. James dribbling out the shot clock at the top of the key is brutal. It's not going to end but they can cut back on it and let Chris Paul drive and distribute. He's making $40 million a year for a reason.
I'm not saying they're last year's team. They're different. They're different than they were two weeks ago. And that's a good thing.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.