THE COUCH SLOUCH

The Slouch looks at the rest of the NBA season (plus another Astros-related Q&A)

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As is our annual tradition at the NBA all-star break, Couch Slouch looks ahead to the remainder of the season – laced with remarkable perspicacity* – at no additional cost to you, the reader.

Yes, I will provide the acumen of subscription-based The Athletic and the access of pricey NBA League Pass…ALL FOR FREE.

Let's do it!

It used to be, "NBA Action, It's FANtastic." Now it's, "NBA Action, Bombs Away!" For much of NBA history, a basket was worth two points. In 1979, they decided that some baskets – from longer distances – would be three points. Then more recently, some analytic smart alecks figured out that three-point baskets were worth one more point than two-point baskets, so let's just make three-point baskets.

The game has changed.

The Milwaukee Bucks' 7-foot center, Brook Lopez, has taken more three-point shots this season (242) than two-point shots (234). The Dallas Mavericks' Kristaps Porzingis, at 7-foot-3, is the tallest man on the floor, yet he has taken almost as many three-pointers (277) as two-pointers (362).

We have evolved from those Pistons'-Bad-Boys, Pat-Riley-with-the-Knicks 88-85 slugfests of the late 1980s and early '90s to the current-day 128-126 playground skirmishes. The games have gone from rugby matches to the Ice Capades.

The fast-break layup has morphed into the fast-break 23-footer.

There is feasibly a middle ground between 88-85 and 128-126; I don't know what that exact number would be, but I always vote for the middle ground.

Three cheers for Ben Simmons, the three-ball contrarian. The multi-skilled Philadelphia 76ers' point guard will not do what everyone wants him to do – take three-point shots. You know how some kids have a mental block about math? Simmons has a mental block about three-pointers.

In his first two NBA seasons, Simmons did not make a three-pointer, attempting only 17 of them. This season he is two-for-six from beyond the arc.

You be you, Ben, two points at a time.

I stand with Simmons: Years ago, newspaper editors insisted I write longer articles with bigger words. No way, I told them – I write short and I use one-syllable words. And I'm still here.

(* "Perspicacity" is a rare exception.)

If it were up to Gregg Popovich, no one would ever take a 25-foot shot. One of the NBA's greatest coaches ever and one of the most severe critics of three-ball, Popovich is in danger of having two remarkable streaks end: In 22 full seasons of helming the San Antonio Spurs, he has never had a losing record and never missed the postseason.

"I've hated the three for 20 years," Popovich said in 2018. At the moment the Spurs are 28th out of 30 NBA teams in three-point shots made and 29th in three-pointers attempted.

The Spurs are 23-31 – five games out of a playoff spot – and their best chance might be to petition the league for transfer into the Eastern Conference.

As usual, the Eastern Conference should be quarantined. The 19-38 Detroit Pistons have a better chance of making the East playoffs than the 33-22 Oklahoma Thunder and 33-22 Dallas Mavericks have of earning home-court advantage in the West playoffs.

Then again, the Pistons also have a better chance of making the playoffs than Ben Simmons does of ever making another three-point shot.

The Golden State Warriors have gone from penthouse to outhouse, three points at a time. Many folks – I am not among them – are delighted that the Warriors, after five straight NBA Finals appearances with consecutive seasons of 67-15, 73-9, 67-15, 58-24 and 57-25, currently have an NBA-worst 12-43 record.

Enjoy it while you can.

Next season, aside from a core of young talent and the likely No. 1 overall pick in the draft, the Warriors will also have all-star Draymond Green, plus the return of the NBA's greatest three-point-shooting back court ever, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Zion Williamson is the real deal. But he's only taking one three-pointer per game. DO THE MATH, son: 3 > 2.

Ask The Slouch - Special Houston Astros Edition (again)


Q. Is it true that Astros owner Jim Crane has hired Rudy Giuliani to visit Ukraine in search of proof that Hunter Biden was the mastermind behind the sign-stealing fiasco? (Rick LaDuca; Ashburn, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. If the Astros ever hire Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as manager and starting pitcher, respectively, will Rob Manfred preemptively suspend them as repeat cheaters? (Tom Walker; Colonie, N.Y.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. When MLB adds trash cans to its merchandise list, will they only be available with the Astros logo or will they include all teams with former Astros players/coaches? (David Roberts; Fairfax, Va.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. How much trouble is Carlos Beltran's grandmother in for not providing proper guidance? (Ron Anderson; Lynnwood, Wash.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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After rallying in the ninth inning in Game 1 to take the pivotal opener of this best-of-three ALWC series, the Astros were in the driver's seat to try and end the series on Wednesday with another win at Target Field. Here is a quick rundown of Game 2:

Final Score: Astros 3, Twins 1.

Series: HOU Wins 2-0.

Winning Pitcher: Cristian Javier.

Losing Pitcher: Cody Stashak.

Houston gets the first hit and first run in the fourth

Through the first three innings, neither team could get a hit off of Jose Berrios or Jose Urquidy, though the Twins did load the bases in the bottom of the first on two walks and an error, but Urquidy would strand the runners before getting 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

Meanwhile, the Astros lineup was retired in order in three perfect innings by Berrios. That changed in the top of the fourth when Houston would get back-to-back two-out walks to set up the first hit of the game, an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

Dusty Baker makes another early call to the bullpen before Twins tie it up

Urquidy was able to keep the 1-0 lead by working around a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth, the first hit for the Twins. He returned in the fifth, allowing a leadoff single before a strikeout for the first out. Dusty Baker would pull another early hook, like Greinke the day prior, dipping into his bullpen early to end Urquidy's day at just 76 pitches in the fifth. His final line: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 76 P.

Brooks Raley was who Baker called on to face the top of the Twins' lineup. He would walk his first batter, putting runners on first and second, get a strikeout for the second out, then allow an RBI-double to Nelson Cruz that almost scored a second, go-ahead run. Instead, the runner was out at home thanks to a terrific defensive play by Carlos Correa, bulleting the ball to Maldonado at home, who made a great tag to save the run and keep it tied 1-1.

Correa homers, Astros advance to ALDS

After Raley completed the fifth inning for Urquidy, Cristian Javier was the next reliever out to begin the bottom of the sixth. He would toss a 1-2-3 frame, sending the tie game to the seventh. In the top of the seventh, Carlos Correa broke the tie with a long, loud two-out solo home run to center-field, putting the Astros back in front 2-1.

Javier held on to the one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh by working around a leadoff walk, then returned for the eighth. He would get through it scoreless, despite allowing a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz, who would be pinch-ran for by the speedy Byron Buxton. After a strikeout for out number two, Javier would catch Buxton between first and second base in a rundown, getting the big final out of the inning.

Houston added insurance in the top of the ninth, getting two on base before an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, his second of the day to make it 3-1. That left things up to closer Ryan Pressly, making his first appearance of the postseason. He would notch the save, advancing the Astros to the ALDS for their fourth-straight year.

Up Next: The Astros will now have a few days off to travel to the west coast before starting their ALDS with the winner of the A's / White Sox ALWC series. Game 1 of their ALDS will be on Monday, October 5th, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, with start time TBD.

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