Pallilo Points

The Texans play off-Broadway. The Cougars play HARD. The Rockets play the lottery (don't think so, but they better be careful)?

Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson takes his act to New York. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans Saturday play a lousy 4-9 Jets team Saturday now without its leading rusher (Isaiah Crowell) and leading pass catcher (Quincy Enunwa). Then they face a probably Carson Wentz-less Eagles team seeing its Super Bowl championship defense die away. Then the awful Jaguars come to Houston. 12-4 is right there for the Texans, but that will only be enough for the number three seed in the AFC and a Wild Card weekend home game unless the fading Steelers rise up Sunday to knock off the Patriots. That game is in Pittsburgh. The Patriots' final two games are both at home against the Bills and Jets.

With the Patriots losing their game to the Miami Miracle, on one hand you can say the Texans blew a massive opportunity in losing at home to the Colts. On the other hand the Colts were clearly the better team in ending the Texans' nine game winning streak.

The loss to Indy was a reality check. The Texans are a pretty good team, but glaring areas of weakness keep it from being a reeeeally good team. The offensive line is flat lousy in pass protection, though sometimes Deshaun Watson makes it look even worse by holding on to the ball too long. Pending free agent moves in the offseason, one of the Texans' top two draft picks next spring MUST be spent on an offensive lineman, the other on a cornerback (if not on another o-lineman). Even in their zone-heavy scheme, the Texans lack corners who run well enough. If the pass rush isn't raising hell, the secondary is Swiss cheesy. Remember, the Texans have an extra second pick this spring, acquired from Seattle in last year's Duane Brown trade.

If somehow the Texans chump up two of their remaining three games, as long as one of the losses isn't to the Jaguars they still win the AFC South even if the Titans or Colts win out.

Coogs' house

None of the Phi Slama Jama era Houston Cougar basketball teams started a season better than 5-0. Sunday Kelvin Sampson's Coogs go for a Bo Derek (perfect 10, anybody remember Bo?) start. Only UH team ever to open 10-0: the Elvin Hayes-led '67-'68 squad that went 31-0 and along the way beat UCLA in the Game of the Century before the Bruins obliterated the Cougars at the Final Four.

The new Fertitta Center is a modest-sized gem, and currently offers the hands down best sports environment in town. Non-Cougars are never going to embrace UH in big numbers especially not in a major league sports town, so UH's "For the City" slogan doesn't hit the mark. But so what? Drawing more of the Cougar base, plus any outside of it who might have some interest piqued by intensely played quality college basketball is good enough.

Rockets rumors

The Rockets have been vastly less excitement-inducing this season, though James Harden's closing brilliance in a 50 point explosion Thursday night to put away the Lakers was a doozy. Getting back to and then over ,500 is the Rockets' near term goal. A good month of sustained quality play is needed to restore credibility. Chris Paul's overall level of play remains a serious concern. The rumor this week of their interest in Cleveland malcontent J.R. Smith, egads! That would render Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey Desperate Daryl. Morey is trying to recover from his awful offseason, but I can't believe he sees J.R. Smith as worthwhile.

Speaking of Morey's offseason work, the Rockets Saturday gain the right to trade Carmelo Anthony. What a bonanza must await in return!

Astros still armed

Not a great look for the Astros that they tugged on their purse strings while the Tampa Bay Rays of all teams guaranteed Charlie Morton $30 million dollars over the next two years. The Astros did not err. Morton was on balance outstanding in his two Astro seasons but he wore down badly this year, and at 35 years old his arm is a ticking bomb. The Astros should add an established starting pitcher, but even if Jeff Luhnow doesn't, the Collin McHugh/Brad Peacock/Josh James/Framber Valdez quartet isn't an indefensible plan to cover three rotation spots while waiting on elite prospect Forrest Whitley's arrival during the 2019 season. If poor performance/injuries are issues, nothing precludes a notable in-season trade. That Verlander fellow worked out okay a couple of seasons ago. A left handed hitter is the obvious other logical Astros' target.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Pipe down Tony La Russa. Harold Baines making the Baseball Hall of Fame is ridiculous. 2. La Russa also used to lambaste those who dared to believe that Mark McGwire might have been a steroid guy. 3. Best teams in the AFC: Bronze-Patriots Silver-Chargers Gold-Chiefs (but barely post-loser Kareem Hunt).

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Alperen Sengun had 20 points in the loss. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Zion Williamson had 27 points and nine assists, and the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the struggling Houston Rockets 127-105 on Thursday night for their eighth victory in nine games.

“We know what the stakes are,” said Williamson, who — if he remains healthy — is on track to compete in his first NBA playoff games this spring.

The latest victory improved the Pelicans to 34-22, good for fifth in the Western Conference.

Williamson, who has missed most of his first four seasons with injuries, has played in 45 games this season, leads New Orleans in points per game with 22.5, and looks rested after not being selected for last weekend's NBA All-Star festivities.

“At this point, I've got to win," Williamson said when asked about the opportunity to compete in some of the highest-stakes games of his career in coming weeks. "That's the only way to show people.”

Playing without high-scoring wing Brandon Ingram, who sat out with a non-COVID illness, the Pelicans got highly productive nights from their other four usual starters.

CJ McCollum scored 28 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Herb Jones had 17 points and a career-high seven steals for New Orleans, which led 63-50 at halftime and by as many as 29 points during the second half.

“Herb brings it every night — he really does — on both ends of the floor,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Jones, whose highlights included a driving dunk as he was fouled, three 3s and an alley-oop lob to Williamson. “When he has nights like tonight, where he's guarding everybody and getting steals, getting deflections, getting blocks, rebounding the ball, shooting the ball well, you can see how important he is to this group.”

Alperen Sengun had 20 points and nine rebounds for Houston, which has lost six of seven and played the last eight minutes with its starters on the bench.

"You have to take a little pride in guarding your matchup and knowing their tendencies and where they want to get to," Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “Especially Williamson – that’s what he does, forces his way to the basket; I think the blow-bys and straight-line drives were a little too easy for him.

"Even when we doubled him at times, he still beat the double teams,” Udoka added. “Our starters weren’t as sharp as we needed to be.”

Rookie Amen Thompson, the fourth overall pick in last summer's NBA draft, scored a season-high 22 points. Jalen Green added 10 points for the Rockets.

Green inserted Trey Murphy III into the starting lineup for Ingram. He scored 13 points, but the career 39% 3-point shooter struggled with his accuracy, missing 8 of 10 from deep.

The final meeting of the regular season between the Southwest Division rivals was a chippy one. Officials called 39 total fouls — 21 on the Pelicans — and had to step in to break up a brief fourth quarter scrum that resulted in technical fouls for Valanciunas and Reggie Bullock Jr.

“That's part of the game and I think there was a little frustration (from Houston), based on the score,” Green said. “But for us, it's being the more mentally tough team in between the lines. No matter what happens, we're not backing down from anybody.”

The Pelicans tied their season series with the Rockets at 2-2, thanks in part to the 28th double-double this season by Valanciunas, who did most of his scoring inside, but also hit both 3s he attempted.

Williamson, who routinely handles the ball and initiates the offense like a guard, had his fifth game this season with at least nine assists.

“We’re seeing Zion get better and better as the season progresses,” Green said. “This is what happens when you put the ball in his hands, especially early.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Host Phoenix on Friday.

Pelicans: Host Miami on Friday.

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