THE PALLILOG

The timing of Russell Westbrook's return should come down to this

Composite image by Jack Brame.

Despite Russell Westbrook's absence from the lineup the Rockets have had a fantastic start to their postseason, routing Oklahoma City in game one and then blowing apart a close game two in the fourth quarter. The work isn't done but the Rockets' 17-0 final quarter blitz Thursday had the look of basketball heart surgery. As in cutting out the Thunder's heart. Momentum can be very fickle, but the Rockets winning game two by 13 points when James Harden had a lousy shooting game while Eric Gordon was even worse? Very ominous for OKC. That the Rockets have committed just seven turnovers in each of the first two games is phenomenal.

Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan greased the skids for his team's game two demise with a ridiculous lineup for the first four and a half minutes of the fourth quarter. Having Abdel Nader and Darius Bazley in the game while both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari sat? Billy D was Billy Dunce on that one. The Rockets ripped off 15 straight points before Donovan subbed. Game over.

One certainly should not assume the series is over, but the Rockets do gain some luxury to pad Westbrook's quad recovery time. Maybe he sits the whole first round. At this point I wouldn't play him in this series until or unless the Thunder wins a game at the earliest.

With the Rockets likely to advance, the plot is definitely thicker than one would have imagined a month ago with regard to who wins the 1 vs. 8 matchup that would produce the Rockets' second round opponent. That the Lakers crushed the Trail Blazers to square that best-of-seven at one win apiece doesn't mean the Lakers have restored order and roll the rest of the way. Before the shutdown the Lakers were head and shoulders best in the west. Since resumption in the "bubble" they had been very shaky until Thursday. That they lacked motivation for the eight seeding games is legit. So is that their outside shooting has stunk. The Blazers are good and dangerous though in the end LeBron James and Anthony Davis should still get the Lakers through to round two.

Going streaking

Cap tip to the Astros as they ride an eight game winning streak into San Diego this weekend. They haven't beaten quality teams (Giants, Mariners, Rockies) but eight straight is eight straight, especially given their ever-growing injury toll. What a bummer losing Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman in the same week. The already gimpy-kneed Alvarez lasted two games before a patellar tendon tear ended his 2020 season. Yordan's upside remains David Ortiz-esque, but bum knees at 23 is just sad. Bregman is a short term loss but the best Astro is sidelined 10 days minimum. Bregman will be out through some if not all of next weekend's big Astros-A's series.

The Padres are led by emerging superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. who leads Major League Baseball with 12 home runs and 29 runs batted in over the Padres' 27 games. If a draft of all current leaguers were held, Tatis might be the first pick. Think what Carlos Correa was when he arrived in the Major Leagues. Now think better. Like Correa, Tatis got to the bigs as a 20-year-old. Carlos won American League Rookie of the Year in 2015. Tatis was having a superior debut season before having that season ended by a back injury in mid-August. Injuries have short circuited Correa's expected rise to superstardom. Anyone who likes baseball should root for both Correa and Tatis Jr. to stay in peak health going forward. Quirky stat, the Padres have hit a grand slam in each of their last four games. That's a first in MLB history.

There's no place like Denver for a hitter or hitters to get going. It's an offensive freak show environment. The Rockies at home last season hit .300 as a team. Everywhere else they hit .230. In 2018: .287 at home, .225 on the road. 2017: .298 at mile high altitude, .248 on the road. You get the idea. So that the Astros scored 23 runs in two games there isn't a big deal beyond the big deal that they won both games. Jose Altuve certainly wasn't complaining. His batting average had sagged to a you have to be kidding me .163 before four hits in his last seven at bats at Coors Field. Altuve is now at .190. That he gets going for real takes on added importance in Bregman's absence.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. With games galore that matter going on who misses NFL preseason games whatsoever?

2. Throw out the mere five games he played this season and Stephen Curry's worst season three point percentage is better than Damian Lillard's best season percentage.

3. Worst aches: Bronze-tooth Silver-head Gold-heart

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Should Watson be in the MVP conversation? Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2020 NFL season has a lot going on. Even if we take the coronavirus out of it, there's still a lot to digest. There are so many great performances being put up, one can make an argument for several players to win league MVP. The quarterback position typically gets more credit than others. If I restrict the argument to quarterbacks only, we're looking at Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Derrick Henry are the leading contenders at running back. On defense, there really isn't a standout defender. The defense gets no love, but there are several guys in the running for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Deshaun Watson has been putting up numbers that have matched or rivaled some of the top MVP candidates over his last seven games. That stretch has coincided with the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien. Coincidence? I think not. Taking the reigns off a wild horse can often lead to said horse running free and flourishing! So question: Should Watson be getting league MVP considerations? I think so.

For starters, he's been one of the best players in the league over the course of the last seven games. 18 passing touchdowns and only two interceptions. The only quarterback with a better touchdown to interception ratio over that same span is Mahomes (19 and 2, as opposed to Watson's 18 & 2). Factoring in total season stats, of course Mahomes is doing much better. He's on a better team with a much better coach and general manager. The same could be said for Wilson and Rodgers. Put Watson on any of those teams and their records wouldn't be any worse than what they are now.

The Texans are 4-3 since firing O'Brien. While that isn't a great record, consider the fact they started the season 0-4 and looked like a total disaster. Watson looked like he was caged and couldn't wait to be freed. The team's record could be even better if the defense had a pulse. The proper supporting cast has a lot to do with a player's MVP candidate's chances. Now that one of his favorite weapons, Will Fuller, and the team's best corner, Bradley Roby, are both suspended for the rest of the season by the league for violating the substance abuse/PED policy, things will get much tougher for Watson.

If he continues to put up these cartoon like numbers, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the MVP conversation. He's currently fopurth in passing yards, sixth in completion percentage, tied for fifth in passing touchdowns, eighth in QBR, and third in quarterback rating. Watson is emerging as the star he was projected to be coming into the 2017 draft. I'm not saying Watson deserves to be the league MVP, but he deserves to be in the conversation. His MVP candidacy should be treated like the family gathering hierarchy: once you reach a certain age and/or status, you're no longer resigned to the kiddie table. Now you get to sit with all the adults, engage in their conversations, and gain access to things you couldn't previously. Watson won't win the MVP award, but I strongly believe he could finish top five. Especially if he keeps making lemonade with the lemons he's been given.

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