THE PALLILOG

Here's why we should all keep an open mind about James Harden

He's not the first, and won't be the last to request a trade. Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Texans at Colts Sunday. Yippee! Off one of the most embarrassing showings in franchise history (and that's saying something) the Texans are left with three for them essentially meaningless games. Some foolhardy types might talk about building momentum for next season blah, blah, blah.

The off field stuff is of vastly more importance these days, most prominently the better finally get it right hire of the next General Manager. 2021 carries little promise for the Texans. The new GM should basically be granted a redshirt year on his contract to clear dead salary cap weight off the books before 2022 and sit around during next year's Draft with no pick in the first or second round. The first named candidate to interview this week was ESPN analyst and former NFL personnel man Louis Riddick. Riddick also has dates with the Lions and the Falcons. If offered all three gigs on similar terms, which does he take? The Texans have Deshaun Watson as their beacon of hope. The Lions' quarterback is mediocre Matthew Stafford, the Falcons have Matt Ryan who turns 36 before next season. On the other hand while the Texans are thumb twiddling through the first two rounds of the draft, the Lions and Falcons will be making picks.

Countdown to liftoff

The Rockets start their season Wednesday night. Will James Harden finish the season as a Rocket? Probably not. For all the sturm und drang around Harden, as long as he's around one should expect him to continue scoring bushelsful of points, for the Rockets to win a decent number of games, and then for a 26th consecutive season miss the NBA Finals.

This is a common occurrence in the NBA

Harden's actions have made him a not inappropriate target for some scathing criticism. That he wants out because he doesn't see a path to an NBA title as a Rocket? You think his vision is off about that? His showing up in less than peak condition, and absurd answers to some press conference questions, and seeking an easier route toward a title are off-putting to many. Nothing wrong with that but that Harden is committing mind-blowing treason is a bit much. Once upon a time Hakeem Olajuwon demanded to be traded from the Rockets. That was before the Dream-led back-to-back titles of 1994 and '95. Kobe Bryant demanded the Lakers trade him. So did Magic Johnson way back when. Charles Barkley demanded trades in both Philadelphia and Phoenix. Even deeper in the time machine, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told the Milwaukee Bucks to deal him. Before him Wilt Chamberlain did the same to the 76ers. More recently Jimmy Butler and Anthony Davis pushed hard for deals. A couple of months ago they played in the Finals against each other.

Chris Paul years before Davis in New Orleans. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Vince Carter in Toronto. Superstar basketball players matter more to their teams than individuals in other team sports. Franchise quarterbacks don't play defense (insert Harden D joke here). Mike Trout comes up four or five times per game. Since the greatest hoopers matter more, they are catered to more, become divas more, and make demands more. Distasteful when your team is on the short end, of course.

How did the Rockets land Tracy McGrady in 2004? He demanded a trade from Orlando.

Why they do it? Because they can. Harden is just the latest contestant singing the common NBA star refrain: "Get me outta here."

College football playoff picture

What a joke that Florida lost at home to a bad LSU team and dropped one spot (to seventh) in the playoff rankings. Even if the Gators beat Alabama in the SEC Championship game Saturday they will not belong in the top four. Not over 8-1 Texas A&M they wouldn't (presuming the Ags win at Tennessee). Had Florida beaten LSU and then Alabama, the Gators would have deserved to vault over the Aggies. A&M's three point home win over UF in the first month of the season would not (and should not) have trumped an otherwise unbeaten Gator team that just beat number one in the nation to win the SEC title. Losing to a 3-5 team late in the season should be disqualifying, certainly so when it's a team's second defeat.

The fifth ranked Aggies best hope of crashing the playoff party is for Notre Dame to beat Clemson for a second time. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney would probably whine away, that his team still deserves to be in, but the selection committee's job then should include basically telling Dabo to shut up. Clemson has exactly one win over a team that finished with a winning record. If Notre Dame loses reasonably competitively the Fighting Irish should stay in the top four.

If Ohio State beats Northwestern for the Big 10 crown, it's quite clear the Buckeyes are going to the playoff despite having played only six games.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Guessing George Springer becomes a Met, shortly after the New Year.

2. Anyone else really like the smell of brewing coffee, but not like drinking coffee?

3. Best Italian restaurant desserts: Bronze-Zabaglione Silver-Italian cream cake Gold-Tiramisu

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Houston loses in San Francisco

Astros drop back-and-forth middle game to Giants to even series

Houston's offense couldn't keep up with the Giants on Saturday. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

With the impressive win in the opener to start the series, the Astros entered Saturday's middle game against the Giants with an opportunity to not just secure the series but surpass San Francisco for the best record in the league. They'd have to wait to take that crown, as the Giants would out-slug the Astros to even the series.

Final Score: Giants 8, Astros 6

Astros' Record: 64-41, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Jay Jackson (2-0)

Losing Pitcher: Blake Taylor (2-3)

Teams trade blows early, Giants chase Greinke out early

The teams traded blows early in this one, with the Giants tagging Zack Greinke with six runs, all on homers. The first was a solo shot in the bottom of the second to start the scoring before hitting one in each inning through the fourth: two-run blasts in the third and fourth, then a go-ahead solo shot in the bottom of the fifth, putting them ahead 6-5 at the time. Greinke would face one more batter, allowing a single to end his lackluster day: 4.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4 HR, 93 P.

Houston's offense kept things close to try and keep Greinke in a position to win, going up 3-1 in the third on a two-run Aledmys Diaz homer and another coming in on an error. After San Francisco scored four unanswered to make it 5-3, Diaz homered again in the top of the fifth to cut the deficit to one run before Yuli Gurriel would tie it with an RBI double.

Astros stay in it, but Giants even the series by winning the slug-fest

With Greinke exiting with no outs in the fifth, Houston handed the ball to Phil Maton, acquired in the recent Myles Straw trade, to make his debut for his new team. He worked himself into a jam, allowing a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out, but was able to get back-to-back strikeouts to strike out the side and strand all three runners, keeping it a one-run game.

That proved pivotal in the top of the sixth, as with two outs, Martin Maldonado would launch a game-tying solo homer, making it 6-6. Blake Taylor took over out of the bullpen in the bottom of the inning but would face just three batters, getting two outs while leaving one on as Dusty Baker moved on to Cristian Javier. Javier would watch the Giants retake the lead, getting back-to-back singles to bring in a run and make it 7-6.

Javier stayed in the game in the bottom of the seventh, allowing a leadoff single but erasing it by striking out the next three batters. Still a 7-6 game in the bottom of the eighth, Yimi Garcia made his Astros debut but did not keep the score there, allowing a leadoff solo homer to make it a two-run game. The 8-6 score would go final as Houston's offense came up empty again in the top of the ninth, setting up a rubber game in the finale.

Up Next: The series finale will get underway at 3:05 PM Central on Sunday in San Francisco. Luis Garcia (7-5, 3.19 ERA) will take the mound for Houston, going opposite Logan Webb (4-3, 3.36 ERA) for the Giants.

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