FALCON POINTS

XFL makes a good first impression, but history tells us that's the easy part for start-ups

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The XFL debuted to a surprising buzz over the weekend. The games were well attended (all around 17,000), the product was better than expected, and TV ratings were solid.

The Houston entry, the Roughnecks, were one of the most impressive teams over the weekend, led by quarterback P.J. Walker, whose escapability and playmaking gave local fans something to cheer about.

Disclaimer: The games are being broadcast live on our station, ESPN 97.5, with the incomparable John Granato on the call. So I hope the league succeeds, because that is good for business. Having said that…

First impressions

New leagues always do well opening week. Fans are curious and tune in. Sustaining it is always the issue. The first night of the original XFL drew a TV rating of over 10. The AAF had almost three million viewers in its debut and barely lasted a few more weeks. The new XFL topped that, but can it continue to keep fans interested?

I can't speak to the in-stadium experience, but plan to attend this week's game. However, the TV broadcast was terrific. Hearing the refs talk through the reviews and the transparency that came with it was fantastic. The coach interviews and playcalling were interesting too. There is always a chance the TV product is so good people do not go to the games.

The quality of play was pretty solid and clearly better than the AAF, although only one of the four games was close. That's to be expected with a startup, though.

The embracing of gambling is a good thing, although the announcers clearly have little knowledge in that regard and were just pandering to the audience. That, too, is to be expected.

The rules changes had surprisingly little impact on scores. The kickoff rule is interesting, as are the extra point options. But in general, teams stayed conservative and it was a lot closer to traditional football than some weird hybrid.

So what happens next?

Sustaining the crowds and TV ratings is a must. The league itself has solid coaching, which should make for more competitive games down the road. It also has Oliver Luck running things, which is a positive. Luck knows what he is doing.

But none of that matters if they can't keep people engaged. They have a smart model; they aren't trying to be the NFL, or hope the NFL subsidizes them like the AAF. They are trying to be a fun spring football league.

Can it work beyond Week 1? That remains to be seen, and it is easy to be skeptical. People have short attention spans, and March Madness is around the corner. Will people still be interested then?

A lot to learn

One of the criticisms is that most people don't know many of the players. That's fair. The league is hoping stars will emerge and people will get to know them then. P.J. Walker is clearly off to a good start in Houston. It's safe to say no one in Houston had heard of Nick Holley before Saturday. Players will need to emerge so fans will buy jerseys in addition to generic gear.

Judging from TV, there was a surprising number of fans in that gear at the game. Whether it was curiosity, the throw back to the Oilers with the name and logo, Bill O'Brien fatigue or the combination of all of the above, it went over well with a fan base that was engaged. They seemed to have fun. Our SportsMap coverage of the opener was well received.

Like them, as a football fan and a person who likes to wager, I enjoyed Week 1. But I'm also like a lot of people; will I stay interested in Weeks 4 and 5?

That is the XFL's multi-million dollar question. And we won't have an answer after one week.


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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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