It's amazing to think about where we are as Houston sports fans these days, and perhaps the best way to put it in perspective is to examine where we were just before the NFL Draft. Back in April, here was the state of the union for the three biggest teams in the market:
1. The Houston Texans were coming off of two straight division titles, had unloaded Brock Osweiler, and had a healthy J.J. Watt returning to pair with Jadeveon Clowney in the coming season.
2. The Rockets were wrapping up a 55-win season in which James Harden was arguably the most valuable player in the entire league.
3. The Astros were in the first month of a season in which they were favored to win the AL West and were a dark horse to make it to the World Series. Their young nucleus included Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Dallas Keuchel.
That's pretty darn good. Young teams with lots of hope and plenty of star power. Good times!
Now consider this — within the next four months the general managers of those three star-laden, up and coming teams added the biggest "big game" star in college football this decade (Deshaun Watson), the best point guard of this generation (Chris Paul), and the best starting pitcher in the American League over the past ten years (Justin Verlander).
I mean, holy...
So far, it's a massive understatement to say Watson and Verlander have held up their ends of the bargain. Now it's Paul's turn, and I say all that to say that I am as excited as I can possibly for a Rockets season opener on Tuesday night, when they travel to the Bay Area to take on the Warriors. Let's get this NBA season going, and let's do it like we always do — with five season win total bets that will get us all PAID.
Here we go...
PELICANS UNDER 39.5
There were a lot of people gushing last season when the Pelicans pulled off the deal for perennial malcontent, but super talented DeMarcus Cousins to pair him with Anthony Davis. "Oooohhhh, they have two of the top 15 players in the league and maybe the two best big men in the league!" is what they all said. I went on the record immediately saying that I didn't think the mix would work, that they'd have trouble meshing their styles, and that the team would have no depth. Yeah, I realize both guys are capable of stepping away from the hoop and knocking down jumpers, but it doesn't mean that's their preference. The West is really hard, and after Davis and Cousins, there's just Jrue Holiday (who is merely an average point guard in today's NBA), and that's it. Love the under on this one.
CELTICS UNDER 55.5
Any total over 55 wins is reserved for an elite team, and while the Celtics will almost certainly qualify as an elite team by the time the postseason rolls around, swapping out point guards (Thomas for Irving), adding a new alpha dog scorer (Hayward), and watching key defensive depth leave (Crowder, Bradley) are huge changes that will require some time to adjust to. I think this is clearly one of the two best rosters in the Eastern Conference, but there will be a burn-in period, and if you're looking to crack 55 wins, you can't really have a burn-in period. For some perspective, LeBron's Cavalier teams these past three seasons won 53, 57 and 51 games. Also, injuries need to be accounted for. Kyrie Irving hasn't always been able to stay healthy, with just one season in his six in the league where he's missed fewer than ten games.
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WARRIORS UNDER 67.5
We all look at the Warriors and watch them roll through the postseason and think "Wow, 67 wins sounds like stealing. There's just no way I can see this team losing 15 times!" Here again is where we need to point out just how much stronger the Western Conference got over the offseason. Chris Paul and James Harden consolidated power in Houston, the Spurs are always tough, the Thunder now have three All-Stars (one of them the reigning MVP of the league) — you see my point. Also, that 16-1 run through the postseason last year probably showed the Warriors that home court for them is important but not essential, and managing the regular season with rest as the core gets older is advisable. Truth be told, they could manage the rest in the regular season, and still win, say, 61 games and get home court throughout easily. You'll sweat way harder on the OVER on these guys than the UNDER, trust me.
CLIPPERS UNDER 44.5
I realize it was a long time ago, and both guys are perhaps different players (in some good ways and some bad ways) than they were back in 2010, but we do remember what a Clippers squad without Chris Paul looked like with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan left to fend for themselves, right? If not, I'll help you — they were 32-50. Yeah, that was several years ago, and Griffin has added a jump shot, but he's also got some serious wear on his tread. Jordan is not a guy you want as your second-best player if your best player is a power forward. A point guard? Maybe. The Clippers felt like they salvaged something when they got seven warm bodies for Chris Paul. They'll find out what life is like when Patrick Beverley has to be a playmaker for them, and not just a guy who can play lockdown defense and shoot jumpers next to James Harden. UNDER on these guys.
ROCKETS OVER 55.5
So four UNDERs, now I need an OVER, right? So why not over 55.5 wins on our boys? I realize that some of the arguments I made for Boston being an UNDER on 55.5 wins probably apply here — adding a new point guard, who happens to be injury-prone, adding other new pieces, etc. Here is where I am counting on the chemistry and friendship between Harden and Paul to accelerate the learning curve for this team. Hayward and Irving are being thrown together, whereas Paul and Harden chose to play together, and have been playing together all summer (and possibly years before that, for all we know). Also, lost in all the waiting on Carmelo Anthony to become a Rocket this offseason was the fact that Daryl Morey assembled a heck of a bench by bringing back Nene, and signing P.J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. This is a deep team that will be better defensively than last season's Rockets.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.