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It's rare to have a player about whom you can say, "He is the reason the Rockets finished as the eighth seed in the Western Conference," and have it be simultaneously an insult and a compliment. Last season Harden's slow start dug the Rockets into a hole that got Kevin McHale fired. But with two months left, Harden was spectacular, showing the form that made him the runner-up for the MVP in 2014-2015, and helped the Rockets sneak into the playoffs. This season, with Dwight Howard gone to Atlanta, the Rockets are building exclusively around Harden, who will look to regain his near MVP form with new teammates Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon turning his kick-out passes into three-pointers.


One of Houston's oldest and most beautiful parks is also one of its most useful. In addition to the zoo, the golf course, the museums across the street, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the train and the brand new McGovern Centennial Gardens, this park has beautiful old oak and pine trees and plenty of spots to lounge and enjoy a picnic. We prefer the hill overlooking the theater during one of the many performances, but, really, anywhere in the sprawling metropolitan green space is ideal for a picnic for the entire family.

The thing about a trip to the Hill Country is that it's modular. With so much to do in the center of our gigantic state, any trip west of Houston can be tailored or suited to your interests, be they culinary, outdoor, historical or something else entirely. New Braunfels puts you in the center of more than just an inner tube on a lazy river. The city has two great venues in Gruene Hall, which should be on your Texas music bucket list, and Whitewater Amphitheater, which is one of the best spots in the state that no one talks about. From New Braunfels you can dip down into San Antonio for tacos or up into Lockhart for BBQ. New Braunfels may not have the same cred as Austin, but give it a shot and you'll find the place is pretty legit.

Being only about an hour from the Gulf Coast affords Houstonians the opportunity to go to the beach as frequently as they are able. Most head for Galveston and, sure, it's fine, but if you want a slightly more laid-back beach experience, try Surfside. Southwest of Galveston along the Blue Water Highway, it is devoid of the tourist traps of its big sister. Mostly, it is populated by families staying in rent houses that line the beach and folks down for the day from Houston. Best yet, you can avoid the hellish traffic on the Gulf Freeway in favor of the far tamer 288.

There are any number of ways to measure the caliber of a sports franchise, and right now the Houston Texans check the right boxes. First, the value of the team is estimated by Forbes to be at around $2.5 billion, which is by far the most of any Houston team and the seventh-highest valuation in the National Football League. Second, owner Bob McNair has committed the resources to winning, making Bill O'Brien one of the higher-paid coaches in the league and sinking several tens of millions of dollars into signing bonuses for free agents this past offseason, most notably quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. The team is positioned to win, and win soon. Third, the Texans are extremely active in numerous charitable endeavors throughout the Houston community through the Houston Texans Foundation, setting a tone of generosity and community awareness that permeates their roster.

As the team's leading scorer in 2013 and 2014, forward and team captain Giles Barnes has continued to deliver across the board, making the man who wears the No. 28 jersey our No. 1 choice for Best Dynamo. Though he was humble in accepting the armband, the team's fourth captain has demonstrated a caring and respectful leadership style. He's remained at or near the top of the pack for goals, assists, shots and shots on goal this season, which didn't go unnoticed when he was cherry-picked for Jamaica's jaunt to this summer's Copa América Centenario.

READERS' CHOICE: Eric Alexander

Starting at the end of Moy Street right at White Oak Bayou, the Heights Hike and Bike Trail takes you all the way through the historic Heights neighborhood and drops you off at the edge of downtown, right at the University of Houston — Downtown. Along the way, you'll pass Lawrence Park and its playgrounds; Donovan Park at Heights Boulevard, which probably has the best and safest on-street bike lanes in Houston; and Stude Park, where you can find a four-story red steel abstract sculpture by Mac Whitney. The Heights trail also intersects with the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail at the beginning and end of the route. While you're crossing the bridge over the bayou near Moy Street, be sure to soak in one of the best views of the skyline in Houston.

Houston lays claim to one of the longest, most fascinating and sometimes cruelest chapters in the Sports Fan's Almanac of Frustration and Heartbreak, but UH athletics post-Phi Slama Jama have hardly even registered as an afterthought. That all changed after Tom Herman arrived as head football coach in December 2014, winning the Peach Bowl after a 13-1 campaign and starting this season in the AP's Top 25. This sudden #HTownTakeover turned the Coogs into the hottest team in the city, college or professional. The days of lackluster attendance at Robertson Stadium have been replaced by the boisterous sea of red at the spanking-new TDECU Stadium. Now, UH fans show up early, stay late, harass opposing teams mercilessly and, in terms of loyalty, have put UT and A&M fans on notice.

READERS' CHOICE: Houston Texans

When taking the pooch out for a stroll, dog owners seek a setting with interesting smells and varied terrain, not to mention shade. The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center embodies all those characteristics and more. With miles of winding trails that range from the wide and flat to the narrow and undulating, the arboretum provides a perfect place for the pup to enjoy a spirited walk while the owner gets in some exercise in a tranquil and tree-covered setting. Were it not for the occasional rumble of 610 traffic in the background, you might forget you're in the big city.

For anyone who has lived in Houston more than 20 years, visiting Buffalo Bayou Park for the first time is like entering another city. The innovative and historic project spanning multiple decades has literally transformed a portion of the city from an eyesore to one of the most beautiful city parks in the country. It is impossible not to gawk at the skyline from vantage points along the well-manicured trails. And with amenities like kayaking, dining, a skate park and the incredible cistern, it is a showstopper for the city of Houston.

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