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USC's and UCLA's seasons of hope have become a distraction

So much for the idea that local college basketball teams could provide a distraction from the mediocrity of the Lakers and Clippers.

USC was a projected top-10 team with UCLA close behind, but their seasons haven’t unfolded as they anticipated, with both teams unranked, still weighed down by the scandals that ensnared their respective programs.

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“It’s been a very challenging year for us so far,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.

The nation’s preseason No. 10 team, the Trojans are 6-4 heading into their game Friday against Akron in Hawaii.

USC’s most recent defeat, an overtime loss to Princeton on Tuesday, could be explained by the absences of two starters, Bennie Boatwright and Jonah Mathews.

The same excuse couldn’t be applied to any of their three previous losses, however, as Boatwright and Mathews started against Texas A&M, Southern Methodist and Oklahoma.

USC returned more or less the same team as last year that defeated Texas A&M and Southern Methodist. The most notable player who was missing? Sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton.

Melton, an elite defender, hasn’t played this season because of his connection to a federal bribery and corruption case that resulted in the indictment of assistant coach Tony Bland. Melton hasn’t been publicly accused of any wrongdoing, but has been declared ineligible by USC.

UCLA, which is 8-3 and scheduled to take on No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday, is also short on manpower, the infamous shoplifting case in China costing them three freshmen expected to be in their rotation. Coach Steve Alford said last month the absences prevented his team from employing the full-court press as liberally as they would have liked.

“In the beginning of the year, that was definitely in our package, when we were 11 deep,” he said. “Right now, we’re not very deep.”

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If you have trouble getting excited about the Dodgers’ measured off-season, perhaps you can rejoice in the continued unraveling of the San Francisco Giants.

Weighed down by big-money contracts to players in decline, the Giants finished last in the National League West this year. Their solution? Take on the big-money contract of another player in decline, Evan Longoria.

Longoria is 32 and coming off a season in which he batted .261.

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In the wake of his departure from the Dodgers, Adrian Gonzalez received a flood of warm messages from fans through his social media accounts. The kinds of sentiments that were expressed are generally reserved for World Series champions and longtime Dodgers. Gonzalez was neither.

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But the All-Star first baseman was a symbol of the Dodgers’ transformation in the post-McCourt era, his trade from the Boston Red Sox in 2012 signaling how far the team’s new owners would stretch themselves. Remember, to acquire Gonzalez, the Dodgers had to take on more than $260 million in salary commitments, including the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.

Gonzalez looked comfortable for the majority of his time in Los Angeles. Described as guarded in previous stops, he allowed his personality to emerge here. His split with the Dodgers was said to be amicable — he had to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the trade to the Atlanta Braves, who subsequently released him — so don’t be surprised if he returns one day in another role.

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Boxing was uncharacteristically consumer-friendly this year, as it staged fights between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko, and Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia.

There is a growing feeling in the sport that any fight that fans demand could be made, including a potential 135-pound matchup between Mikey Garcia and Vasyl Lomachenko.

Garcia will take on Sergey Lipinets on Feb. 10 at 140 pounds, but plans on returning to his more natural 135-pound weight class. Lomachenko is currently a champion at 130 pounds.

But Garcia introduced a measure of reality into the conversation this week, when he expressed skepticism about the showdown taking place any time soon.

Garcia said he would take the fight and is certain Lomachenko would, too. The obstacle he envisions is Top Rank, which promotes Lomachenko. Garcia used to be promoted by Top Rank, but split with the company last year after a lengthy legal dispute.

Garcia thinks the problem won’t be his history with the promoters, but rather how they like to build the mainstream profiles of fighters before sending them into risky fights.

“The way I know Top Rank works, they will have someone else in mind to win a title at ’35 or even ’40,” Garcia said.

Top Rank claims otherwise, with chief executive Bob Arum saying Lomachenko is willing to fight anyone and would “make a joke” of Garcia.

But in this particular case, waiting would make financial sense, as the two fighters remain relatively unknown to mainstream audiences. They can fight now for a relatively modest prize or fight a year or two from now for a greater dollar figure. The quality of the actual fight could be diminished by time — Garcia is 30 and Lomachenko 29 — but, as Floyd Mayweather used to like to point out, the point of prize fighting is the prize.

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