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Lakers need to bench LeBron James for remainder of season

L.A. Times Today airs Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.

LeBron James played all 82 regular-season games last season and has never played fewer than 62. If the Lakers are smart, he won’t play more than 52 games this season.

The Lakers’ season is all but over. It has been for a while. The final 12 games are meaningless. The focus should shift toward securing the best possible draft pick and making sure James is healthy going into next season rather than claiming an extra win or two.

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I’m sure James wants to play. I’m confident Lakers fans, who paid good money for tickets to these final games, want to see him play. However, the Lakers need to do what’s best for the team, James and the vast majority of fans: sit James down.

There’s no need to create a needless controversy by pitting James against management. They should meet before Friday’s home game against Brooklyn, come to an understanding, and announce that James won’t play again this season.

They can blame lingering issues with the groin injury he suffered Christmas Day. James hasn’t been the same player since missing nearly a quarter of the season, so that’s certainly believable. No matter how they explain his absence, it would be foolish to continue playing him.

Everything James would do in the final games would get needlessly nit-picked to no end. He’d get criticized for not sitting closer to teammates on the bench, not being engaged in the huddle or not hustling on defense. What's the point?

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram already have had their seasons ended because of injuries. That’s unfortunate. Both are 21 and could use all the game experience they can get.

James is in his 16th season and has played in the NBA Finals the last eight. He has played an extra three seasons if you count the playoff games in his career. James needs this extended offseason. He needs to conserve as much gas as he has left in his tank for games that matter.

It’s up to the Lakers to make that decision for him as they look at a future with him as their centerpiece.

The marriage between James and the Lakers isn’t a bust. Not yet, anyway. It’s just off to a bad start. The Lakers still have room to sign a max free agent this summer and the assets to possibly add another. There’s time for a happy ending, so no need to waste more time trying to salvage this season.

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The Clippers are a lock to make the playoffs. The only question is where they will be seeded.

They are within one game of being in the 4-5 matchup in the first round. During the Lob City years with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers were either the No. 4 or 5 seed in four of six seasons.

That the Clippers have a chance to be in one of those spots again with the roster they have is a testament to Doc Rivers and the heart of the players who have bought into his system. Rivers on Sunday became just the seventh coach in NBA history to win 300 games with two different teams.

No matter where they end up, the Clippers are a lock to finish with a winning record for the eighth straight season. Before this run, the franchise, dating to its inception as the Buffalo Braves in 1970, had a winning record six times — only twice since coming to Los Angeles in 1984.

To call the Clippers the best NBA team in L.A. ceased being a hot take years ago. The Clippers have been the city’s best basketball team the last seven seasons and it really hasn’t been close. The Lakers have one of the worst records in the league over that span, and the Clippers have won 23 of the last 27 games between the teams.

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Going to a Clippers game at Staples Center is easily the best bargain in town. Tickets for Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers could be found Monday on StubHub for as little as $13. A similar ticket would cost $68 to see the Lakers play Brooklyn on Friday.

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It was a down year for the UCLA and USC men’s basketball teams but UC Irvine will represent the Southland in the NCAA tournament, and the Anteaters are a team everyone can support. Irvine, which has won 30 games, including a school-record 16 straight, has four players with NBA ties.

Freshman forward JC Butler is the son of former NBA forward Caron Butler, who played for the Lakers and Clippers. Redshirt junior guard Max Hazzard is the grandson of Walt Hazzard, who played for UCLA and the Lakers and went on to coach at UCLA and work for the Lakers after retiring. He’s also the nephew of Rasheed Hazzard, who was an assistant with the Lakers. Senior guard Spencer Rivers is the son of the Clippers coach and the brother of Austin Rivers. And redshirt freshman forward Collin Welp’s late father Chris played three seasons in the NBA after graduating as the all-time leading scorer at Washington.

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The USC Board of Trustees approved a 3.5% increase in undergraduate tuition for the 2019-20 academic year, the school announced Monday. Um, is anyone over there monitoring the news? Maybe they could have skipped the increase this year or held off on the announcement until … oh, never mind.

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