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The Sports Report: Kawhi Leonard should be at 100% when Clippers resume play

Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell and we turn our attention to the more overlooked L.A. NBA team, the Clippers.

Andrew Greif tells us more: Unlike September’s pick-up games and October’s Hawaiian training camp, which Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could only watch from the sideline as they recovered from injuries, both All-Stars have declared themselves healthy since arriving in Orlando, Fla., in recent days.

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At a time when teams are trying to get back to speed as quickly as possible, and protecting the health of star players never has been more precarious, any head start represents a boost.

“I feel good,” Leonard said Monday, the first time he has spoken to reporters since March. “Was able to work out, get strong and prepare for this moment now that we’re in. It’s about to be the first practice today, so I’m excited.”

CLIPPERSDoc Rivers challenges Sen. Josh Hawley over criticism as Clippers stand together
One of the foremost adherents to the “load management” strategy, Leonard has not played games on consecutive days since 2017 and had his minutes limited for long stretches this season while carefully monitoring what the NBA called an ongoing injury to his left patella tendon.

Asked whether Leonard’s participation would be limited in the lead-up to the postseason, coach Doc Rivers said there were “no limits” on the player who has averaged 26.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists this season.

“Kawhi is healthy for the most part,” Rivers said. “That still doesn’t mean that we don’t want to maintain him and get him through the first eight games and get ready for the playoffs. We want to be smart about this. Not just for Kawhi, it’s with everybody.”

The Clippers won seven of their last eight games to move into second place in the Western Conference before the NBA shut down. Leonard called it “difficult” during the hiatus to maintain the rhythm the roster had.

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LAKERS

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: Rajon Rondo was unable to explain how he exactly broke his right thumb during Lakers practice on Sunday in Orlando, Fla. And neither Lakers coach Frank Vogel or Rondo’s teammates had any inkling when the injury took place during the workout at the Walt Disney World Resort.

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But what Vogel and the rest of the Lakers are assured of is that having Rondo out for six to eight weeks is a big loss to their NBA title aspirations.

Rondo essentially is the Lakers backup point guard, another coach on the floor who replaces LeBron James as the team’s orchestrator.

Rondo was the catalyst of the Lakers’ second team, averaging 7.1 points, five assists and three rebounds in 20.5 minutes.

“Losing Rajon is a huge loss for our team,” Vogel said on a videoconference call with reporters on Monday. “But we expect Rajon to be a part of our playoff run. Looking at six to eight weeks puts us somewhere around the first, second round of playoffs. We’re very confident that he’ll be able to get back and be a major factor for us in our playoff run. So having the seeding games, the way they’ve set up this sort of schedule benefits us in this situation for sure.”

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With Rondo out and Avery Bradley opting not to play because of his son’s health, the Lakers are short in the backcourt, but Vogel said he could envision big men Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma helping to initiate some of the offense with Rondo out.

Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook could also have added ball handling responsibilities.

SPARKS

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Sparks: When the WNBA released the schedule for its pandemic-shortened season Monday, the list dutifully designated home teams for each matchup. But home might not mean much more than a jersey color this season because everyone is calling the WNBA bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., home, where players “eat, breathe, sleep basketball,” Sparks guard Sydney Wiese said.

“For [the season] to even be happening is a blessing within itself,” Wiese said in a virtual news conference Monday. “So now, now that we’re here, we have to make the most of it, embrace it, roll with the waves that are presented to us.”

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The Sparks start the 22-game regular season July 25 against the star-studded Phoenix Mercury with Diana Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner. The season opener at noon Pacific time on ABC is one of 13 regular-season Sparks games to be broadcast on national television on ABC, ESPN/ESPN2 and CBS Sports Network. The remaining games will be available on Spectrum SportsNet or WNBA League Pass.

For the Sparks’ schedule, please click here.

LAFC/GALAXY

Wow, some actual local sports results. Kevin Baxter tells us more:

LAFC

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Major League Soccer is back from its long COVID-19 suspension. At least that’s the name the league gave its reboot tournament.

But LAFC showed up an hour late for the restart, spotting the Houston Dynamo a two-goal halftime lead before rallying for a hard-earned 3-3 tie Monday at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla.

The game, played with no fans and even less atmosphere, was the first in 126 days for LAFC, the longest pause in the franchise’s brief history. Even the team’s first offseason break lasted just 121 days.

And the rust showed with poor defensive plays leading to a pair of first-half goals by Memo Rodriguez and another by Alberth Elis.

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Galaxy

The frustration continued for the winless Galaxy and its star Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who scored his first MLS goal but missed a penalty kick and two other promising chances in a 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers.

Hernández, who didn’t have a shot on goal in his first two games with the Galaxy, got his chances Monday but couldn’t take advantage, rolling a penalty shot right at Portland keeper Steve Clark in the first half and putting other shots over the crossbar in the opening minutes of the second.

And Portland made him pay for those mistakes, with Jeremy Ebobisse putting his team in front in the 59th minute. The play took a while to develop, with Portland working the ball around the box before Sebastian Blanco drew Galaxy keeper David Bingham off his line and slipped a pass to Ebobisse. With a defender draped over him, Ebobisse stuck his foot out to redirect the ball in. Blanco then doubled the Portland lead with a solo effort seven minutes later.

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ANGELS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Angels: It started with what Patrick Sandoval called “really, really bad body aches in my back, unlike anything I’ve felt before,” and it continued with a few days of chills and a fever.

The left-handed pitcher had a hunch he might have contracted the coronavirus, and those fears were confirmed with a positive test June 22, a setback that delayed his arrival to Angels training camp by a week.

“It was a little scary at first,” Sandoval said on a videoconference call Monday. “Obviously, the virus has killed many people, and that’s sad and tragic, so that’s on your mind. I just took it day by day, and once the symptoms started going away, I felt confident I would be able to get back to playing baseball.”

Sandoval, 23, is the first confirmed Angels player to test positive for the coronavirus. The Angels had two unnamed players test positive before June 19. Sandoval self-quarantined in his Mission Viejo home for two weeks and was not cleared to join the team until he had two negative tests last week.

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THIS DAY IN SPORTS

A new feature for this newsletter, compiled by John Scheibe:

Ramon Martinez loses a perfect game with four outs to go but still pitches a no-hitter on this date in 1995 that gives the Dodgers a 7-0 victory over the Florida Marlins.

Martinez, who throws nothing but a variety of fastballs after the third inning, retires 22 straight batters before he walks Tommy Gregg with two out in the eighth inning at Dodger Stadium. It is the ninth no-hitter for a Dodger pitcher in Los Angeles.

Martinez, who was booed in his previous start, pumps his fist in the air to signal the crowd that all is forgiven.

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“I wanted to let people know that I can still pitch,” said Martinez (9-6). “You know something, I think people had forgotten about me.”

Other memorable games and outstanding sports performances on this date:

1951 — Triple Crown champion Citation, with jockey Steve Brooks in the saddle, is the first horse to win $1 million in a career when he takes the Hollywood Gold Cup by four lengths over Bewitch at Hollywood Park. After he runs the 1 ¼-mile in 2:01.0, Citation retires with total earnings of $1,085,760. In 45 starts, he ran out of the money only once.

ANGELSAngels pitcher Patrick Sandoval says he tested positive for COVID-19
1964Jacques Anquetil wins his fifth Tour de France and his fourth straight when he outsprints Raymond Poulidor in the final stage in the 2,719-mile race from Versailles to Paris. Anquetil’s lead over Poulidor narrows to just 14 seconds in the 20th stage and he wins by 55 seconds overall.

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1967Eddie Mathews of the Astros hits his 500th home run when he connects off San Francisco’s Juan Marichal at Candlestick Park in San Francisco to lead Houston to an 8-6 win over the Giants.

1968 — One year later, Henry Aaron hits his 500th home run off San Francisco’s Mike McCormick as the Braves beat the Giants 4-2 at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.

1985 — In a pelting rain storm, the Baltimore Stars defeat the Oakland Invaders 28-24 to win the United States Football League championship at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It is the third and final season for the USFL. The Invaders, led by quarterback Bobby Hebert, launch a potential game-winning drive that is derailed by a personal foul penalty.

1986Jane Geddes beats Sally Little in an 18-hole playoff to take the U.S. Women’s Open championship on the South Course at NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. Geddes comes from three shots down after seven holes to win by two strokes when she fires a 71. Both Geddes and Little are tied after 72 holes of regulation at 287. It is the first of Geddes’ two major championships.

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2005 — At Oklahoma City, the United States is beaten in an international softball game for the first time since 2002, losing to Canada 2-1 in the inaugural World Cup of Softball. The U.S., which has won the gold medal in three straight Olympics Games, last lost an international contest on July 4, 2002 — 6-1 to Japan at the U.S. Cup. Japan beats Team USA in the World Cup championship game 3-1.

2009 — The American League continues its dominance over the National League with a 4-3 win in the All-Star game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The AL is 12-0-1 since its 1996 defeat at Philadelphia — the longest unbeaten streak in All-Star history. Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford robs Colorado slugger Brad Hawpe of a home run in the seventh inning to preserve a 3-3 tie.

2011 — Amateur Tom Lewis shoots a record five-under par 65 in the opening round of the British Open at Royal St. George’s at Sandwich, England. Lewis’ round is the lowest by an amateur in golf’s oldest major and puts him in a tie with Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn. The young Englishman breaks the Open scoring record for an amateur of 66 posted by Frank Stranahan in 1950, and matched by Tiger Woods in 1996 and Justin Rose in 1998.

2013Jordan Spieth becomes the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in 82 years as the 19-year-old from Texas outlasts David Hearn and Zach Johnson on the fifth hole of a playoff to win the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. He is the first teenager to win since Ralph Guldahl took the Santa Monica Open in 1931. Spieth holes a bunker shot on the 72nd hole of regulation that puts him in the playoff.

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Sources: The Times, Associated Press

AND FINALLY

Henry Aaron hits his 500th home run. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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