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The Sports Report: Lakers clinch top seeding in Western Conference

Lakers forward Anthony Davis
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Tania Ganguli on the Lakers: It wasn’t easy, nor was it pretty, but the Lakers have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference.

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They did it with a win over the Utah Jazz, 116-108, on Monday night in Orlando, four and a half months later than they expected to do it. As the Lakers await their first-round opponent, they’ll continue the work of preparing themselves for a playoff run unlike any other in history.

“We have to get better every time we’re on the floor,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said at shootaround Monday morning. “We’re gonna be smart with minutes to keep guys fresh and not overworked. I don’t anticipate that changing based on anything that happens in the standings.”

Anthony Davis finished with 42 points and 12 rebounds, making four of eight three-point attempts. LeBron James scored 22 points with 8 rebounds and 9 assists.

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DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: Monday’s series opener between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres offered a marquee pitching matchup between two brash and budding aces. Walker Buehler took the mound for the Dodgers. Chris Paddack was on the other side. In the end, with the Dodgers without an injured Mookie Betts, the bullpens were the difference in the Dodgers’ 5-4 loss at Petco Park.

With the score tied at three, the Padres (7-4) scored two go-ahead runs in the sixth inning off relievers Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson. Graterol was charged with both runs in his two-thirds of an inning.

Cody Bellinger slugged his second home run in two games in the ninth inning against Padres closer Kirby Yates, but Yates struck out the next three batters to secure the save.

The Dodgers’ lineup Wednesday didn’t include Betts for the first time this season. The star right fielder was absent after leaving Sunday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an injured left middle finger.

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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed Betts hurt the finger during his final at-bat Sunday. He concluded the plate appearance with his second home run and played defense for two more innings before he was replaced in the seventh.

ANGELS

Maria Torres on the Angels: Two-way player Shohei Ohtani was diagnosed Monday with a strained right elbow and won’t pitch until mid-September at the earliest. However, he will be with the Angels when the team opens a six-game trip in Seattle on Tuesday and could soon resume his role as designated hitter.

Ohtani underwent an MRI exam after his brief start Sunday, his second MLB outing since having Tommy John surgery in October 2018. He alerted the team following a 6-5, 11-inning loss to the Houston Astros that he had discomfort in his surgically repaired pitching arm.

“Shohei Ohtani has been diagnosed with a grade 1-2 strain of the flexor pronator mass,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “A general timetable for beginning a throwing progression following this injury is four to six weeks. He is traveling with the team to Seattle and his status as a DH is day to day.”

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The Angels will promote top prospect Jo Adell, said a person familiar with the situation who was unable to make a public comment. Adell, 21, is expected to join the team this week. The Angels begin a six-game trip Tuesday in Seattle.

Just a few weeks ago, manager Joe Maddon told reporters he didn’t want to rush Adell’s MLB debut. He believed Adell, the Angels’ first-round pick in the 2017 draft, could use more seasoning defensively. He made multiple mistakes playing right field during training camp, prompting outfielders coach Jesús Feliciano to develop an action plan to address the problem. Adell was assigned to the Angels’ secondary site at the end of camp.

Now Adell, the Angels’ most anticipated prospect since Mike Trout sailed through the farm system, will get the chance to display his improvements at the major league level.

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UCLA BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on UCLA basketball: Chris Smith is returning to UCLA for his senior season, putting off the NBA for one more chance to continue his dramatic upward college trajectory. Sean Smith, Chris’ father, made the announcement Monday.

“Chris is returning to school due to too much uncertainty on both sides of the coin,” said Sean Smith, alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the cancellation of workouts for NBA prospects and a delayed draft. “He’ll finish his degree and work to improve in the areas he needs to improve on.”

Chris Smith’s return means that the core of a team that won 11 of its last 14 games during coach Mick Cronin’s debut season at UCLA will come back intact for the 2020-21 season. The Bruins will also add freshman Jaylen Clark and Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang, putting them in position to be considered among the frontrunners in the Pac-12. Juzang was granted a waiver giving him immediate eligibility.

“I’m returning for my senior year because I’d really like to finish what I’ve started at UCLA,” Smith said in a statement posted on Twitter. “We have some unfinished business and I want one last run with my teammates and coaches. These guys mean the world to me. It’s also very important to me to finish up strong in the classroom and earn my degree.”

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RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: During an early-evening videoconference with reporters Monday, Rams quarterback Jared Goff paused while answering a question and apologized for the timbre of his voice.

“I’ve been talking all day and my throat’s a little scratchy from yelling all day,” he said. “I haven’t yelled in a few months.”

Goff had just completed the first day of team activity during training camp at the Rams’ facility in Thousand Oaks. The schedule included a full team meeting in an open-air tent and a walkthrough on the field.

During the spring, the COVID-19 pandemic forced NFL teams to conduct virtual offseason programs. So Monday marked the first time in more than seven months that coach Sean McVay met in person with all of his players and coaches.

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Other than the fact that the Rams were meeting outside their facility’s modular buildings, and that they wore masks and socially distanced, it “wasn’t drastically different,” Goff said.

The Rams, like all NFL teams, are going through two weeks of an acclimation period that prohibits practices but allows walkthroughs.

COLLEGE SPORTS

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on college sports: The West Coast Conference introduced a new diversity hiring initiative Monday named for NBA and University of San Francisco legend Bill Russell.

Known as the “Russell Rule,” the initiative will require WCC schools to include a member of a traditionally underrepresented community in the final pool of candidates every time they hire an athletic director, senior administrator, head coach or full-time assistant coach. The WCC is the first Division 1 conference to make such a commitment.

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“It is my hope the West Coast Conference initiative will encourage other leagues and schools to make similar commitments,” Russell said in a statement. “We need to be intentional if we’re going to make real change for people of color in leadership positions in college athletics.”

The initiative is similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview one minority candidate for head coaching positions. Despite the rule being in place since 2003, there are only four minority head coaches in the NFL. In an effort to rectify the imbalance, the league expanded the rule in May, requiring teams to interview two external minority candidates for head coaching jobs and to interview minority and/or female candidates for some executive positions.

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Dodgers at San Diego, 6 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

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Angels at Seattle, 7 p.m., ESPN, FSW, KLAA 830

Clippers vs. Phoenix, 1 p.m., Fox Sports Prime Ticket, NBATV, AM 570

Indiana at Sparks, 7 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet

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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