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The Sports Report: Clippers rout Denver in Game 1

Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers drives the ball against Jamal Murray.
Kawhi Leonard drives the ball against Jamal Murray.
(Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)

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

Andrew Grief on the Clippers: The moment Denver closed out its seven-game first-round series against Utah on Tuesday night, the Nuggets’ recovery began.

Coming back from a 3-1 deficit had left them exhausted physically and drained emotionally, and with less than 48 hours to prepare for the second-seeded Clippers, coach Mike Malone ordered little to no physical activity Wednesday.

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The Clippers were to be feared. They had closed out their own first-round series against Dallas with authority. And yet, they weren’t infallible. As their own coach, Doc Rivers, had observed, it wasn’t until a mid-series jolt against the Mavericks that the Clippers’ intensity fully appeared.

When Malone left a shootaround Thursday morning, “I walked off that court this morning with a good vibe that our guys were excited,” he said before tipoff. “That we have energy.”

Fatigue won’t be an issue following Game 1. By the fourth quarter of an eventual 120-97 victory, the Clippers’ advantage was so lopsided and its rout so decisive that there was no need for Denver’s starters to play at all.

Kawhi Leonard scored 29 points in his 32 minutes, making 12 of his 16 shots in a clinical display of mid-range marksmanship.

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Marcus Morris Sr. continued his torrid postseason shooting with 18 points. And with starting center Ivica Zubac holding his counterpart, Nikola Jokic, to just 15 points, and Patrick Beverley and Leonard corralling Murray in waves — he finished with just 12 points in 33 minutes — the Clippers cruised.

They produced a 24-9 run in the second quarter to lead by 18 at halftime. Their 17-2 run in the third quarter forced Denver to raise its white flag and insert its reserves.

No. 2 Clippers vs. No. 3 Denver
Second round
All times Pacific

Game 1: Clippers 120, Denver 97
Game 2: Saturday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 3: Monday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 4: Wednesday, 6 p.m., ESPN
Game 5*: Friday, Sept. 11, TBD, TNT
Game 6*: Sunday, Sept. 13, TBD, ESPN
Game 7*: Tuesday, Sept. 15, TBD, ESPN

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*-if necessary

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LAKERS

Tania Ganguli on the Lakers: LeBron James mentioned four things when he was asked what he’d been doing between playoff series.

“Training. Video games. Working on my body. And drinking wine.”

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What he did not do during the last week was dwell on what went wrong in the Lakers’ first-round series. There wasn’t much, but Game 1 certainly did.

“It hasn’t been discussed,” James said of a loss to eighth-seeded Portland. “Up until this point. It could be brought up between now and tomorrow night, but it has not been discussed. We understood and we knew from the sense of all of the eight seeding games for Portland were playoff games. They didn’t have the opportunity to kind of get back into a rhythm to see what they had, they knew they had to go right away.”

What James described about the Trail Blazers could also apply to the Lakers’ next opponent, the Houston Rockets, who just completed a strenuous first-round series that went to seven games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. With one day’s rest, they’ll have to face a Lakers team that loves to run starting Friday night.

“I actually think that teams that play a Game 7 in the next series, going against a team that has been off, I think has the advantage,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Because your senses are sharper, you’re playing in that environment where every possession matters. And I actually think that’s a better way to prepare for a series than a week of practices.”

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No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 4 Houston
Second round
All times Pacific

Game 1: Tonight, 6 p.m., ESPN
Game 2: Sunday, 5:30 p.m., ABC
Game 3: Tuesday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 4: Thursday, TBD, TNT
Game 5*: Saturday, Sept. 12, TBD, ESPN
Game 6*: Monday, Sept. 14, TBD, TNT
Game 7*: Wed., Sept. 16, TBD, TNT

*-if necessary

————

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Steve Nash is hired as coach of the Brooklyn Nets

DODGERS

Jack Harris on the Dodgers: He didn’t fluster. He didn’t fatigue. He didn’t fade.

Even as Tim Locastro fouled off pitch after pitch in a third inning at-bat Thursday, spoiling wipeout sliders and looping curveballs and fastballs painted all over the corners, Clayton Kershaw only seemed to grow sharper with every throw.

On the 12th offering, Kershaw finally froze Locastro with his hardest pitch of the night, firing a 93 mph heater over the plate for strike three — a common result during Kershaw’s scoreless six inning start in the Dodgers’ 5-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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With eight strikeouts Thursday, Kershaw reached two lofty career milestones. In the second inning, the 32-year-old became the third-youngest pitcher in MLB history to record 2,500 strikeouts, needing less time than all but Nolan Ryan and Walter Johnson to eclipse the milestone. Kershaw’s punch out of Locastro an inning later moved him to 38th on the sport’s all-time strikeout leaderboard, lifting him past early 20th century star Christy Mathewson’s mark of 2,502. Kershaw stands at 2,505.

Kershaw retired nine of 10 batters to begin the game and allowed his lone hit with two outs in the sixth, when Christian Walker reached on an infield single. Kershaw’s fastball averaged 91 mph, half-a-tick slower than his season average, yet led to four strikeouts and six swing-and-misses. His curveball and slider were just as effective, producing whiffs more than a fourth of the time.

Kershaw’s season ERA is now 1.50, third among pitchers with at least 30 innings this season. His strikeout rate (10.25 per nine innings) is his highest since 2017. His 0.722 walks-and-hits-per-inning would be the lowest of his career. After missing the opening week-and-a-half of this pandemic-shortened season with a back injury, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is starting to vault himself into discussion for a fourth.

————

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Dodgers coach George Lombard finds his social justice voice through his mother

ANGELS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Angels: It was a rare game when almost everything went right for the Angels, who rode the durable arm of Andrew Heaney, a few clutch hits and some air-tight defense to a 2-0 victory over the San Diego Padres in Angel Stadium on Thursday.

Heaney, pitching more aggressively with a four-seam fastball that averaged 92.3 mph and touched 94.6 mph, allowed three hits, struck out six and walked two in seven scoreless innings against one of baseball’s best offenses, taking advantage of manager Joe Maddon’s long leash to throw a career-high 117 pitches, 77 of them fastballs.

“I don’t go into any game intimidated,” said Heaney, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.89 ERA. “They have a really good lineup — I’m not naïve to what they’ve been doing all year—but they also have a lot of guys who haven’t faced me. When I’ve got guys who haven’t faced me, I’m going to go right at them.”

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Jared Walsh doubled and scored on Andrelton Simmons’ two-out single to left field in the third, and Anthony Rendon tripled and scored on Justin Upton’s single to center in the fourth. Mike Mayers retired the side in order in the eighth and Felix Pena threw a one-two-three ninth.

PAC-12

Ryan Kartje on the Pac-12: When the Pac-12 voted unanimously to delay football and all other fall sports until the spring, a lack of rapid-response testing for the novel coronavirus was central to the conference’s decision.

Less than a month later, a major testing breakthrough may have quelled those concerns, leaving the door open for a potential return to Pac-12 sports sooner than initially expected.

The Pac-12 announced Thursday that it will provide daily COVID-19 testing for athletes across the conference, after entering into a partnership with Quidel Corp., a diagnostic health care manufacturer of FDA-approved rapid tests. Those tests, according to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, would allow for results to be read within 15 minutes, enabling officials to know “every day, before every athletic practice or game that everyone participating tested negative for COVID-19.”

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Such immediate access, Scott said, is “simply game-changing.”

“It’s a major step for the return of safe sports competition in the Pac-12,” he added.

But Scott also warned that a return to competition involves several other considerations, including approval from state health officials. Six Pac-12 schools, including USC and UCLA, currently don’t have approval to return to contact practice, and as such, Scott was hesitant to offer more than a faint suggestion of a timeline to return, allowing only that he’s now “hopeful” there could be a pathway for Pac-12 sports to begin before Jan. 1.

“We’ve gone about return-to-play in a very measured and thoughtful way,” Scott said. “[We’ve said] all along we’re going to let the data and the science drive us and that we’re going to have to have a high degree of confidence that by returning to play, we’re not encouraging the spread and putting student-athletes at higher risk as a result of that competition. This ability to have daily testing with immediate results is a huge step forward for us.”

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RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: Training camp ended Thursday for the Rams, starting the countdown to the Sept. 13 opener against the Dallas Cowboys.

Another clock also is ticking: The one on a contract extension for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Or perhaps receiver Cooper Kupp.

If recent history repeats, the Rams and a star player will agree on terms of a record-breaking deal in the next week.

In 2018, defensive tackle Aaron Donald signed a then-record $135-million extension 10 days before the opener. Five days before last season’s opener, quarterback Jared Goff received a $134-million extension that included a then-record $110 million in guarantees.

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CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: To understand how far Austin Ekeler has traveled as an NFL running back, consider this:

Three years ago this week, he made his first roster with the Chargers only because of his performance in the final preseason game.

But now, Ekeler explained Thursday that he just spent his third training camp encouraging the coaches to not give him opportunities.

Instead, Ekeler said he preferred that the team pass that work on to the young running backs behind him, knowing depth at the position will be critical this season.

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“I need help,” Ekeler said. “We’re only going to be as good as the whole running back room. It’s not like, ‘Hey, there’s one guy that’s just going to be carrying the rock.’ I’m sharing the love, man. Everyone get some reps and everyone get some experience.”

A former undrafted rookie, Ekeler is now the Chargers’ undisputed No. 1 running back. He signed a four-year, $24.5-million extension in March, the team having decided to part ways with Melvin Gordon.

Justin Jackson and rookie Josh Kelley are next on the depth chart, Kelley being a fourth-round pick out of UCLA.

NHL

The NHL on Thursday unveiled a series of anti-racism initiatives more than eight months after Akim Aliu brought the topic to the forefront in the predominantly white sport.

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The league and NHL Players’ Association are planning mandatory inclusion and diversity training for all players at camp; partnering with the Hockey Diversity Alliance to launch a grassroots program for young players of color in the Toronto area; and working together on several inclusion committees aimed at encouraging diversity among executives, pro and youth players and fans.

“We applaud NHL players for recognizing the importance of this moment and for coming together as part of a genuine movement for change,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We look forward to working with all voices of change to fight for equality and broaden access to the game we all love.“

The moves come amid mounting pressure from current and former minority players for the league to take concrete steps to address systemic racism. Colorado’s Nazem Kadri, a founding member of the alliance that was formed earlier this summer, reviewed the initiatives before they were announced and believes they show progress.

U.S. OPEN

Yes, Serena Williams won in straight sets again. And yes, she moved into an all-American showdown at the U.S. Open against Sloane Stephens. Still, this victory did not quite go according to plan.

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Her serve only so-so at times, her footwork a bit off, Williams got by and got through Thursday night against an opponent ranked just 117th, beating Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-4 and letting out a cry of “Yes!” at the end that reverberated in a nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.

It sounded more like relief than excitement.

“The only thing that gets me flustered is really me, like, because I always feel like I’m not winning every point. I mean, like, that doesn’t make sense,“ said Williams, who has won six of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at Flushing Meadows and was the runner-up the past two years.

“I just think with the pressure and everything that I felt like I just needed to be perfect. I always feel like I’m not perfect unless I’m perfect,” she said. “That’s not a fun way to live your career and live your life.”

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NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

SECOND ROUND
EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 5 Miami

Game 1: Miami 115, Milwaukee 104
Game 2: Miami 116, Milwaukee 114
Game 3: Friday, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Game 4: Sunday, 12:30 p.m., ABC
Game 5*: Tuesday, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Thursday, TBD, ESPN
Game 7*: Saturday, Sept. 12, TBD, TNT

No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 3 Boston Celtics

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Game 1: Boston 112, Toronto 94
Game 2: Boston 102, Toronto 99
Game 3: Toronto 104, Boston 103
Game 4: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Game 5: Monday, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Wednesday, TBD, ESPN
Game 7*: Fri., Sept. 11, TBD, TNT

* – If necessary

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

All Times Pacific
Second round
Eastern Conference, all game in Toronto

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No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 6 New York Islanders

Game 1: NY Islanders 4, Philadelphia 0
Game 2: Philadelphia 4, NY Islanders 3 (OT)
Game 3: NY Islanders 3, Philadelphia 1
Game 4: NY Islanders 3, Philadelphia 2
Game 5: Philadelphia 4, NY Islanders 3 (OT)
Game 6: Philadelphia 5, NY Islanders 4 (2OT)
Game 7: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NBC

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins

Game 1: Boston 3, Tampa Bay 2
Game 2: Tampa Bay 4, Boston 3 (OT)
Game 3: Tampa Bay 7, Boston 1
Game 4: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1
Game 5: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 2 (2 OT)

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Western Conference, all games in Edmonton

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Game 1: Vegas 5, Vancouver 0
Game 2: Vancouver 5, Vegas 2
Game 3: Vegas 3, Vancouver 0
Game 4: Vegas 5, Vancouver 3
Game 5: Vancouver 2, Vegas 1
Game 6: Vancouver 4, Vegas 0
Game 7: Friday, 6 p.m., NBCSN

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

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Game 1: Dallas 5, Colorado 3
Game 2: Dallas 5, Colorado 2
Game 3: Colorado 6, Dallas 4
Game 4: Dallas 5, Colorado 4
Game 5: Colorado 6, Dallas 3
Game 6: Colorado 4, Dallas 1
Game 7: Friday, 1 p.m., USA

*-if necessary

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Lakers vs. Houston, 6 p.m., ESPN

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Colorado at Dodgers, 6:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Houston at Angels, 6 p.m., FSW, KLAA 830

Seattle vs. Sparks, 5 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1920 — Man o War wins the 1 5/8-mile Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park by 100 lengths, the largest winning margin in modern racing history. His time for the race, 2:40 4/5, shatters the world record by 6 4/5 seconds for his fifth record-setting performance of the year.

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1932 — Olin Dutra defeats Frank Walsh in the final round 4 and 3 to win the PGA Championship.

1951 — Frank Sedgman becomes the first Australian to win the men’s singles title in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championships, beating Victor Seixas in three sets. Sixteen-year-old Maureen Connolly wins the first of three consecutive women’s titles, beating Shirley Fry in three sets.

1966 — The Houston Oilers’ defense holds the Denver Broncos to no first downs in a 45-7 rout.

1983 — Lynn Dickey of Green Bay completes 27 of 31 passes, including 18 straight, for 333 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Packers in a 41-38 overtime victory over Houston.

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1992 — Jimmy Connors loses to Ivan Lendl, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0, in his record 115th and final U.S. Open singles match.

1994 — Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins becomes the second quarterback with 300 touchdown passes by throwing for five scores in a 39-35 victory over New England.

1998 — The New York Yankees reach 100 wins on the earliest date in major league history — five days before the 1906 Chicago Cubs and 1954 Cleveland Indians — with an 11-6 victory over the Chicago White Sox. The ’06 Cubs set the major league record for fewest games to reach 100 victories (132).

2002 — Argentina pulls off a victory that until recently was considered nearly impossible, defeating the United States 87-80 in the World Basketball Championships at Indianapolis. It’s the first loss for a U.S. team in 59 games since the Americans began sending NBA players to international tournaments in 1992.

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2003 — A “four-day” match is completed at the U.S. Open. Francesca Schiavone completes a 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-2 victory over Ai Sugiyama. The fourth-round match began on Monday, Sept. 1, in Louis Armstrong Stadium and finally concluded on Court 10 after the two players went on and off the courts seven times during four days of rain at the USTA National Tennis Center.

2010 — DeMarco Murray’s career-best 218 yards rushing leads Oklahoma to a 31-24 victory and the 800th win in the program’s history. The Sooners are the seventh Division I school to reach that mark.

2010 — The crowd of 113,090 at the Big House for Michigan’s 30-10 win over Connecticut is the largest for a football game in the United States.

2011 — Sam Stosur and Maria Kirilenko play the longest tie-break in women’s Grand Slam tournament history. Kirilenko wins he second-set tie-break 17-15 with the aid of three overturned challenges. Stosur, who two days earlier played the longest women’s match in U.S. Open history, goes on to win 6-2, 6-7 (17-15), 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinals.

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And finally

Joe Namath appears on The Brady Bunch. 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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