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The Sports Report: Lakers are one win away from conference finals

Los Angeles Lakers' Alex Caruso (4) goes up for a shot as Houston Rockets' Austin Rivers, right, defends.
Alex Caruso goes up for a shot as Houston Rockets’ Austin Rivers, right, defends during the first half.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

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

Dan Woike on the Lakers: It really all fell into place for the Lakers on Thursday, their spirit matching their output. They were locked in but loose, focused but having fun. And in the Lakers’ 110-100 win Thursday, putting them up 3-1 over the Rockets, everyone did their part, although the Rockets made it interesting at the end.

“We have confidence in all our guys,” Anthony Davis said. “We can play big. We can play small. We can play in between.”

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A little of everything — in a lot of ways, that’s life in the NBA’s bubble. With traveling parties severely limited, there’s no room for dead weight. You pitch in where you can, how you can.

So when coach Frank Vogel decided to keep his two most traditional centers, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, on the bench, they became the team’s loudest trash talkers, making sure the Lakers energy had a shot of verbal adrenaline on hand just in case.

McGee even anchored the Lakers’ handshake line during introductions, going back-to-back with Danny Green, finger guns drawn, like a couple of special agents clearing the room.

“It’s a good thing that they’re still engaged in the games,” Davis said. “A lot of guys could just fade away… You see it. They’re the loudest guys on our bench.”

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Davis and James, the two best players in the series, didn’t need to dominate, so they mostly didn’t, allowing the Lakers’ superior depth to rush over Houston. Davis scored 29 on 18 shots, picking on Houston’s inferior size.

But it was truly collective on Thursday, every Lakers who played scoring at least once.

“When we’re at our best,” Alex Caruso said, “we’re playing fast, playing off our defense and creating for our other teammates. Obviously, we play through LeBron and AD and they have a super ability to score the basketball and play one on one, but we’re at our best when we’re getting to the paint, putting pressure on the rim, spacing the court and playing for each other.

“And those kinds of plays for our team are just energy.”

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Bill Plaschke: Get ready for glittering Lakers vs. growling Clippers in the Battle of L.A.

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

Game 1: Houston 112, Lakers 97
Game 2: Lakers 117, Houston 109
Game 3: Lakers 112, Houston 102
Game 4: Lakers 110, Houston 100
Game 5: Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN
Game 6*: Monday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 7*: Wednesday, TBD, TNT

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*-if necessary

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CLIPPERS

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

Game 1: Clippers 120, Denver 97
Game 2: Denver 110, Clippers 101
Game 3: Clippers 113, Denver 107
Game 4: Clippers 96, Denver 85
Game 5: Today, 3:30 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Sunday, 10 a.m., ESPN
Game 7*: Tuesday, TBD, ESPN

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*-if necessary

SPARKS

Myisha Hines-Allen scored 30 points and the Washington Mystics beat the Sparks 80-72 on Thursday night.

Ariel Atkins hit a three-pointer to give the Sparks a 71-68 lead with 2:53 remaining. Hines-Allen made consecutive three-pointers, found Emma Meesseman for a transition layup and added a free throw in the final 1:28.

Hines-Allen was 13 of 20 from the field and had eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. Meesseman added 14 points, and Leilani Mitchell had 10 points and nine rebounds.

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DODGERS

Jack Harris on the Dodgers: It wasn’t as scary as a comebacker off the head, but it could be more concerning for the Dodgers’ long-term plans.

Pitcher Dustin May left after just one inning in the Dodgers’ 5-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, removed by manager Dave Roberts after taking a line drive off the inside of his left foot on the second pitch of the game.

It’s the second time in two seasons May has been hit at the Diamondbacks’ home park. Last September, the rookie writhed in pain on the Chase Field mound after a ball ricocheted off his head. In his first at-bat Thursday, he limped off the bump after taking Josh Rojas’ 91.2-mph exit velocity liner off his exposed left landing leg.

Roberts and a trainer spent several minutes checking on May immediately after the play, initially allowing him to remain in the game and finish the inning. As May warmed up for the bottom of the second, however, Roberts and a medical staff member emerged from the dugout again. After a brief conversation, May was removed from the game and walked gingerly back to the clubhouse.

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Now, the Dodgers can only wait to see if May’s foot injury is serious. The rookie bounced back from last season’s blow to the head, returning six days later as a member of the bullpen. But his role is magnified this season and an extended absence would be significant.

The Dodgers’ front office, of course, decided not to bolster its pitching staff at the trade deadline because of the depth provided by newcomers such as May and Tony Gonsolin, who came on in relief later in Thursday’s game.

ANGELS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Angels: Dylan Bundy racked up a season-high 12 strikeouts in a superb 7 1/3-inning effort Thursday to lead the Angels to a 6-2 victory over the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. The Angels (18-27) moved to within four games of the slumping Houston Astros for a playoff spot with 15 games remaining.

Bundy gave up two earned runs and four hits and walked one to improve to 5-2 with a 2.48 ERA in nine starts. Of his 105 pitches, 78 were strikes. It marked the third time this season that Bundy recorded 10 or more strikeouts after reaching that mark only five times in the first 127 games of his career. His career-high for strikeouts is 14.

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Jared Walsh and Mike Trout each homered, Taylor Ward had a career-high three hits, and Anthony Rendon walked, singled, doubled and scored twice to help the Angels snap a two-game losing streak and notch their first win in six games at Texas this season.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: The centerpiece of the Rams’ offense the last three years now lines up in the backfield for the Atlanta Falcons. The deep threat that opened up the passing game is running routes for the Houston Texans.

Todd Gurley was released and speedy receiver Brandin Cooks traded in cost-cutting moves to create future salary-cap space.

But at what price to this season’s offense?

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The Rams will find out Sept. 13 when they open in their new SoFi Stadium home against the Dallas Cowboys.

“Can’t wait to see it come to life,” coach Sean McVay said in a phone interview, “and see if we can do some good stuff.”

McVay, his coaches and his players said throughout training camp that they do not anticipate a drastic philosophical change in an offense that ranked among the NFL’s best in 2017 and 2018 before slipping last season.

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CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: He had just signed a four-year contract extension worth up to $80.1 million.

So, how did Keenan Allen celebrate this week?

“I had a little splurge,” Allen said Thursday. “Not really a splurge, but a Taco Tuesday mixed with a little margarita, you know.”

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A toast certainly was earned, the new deal giving Allen the second-highest annual average salary among wide receivers.

In locking down the team’s top pass-catcher, general manager Tom Telesco capped a financially active preseason. On the eve of practice opening, the Chargers signed defensive end Joey Bosa to a five-year, $135-million extension.

“It means everything,” Allen said of staying with the Chargers. “They were the guys that drafted me, that gave me a chance, gave me my first opportunity. Being able to stay here with the organization I started with, all the relationships I have in the building, it’s major.”

NFL

Sam Farmer on the NFL season opener: The Kansas City Chiefs picked up where they left off — but in a different way.

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The defending Super Bowl champions, who ranked 23rd in rushing last season, have rediscovered a ground game thanks to the churning legs of rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a first-round pick from Louisiana State. That helped power Kansas City to a 34-20 victory Thursday night over the Houston Texans.

Never mind that there were no exhibition games, and only 17,000 masked and socially distanced spectators at Arrowhead Stadium, Edwards-Helaire looked perfectly at home in gaining 138 yards in 25 carries with a 27-yard touchdown.

“The guy’s a star, man,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “He works hard, works his tail off. His vision’s incredible. And I thought the offensive line did a great job giving him those holes to run through.”

Edwards-Helaire became the first player with 100-plus yards and a rushing touchdown in an NFL debut since the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley two years ago.

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GALAXY

Kevin Baxter on the Galaxy: The Galaxy, riding their second-longest winning streak in six seasons, are about to get even better with the return of striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who has been out since mid-July with a torn calf.

Hernández, the Mexican national team’s all-time leading scorer, played just three games, scoring once, before going to the sidelines during the MLS Is Back tournament in Florida. The team (4-3-2) was winless when he got hurt but has lost just once since then heading into Sunday’s game at San Jose.

And that, Hernández said, has taken pressure off his return.

“I’m very calm. You can see the level of the team,” he said in Spanish. “I’m happy to return and contribute my little bit.”

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Hernández, who returned to full training Monday, said he expects to make Sunday’s trip but whether or not he plays is a decision for Guillermo Barros Schelotto — and it’s a decision the coach said he hasn’t made yet.

U.S. OPEN

Helene Elliott on the U.S. Open: Victoria Azarenka had been flattened by Serena Williams in the first set of their U.S. Open semifinal. There’s no other word to describe it. Azarenka couldn’t hold serve, couldn’t dent Williams’ formidable serve, and had little chance against Williams’ walloped groundstrokes.

Yet, when the circumstances were darkest, Azarenka found the light within herself to believe she could push back against the woman she had never before beaten in a major tournament. “I knew it’s never over until I have another chance,” Azarenka said. Improbably enough, she was right.

Given one chance, the Belarus native took two sets and the match, ending Williams’ quest for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. Azarenka crouched on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium and covered her face with her hands after a replay showed she had hit an ace to clinch 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory and advance to Saturday’s final against Naomi Osaka, joy and incredulity flooding through her.

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“I dug myself in a big hole—I mean, she dug me in a big hole in the first set,” said Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 and lost to Williams in the U.S. Open finals in those same years. “I had to climb my way out of there one by one and I’m very happy that I’m able to turn around because it wasn’t easy for sure.

“I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I’m so grateful to be able to play such a champion in the semifinal. The road to the final, it has to be the best players, and definitely today was that day.”

Williams injured her left foot in the second game of the third set as she chased a deep backhander by Azarenka. She needed a medical timeout and had her already heavily taped ankle taped again. She later said she had stretched her Achilles, but didn’t blame that for her defeat. “I don’t think it had anything to do” with the loss, she said. “I think Victoria played well. It didn’t affect my play ultimately at all, just for that one point.”

Williams lost that game and stayed in the set, but Azarenka was simply too powerful and determined and newly able to read Williams’ serve. “She started getting balls that she normally doesn’t get back, she got back,” Williams said of Azarenka’s second-set rebirth, which began with Azarenka going up a break for a 3-2 lead. “She started hitting shots that she normally doesn’t make, she made those. She just really stepped her level up.”

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Osaka, a 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 winner over former UCLA standout Jennifer Brady in the brilliantly played first semifinal, wore a Kobe Bryant Black Mamba jersey while she sat in the stadium and watched the match between Azarenka and Williams suddenly turn into a battle. Osaka, the 2018 U.S. Open champion, was hesitant to say much about her plans against Azarenka, but her intentions are clear. “No one remembers anyone but the winner,” she said.

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

SECOND ROUND
EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 2 Toronto vs. No. 3 Boston Celtics
winner faces Miami

Game 1: Boston 112, Toronto 94
Game 2: Boston 102, Toronto 99
Game 3: Toronto 104, Boston 103
Game 4: Toronto 100, Boston 93
Game 5: Boston 111, Toronto 89
Game 6: Toronto 125, Boston 122 (2 OT)
Game 7: Today, 6 p.m., TNT

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE


All Times Pacific
Conference finals
Eastern Conference

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No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 6 NY Islanders

Game 1: Tampa Bay 8, NY Islanders 2
Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, NY Islanders 1
Game 3: Today, 5 p.m., USA
Game 4: Sunday, noon, NBC
Game 5*: Tuesday, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 6*: Thursday, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 7*: Saturday, Sept. 19, 4:30 p.m., NBC

Western Conference
No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars

Game 1: Dallas 1, Vegas 0
Game 2: Vegas 3, Dallas 0
Game 3: Dallas 3, Vegas 2 (OT)
Game 4: Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC
Game 5: Monday, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 6*: Wednesday, 5 p.m., NBCSN
Game 7*: Friday, Sept. 18, 6 p.m., NBCSN

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*-if necessary

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Clippers vs. Denver, 3:30 p.m., TNT

Angels at Colorado, 5:30 p.m., FSW, KLAA 830

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THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1886 — The Mayflower defends the America’s Cup by beating Britain’s Galatea in two straight heats.

1926 — The United States captures the Davis Cup for the seventh straight year as it beats France 4-1.

1935 — Helen Hull Jacobs wins the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championships for the fourth straight year.

1937 — Don Budge beats Gottfried von Cramm in five sets to win his first U.S. Open men’s singles title.

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1976 — In the third race at Latonia, jockey John Oldham and his wife, Suzanne Picou, became the first husband and wife riding team to compete in a parimutuel race. Oldham finished second aboard Harvey’s Hope and Picou rode My Girl Carla to an 11th-place finish.

1977 — In the last U.S. Open match played at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., Guillermo Vilas beats Jimmy Connors, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-0, for the men’s singles title

1982 — Chris Evert wins her sixth U.S. Open singles title, defeating Hana Mandlikova, 6-3, 6-1.

1982 — In a 23-16 loss to Illinois, Rolf Mojsiejunko of Michigan State kicks a 61-yard field goal in his first collegiate attempt.

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1983 — Jimmy Connors wins his second consecutive and fifth overall singles title at the US Open, beating Ivan Lendl, 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 6-0.

1985 — Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds becomes the all-time hit leader with his 4,192nd hit, breaking Ty Cobb’s record. Rose lines a 2-1 pitch off San Diego pitcher Eric Show to left-center field for a single in the first inning. It’s the 57th anniversary of Ty Cobb’s last game in the majors.

1988 — Mats Wilander wins the longest men’s final in U.S. Open history, edging Ivan Lendl, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

1993 — Steffi Graf wins her third U.S. Open singles title with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Helena Sukova.

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1994 — Andre Agassi wins the U.S. Open with a three-set victory over Michael Stich and becomes the first unseeded player to beat five seeded players in a Grand Slam and the first unseeded champion since Fred Stolle in 1966.

1999 — Serena Williams captures the U.S. Open women’s singles title by defeating top-seeded Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6.

2001 — Sports come to a standstill in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, with major league baseball postponing a full schedule of regular-season games for the first time since D-Day in 1944.

2004 — Svetlana Kuznetsova becomes the first Russian woman to win the U.S. Open when she defeats countrywoman Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 7-5.

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2005 — Drew Bledsoe becomes the 10th player in NFL history to throw for 40,000 yards in a career, leading Dallas to a 28-24 win over San Diego in his debut with the team.

2005 — Roger Federer defends his U.S. Open singles title by beating 35-year-old Andre Agassi, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1.

2008 — Joan Higgins becomes the oldest winner in U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur history at age 52. Higgins beats Lynn Simmons 1-up at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich. to break the age mark of 48 set by Carol Semple Thompson in 1997.

2010 — Wladimir Klitschko, the IBF and WBO heavyweight champion, stops former titleholder Samuel Peter in the 10th round, an emphatic victory that came after getting knocked down three times and squeaking by Peter in their first meeting nearly five years ago.

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2010 — James Madison, a top team in the Football Championship Subdivision, beats No. 13 Virginia Tech 21-16. The last time Virginia Tech lost to a I-AA team was 1985, when Richmond beat the Hokies 24-14 at Lane Stadium.

2010 — Kim Clijsters wins a second consecutive U.S. Open championship and third overall, easily beating Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 in a final that lasts exactly one hour.

2010 — The Penn State women’s volleyball team has its record winning streak ends at 109 matches with a 28-26, 25-12, 25-18 loss to Stanford in a tournament at Florida. Penn State’s streak is the second-longest in Division I team sports, behind the 137 straight wins by the Miami men’s tennis program from 1957-1964.

2011 — Sam Stosur beats Serena Williams, pulling off a 6-2, 6-3 upset in the U.S. Open for her first Grand Slam title. Stosur is the first Australian woman to win a major championship since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.

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2011 — Carolina’s Cam Newton becomes the first rookie to throw for more than 400 yards in his NFL opener in a 28-21 loss to Arizona. Newton, the No. 1 draft pick playing on the same field where he led Auburn to the BCS championship in January, completes 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

And finally

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his best scene in the movie “Airplane!” 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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