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The Sports Report: Lakers take 3-1 series lead over Denver

Anthony Davis talks with LeBron James during the second half.
(Associated Press)

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

Tania Ganguli on the Lakers: LeBron James asked his coach to take on the assignment. He wanted to be responsible for Jamal Murray, the Nuggets dynamo who could – and has – hurt the Lakers down the stretch. He didn’t want to see a repeat of Game 3.

Every time Murray tried to get inside, he found James right there with him. In the second quarter, Murray had twisted his way around James for a circus-like layup. But in the fourth, James had control of the matchup.

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“Nothing was really working in terms of trying to slow him down until Bron took that assignment,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said.

The Lakers beat the Nuggets, 114-108, behind 60 points from Anthony Davis (34) and James (26) and a game in which they dominated the rebounding margin and scored 25 second-chance points. Denver didn’t score a field goal for the final 3:27 of the game.

“For the most part we played our style,” Davis said. “And when we play our style we’re tough to beat.”

Murray finished with 32 points.

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With the win, the Lakers took a 3-1 series lead against the Nuggets and are one win away from their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010. Denver meanwhile, faces its third 3-1 deficit of this year’s playoffs.

Dwight Howard got his first start on a healthy Lakers roster, replacing JaVale McGee, which qualified as Howard’s first playoff start in five years. He rewarded Vogel for his trust. Howard scored eight points with eight rebounds in the first quarter alone. His rebounding helped set a tone for the Lakers who had been badly outrebounded in their Game 3 loss by a margin of 44-25.

On Thursday, the Lakers won the rebounding battle a change Vogel attributed simply to “commitment.”

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WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
All times Pacific
No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver

Game 1: Lakers 126, Denver 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Denver 103
Game 3: Denver 114, Lakers 106
Game 4: Lakers 114, Denver 108
Game 5: Saturday, 6 p.m., TNT
Game 6*: Monday, TBD, TNT
Game 7*: Wednesday, TBD, TNT

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PAC-12 FOOTBALL

J. Brady McCollough on the Pac-12: The Pac-12 presidents and chancellors voted Thursday afternoon to attempt a fall football season, the conference announced.

Seven weeks after deciding to postpone until 2021, the conference plans to start games Nov. 6-7 and play a seven-game season that will culminate with the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 18.

The conference’s hope is that its deal with Quidel Corporation for daily antigen testing for the coronavirus will allow for it to complete an abridged season without built-in bye weeks to accommodate postponements due to the virus and crown a champion in time for College Football Playoff consideration.

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The exact details of the schedule are still being formalized, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Men’s and women’s basketball as well as other winter sports also received approval to begin their seasons. The basketball season will begin Nov. 25. No fans will be allowed at any sporting event on a Pac-12 campus until at least January 2021.

The conference champions from the other Power Five leagues are expecting to play anywhere from nine to 11 games. The Big Ten, which last week announced it would start Oct. 24 weekend, plans to play nine. Even a 7-0 Pac-12 champ could be fighting an uphill battle to make the playoff because of the shortened season.

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USC’s goal for a shortened football season? Climbing to top of the Pac-12

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UCLA football players say they will be ready for the start of Season 3.0

DODGERS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Dodgers: To combat a pesky blister that sent him to the injured list twice in the past month, Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler sought the advice of an expert, Minnesota left-hander and former teammate Rich Hill, whose 3½ years in Los Angeles (2016-2019) were marred by blisters on his pitching fingers.

Hill, 40, would do anything to speed the healing process — he tried laser therapy, drinking apple cider and vinegar and urinating on his hand to harden the skin.

It is unclear if Buehler went to similar extremes, but whatever he and soft-tissue specialist Yosuke “Possum” Nakajima, the Blister Whisperer of the team’s medical staff, did to treat the index finger of Buehler’s pitching hand appeared to help.

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Buehler threw four scoreless innings, allowing one hit, striking out six and walking one, and had no visible problems with the blister in Thursday night’s 5-1 win over the Oakland Athletics in Dodger Stadium.

The right-hander threw 65 pitches, 45 for strikes. He was targeted for five innings and 75 pitches but needed 25 pitches to complete the fourth, the last-inning workload probably leading to an earlier hook.

Buehler leaned heavily on a four-seam fastball that averaged 97.2 mph and touched 99 mph, throwing his heater 41 times. He threw 19 knucklecurves, which put more pressure on the fingertips, and five cut fastballs. He struck out Tommy La Stella, the hardest player to whiff in the major leagues, twice.

“I think Walker talking to Rich has certainly helped,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s given him advice on [dealing with] the unknown.”

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Max Muncy optimistic he could be Dodgers’ October surprise despite struggles

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KINGS

Jack Harris on the Kings: Quinton Byfield and Tim Stuetzle said what you’d expect with the NHL draft less than two weeks away.

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During a virtual media session with other top prospects Thursday, the two players most widely-projected to be the Kings’ second overall pick sounded similar notes, declaring they both want to break into the NHL as soon as next season and will feel fortunate regardless of which team they end up with.

The pair’s most important conversations of the pre-draft process, after all, took place long before this. For teams at the top of next month’s draft board, there’s little left to learn about the highly regarded prospects expected to be, in some order, the Nos. 2 and 3 picks after Alexis Lafreniere.

Come Oct. 6, the overwhelming likelihood is that one of the two will be slipping on a black Kings uniform.

And according to director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti, the club is already “pretty confident” in who they’re going to pick.

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For the Kings to change to course now, “something drastic would have to happen,” Yannetti said by phone this week. “It took a long time to separate who we had at two and who we had at three.”

“This,” he added, “was the hardest decision I’ve had in L.A. probably.”

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

CONFERENCE FINALS
EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

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Game 1: Miami 117, Boston 114 (OT)
Game 2: Miami 106, Boston 101
Game 3: Boston 117, Miami 106
Game 4: Miami 112, Boston 109
Game 5: Today, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 6*: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Game 7*: TBD

*-if necessary

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE


STANLEY CUP FINAL
All Times Pacific

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars

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Game 1: Dallas 4, Tampa Bay 1
Game 2: Tampa Bay 3, Dallas 2
Game 3: Tampa Bay 5, Dallas 2
Game 4: Today, 5 p.m., NBC
Game 5: Saturday, 5 p.m., NBC
Game 6*: Monday, 5 p.m., NBC
Game 7*: Wednesday, 5 p.m., NBC

*-if necessary

WNBA

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Sparks: Four years after dedicating her first WNBA championship to former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, Sparks forward Candace Parker was reminded of her college coach again when she learned Wednesday that she would be named WNBA defensive player of the year.

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“Her phrase still runs in my head,” Parker said before the award was officially announced Thursday. “‘Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, rebounding wins championships.’”

Parker turned rebounding into a new trophy for her overflowing display case, as the 34-year-old led the league in rebounding, averaging 9.7 per game, including a WNBA-high 8.0 defensive rebounds per game. Parker also ranked eighth in blocks (1.23 per game) and helped anchor a Sparks defense that ranked third in defensive rating and held opponents to 31.3 points per game in the paint, the second fewest in the league.

WNBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

Semifinals
All times Pacific

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No. 1 Las Vegas Aces vs. No. 7 Connecticut Sun

Game 1: Connecticut 87, Las Vegas 62
Game 2: Las Vegas 83, Connecticut 75
Game 3: Connecticut 77, Las Vegas 68
Game 4: Sunday, 10 a.m., ESPN
Game 5*: Tuesday, TBD

No. 2 Seattle Storm vs. No. 4 Minnesota Lynx

Game 1: Seattle 88, Minnesota 86
Game 2: Seattle 89, Minnesota 79
Game 3: Sunday, noon, ABC
Game 4*: Tuesday, TBD
Game 5*: TBD

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*-if necessary

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Angels at Dodgers, 6:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570, FSW, KLAA 830

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1866 — Jerome Park, named for its founder Leonard W. Jerome, opens in the Bronx in New York. Jerome, seeking to emulate the British racing system, also establishes the American Jockey Club, precursor to the present Jockey Club, formed in 1894.

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1920 — Molly Bjurstedt Mallory wins her fifth title in six years with a two-set victory over Marion Zinderstein in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association championships.

1949 — Louise Suggs wins the U.S. Women’s Open by 14 strokes over Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

1962 — Sonny Liston knocks out Floyd Patterson at 2:06 of the first round at Comiskey Park in Chicago to win the world heavyweight title.

1982 — Ricky Edwards rushes for 177 yards and four touchdowns to help Northwestern end its 34-game losing streak in a 31-6 victory over Northern Illinois.

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1994 — Oliver McCall scores a major upset by stopping Lennox Lewis 31 seconds into the second round to capture the WBC heavyweight title in London.

1995 — Jerry Rice has 181 yards receiving in San Francisco’s 27-24 loss to Detroit. It’s his 51st 100-yard game, which breaks Don Maynard’s NFL record.

2004 — Bobby Seck of Hofstra throws eight touchdown passes to tie an Atlantic 10 mark and set a school record in the Pride’s 62-43 victory over Rhode Island.

2005 — Fernando Alonso becomes Formula One’s youngest champion by finishing third in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Alonso, 24, a six-time winner in his third full season in Formula One, ends Michael Schumacher’s five-year hold on the title.

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2011 — Wes Welker has 16 catches for a franchise-record 217 yards and two scores in New England’s 34-31 loss to Buffalo. Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady is 30 of 45 for 386 yards and four scores but also matches a career worst with four interceptions.

2011 — The Detroit Lions snap a 13-game losing streak with a 26-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions, who won in the Metrodome for the first time since 1997, are 3-0 for the first time since 1980.

2013 — Skipper Jimmy Spithill and Oracle Team USA win the America’s Cup with one of the greatest comebacks in sports history to keep the oldest trophy in international sports in the United States. Spithill steers Oracle’s space-age, 72-foot catamaran to its eighth straight victory, speeding past Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand in the winner-take-all Race 19 on San Francisco Bay. All but defeated a week ago, the 34-year-old Australian and his international crew twice rallies from seven-point deficits to win 9-8.

And finally

Tommy Lasorda gives his Hall of Fame induction speech. Watch it here.

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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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