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The Sports Report: Time for the Lakers to bench LeBron James?

LeBron James is seen silhouetted during introductions prior to Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
LeBron James
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

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

Bill Plaschke on the Lakers: Ask an aging superstar to return to work barely two months after he exhausted himself in leading his team to an NBA championship, and what do you think he will say?

“I was like, ‘Wow,’’’ LeBron James said Monday. “And I said, ‘Oh s—.’”

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Oh s— is right.

James will be 36 this winter. No player has played more postseason minutes. Yet no team in the history of pro sports will have a shorter break between seasons than his Lakers, who will take the Staples Center court for their Dec. 22 opener against the Clippers just 71 days after they left the gym near Orlando, Fla.

It’s not enough time. That’s not enough rest. James plays too hard. He gives too much. His body needs a break. He may be a King, but he’s only human, and such an abbreviated break will test the limits of his vulnerability.

It is no secret that James was so powerful through this year’s playoffs because he was coming off the longest vacation of his life. And now he is expected to repeat that after coming off the shortest vacation of his life?

In scrounging for every last TV dollar, the NBA has stacked the deck against its most celebrated player and its most accomplished team by starting the season a month too early. The Lakers need to look out for themselves. They need to take care of their leader. If they want to still be standing in the playoffs, they need a certain someone to sit down now.

Bench LeBron James.

Seriously, rest him once a week, maybe for a couple of two-week stretches, play him in maybe three-quarters of the 72 games, call it a sore knee, call it a tweaked hamstring, or just call it what it is.

The Lakers can’t repeat as champions unless James is healthy in the postseason, and they need to do whatever it takes to make that happen. That’s going to take some creativity. That could mean sacrificing January for June.

They can win without homecourt advantage. They can win without a top-four seed. Thanks to Rob Pelinka’s shopping spree, they are loaded enough to win anywhere against anybody.

But they can’t win if James blows out on some meaningless winter night when the league should still be in hiatus. After riding James to their first title together, the Lakers can forge a second title only by treating him in the opposite manner.

Let him ride the pine.

————

Challenge of a new season came quicker than Lakers and LeBron James expected

Surprised by short offseason, Lakers’ LeBron James contemplates managing his minutes

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CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: The Chargers intend to finish the season with Anthony Lynn as their head coach before making any decisions regarding 2021.

A league person not authorized to speak publicly said Lynn and his staff — along with the organization as a whole — will be re-evaluated following the Chargers’ regular-season finale Jan. 3 at Kansas City.

Lynn’s job status has become a source of increased speculation as the team has slid to a 3-9 record.

On Sunday, the Chargers collapsed in a 45-0 defeat at home to New England. No Chargers team ever had lost by as many as 45 points in 61 years of franchise existence.

“It’s pretty obvious there are some problems,” defensive end Joey Bosa said Monday. “But I don’t know. I don’t know the answers right now.”

ANGELS

Maria Torres on the Angels: The Angels found essential back-end bullpen help as the virtual winter meetings began Monday, acquiring closer Raisel Iglesias and cash from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for reliever right-hander Noé Ramirez and a player to be named.

Iglesias, 31 next month, went 4-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 31 strikeouts to five walks in 23 innings last season. He has a 2.85 ERA and 375 strikeouts to 104 walks over 316⅓ innings since 2016.

Iglesias converted eight of 10 save opportunities last season. He has 106 saves since switching permanently to the bullpen in June 2016 and is one of only five major leaguers to collect 100 since 2017.

Although he is not the No. 1 starter fans hope new general manager Perry Minasian will add, Iglesias is a welcome addition to an Angels bullpen that blew a major league-worst 14 saves in 26 chances last year.

DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The winter meetings, Major League Baseball’s final major event on the calendar, kicked off Monday in videoconference rooms across the country. Going virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic will curb the usual contrived hype surrounding them, but several questions will be addressed by the meetings’ end Thursday.

One possibility is finally deciding whether games played in National League ballparks will include the designated hitter. Owners and the players’ union are scheduled to meet this week and the universal DH is expected to be discussed. MLB, however, reportedly sent a memo to clubs last week suggesting the DH will not be universal.

MLB and the union agreed to universally implement the DH for the pandemic-shortened, 60-game season. Both sides were worried about pitchers sustaining injuries trying to hit after a short summer camp. The deal didn’t extend beyond this year, but that could change.

Both sides prefer the universal DH. Owners are in favor of it to keep pitchers healthy. The union wants it because it would force 15 additional teams to add another quality batter to their lineups, which seemingly would create jobs that pay better than the last reliever or position player on a roster.

The Dodgers are among the teams with a vested interest in knowing the answer as soon as possible. Their decisions on whether to re-sign third baseman Justin Turner and outfielder Joc Pederson will be, to some degree, affected by the outcome.

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on USC football: Tough coaching was supposed to put Palaie Gaoteote’s career back on track, but after a few months under new USC defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, the promising former five-star linebacker is on his way out of L.A.

Gaoteote has entered the NCAA transfer portal after three seasons at USC, presumably closing the book on an up-and-down tenure with the Trojans.

The junior linebacker missed the previous two games while in concussion protocol, but had been billed for a major role in USC’s revamped defense. His departure leaves the Trojans especially thin at inside linebacker, where their depth already was decimated by injuries this season.

The shortened season seemed like an ideal opportunity for Gaoteote, who arrived at USC in 2018 as one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects. Injuries slowed his progress over his first two seasons, which were otherwise marred by missed tackles and lapses in technique.

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on UCLA football: Kedon Slovis is back to torment UCLA, along with three of the four Trojans receivers who formed a 4x100 team by all going over 100 yards last year in a rivalry romp.

It might sound like another runaway until one considers what they’ll face Saturday at the Rose Bowl. UCLA has a new defensive scheme, renewed vigor and a familiar face returning in the secondary, giving it hope for a far different outcome.

“Well, one, I’m out there, so I think that makes a difference,” Bruins safety Quentin Lake said Monday with a smile, alluding to his having missed the Trojans’ 52-35 rout in 2019 with a hand injury.

His presence meant everything in the final moments last weekend.

Lake swiped away a desperation pass in the end zone to preserve UCLA’s victory over Arizona State and reveal how a former Bruin could help his alma mater win a game more than two decades after his departure.

That game-saving move, it turned out, was partially the handiwork of Carnell Lake, a five-time Pro Bowl player in the NFL after starring at linebacker for the Bruins in the 1980s.

“We went over that same type of technique over and over again,” Quentin said of his father, “so it was nothing new to me.”

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1940 — The Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins 73-0 for the most one-sided victory in NFL Championship play.

1942 — Georgia’s Frank Sinkwich wins the Heisman Trophy. Sinkwich ends his career holding the Southeastern Conference record for total offense with 2,399 yards.

1948 — Southern Methodist junior Doak Walker wins the Heisman Trophy. Walker over three years scores 303 points, including 40 touchdowns and 60 points after touchdowns.

1961 — Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain scores 78 points and grabs 43 rebounds in a 151-147 triple overtime loss to the Lakers. Elgin Baylor leads the Lakers with 63 points.

1963 — Cookie Gilchrist of the Buffalo Bills sets an AFL record with 243 yards rushing and ties a league record with five touchdowns in a 45-14 rout of the New York Jets.

1977 — Texas running back Earl Campbell wins the Heisman Trophy.

1987 — Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers becomes the first NHL goaltender to shoot a puck into the opposing goal in a 5-2 victory over the Boston Bruins.

2000 — Shaquille O’Neal sets an NBA record by going 0-for-11 from the free-throw line as the SuperSonics beat the Lakers 103-95. He broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record, who went 0-for-10 for Philadelphia against Detroit on Nov. 4, 1960. O’Neal had 26 points and 16 rebounds.

2002 — Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon sets an NFL record with his 10th 300-yard game of the season, throwing for 328 yards in the Raider 27-7 win over San Diego and breaking a tie with Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Kurt Warner.

2007 — Florida quarterback Tim Tebow becomes the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. He beats out Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, the first player since 1949 to finish second in consecutive seasons.

2011 — Three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols agrees to a $254-million, 10-year contract with the Angels on the final day of baseball’s winter meetings. Pujols’ contract is the second-highest in baseball history and only the third to break the $200 million barrier, following Alex Rodriguez’s $252-million, 10-year deal with Texas before the 2001 season and A-Rod’s $275 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees before the 2008 season.

2012 — Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel becomes the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, taking college football’s top individual prize after a record-breaking debut. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finishes a distant second and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is third in the voting.

2013 — Zach Johnson rallies from four shots behind with eight holes to play and beats Tiger Woods, the No. 1 player in golf, at the World Challenge. Johnson holes out from a drop area for par on the last hole to force a playoff and wins when Woods misses a 5-foot par putt on the first extra hole.

2013 — Lydia Ko, a 16-year-old from New Zealand, rallies to win her first title as a professional. Ko, making her second pro start, wins the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters, closing with a 4-under 68 for a three-stroke victory over South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu. She won four pro events as an amateur, taking the Canadian Women’s Open the last two years.

And finally

Ron Hextall scores a goal. 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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