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The Sports Report: Lakers shake off slow start to beat Denver

LeBron James grabs a rebound next to center Montrezl Harrell during the second half.
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

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

Dan Woike on the Lakers: There’s the kid picked in the middle of the second round with three less letters in his name than years on this planet, the wild-haired big man who needed couldn’t get off the bench in his first NBA stop and the gunner transforming himself into a whatever-it-takes role player.

Oh, and the best player on the planet.

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Lakers coach Frank Vogel stumbled upon that group during the team’s extended absence from Los Angeles, sort of accidentally pairing Talen Horton-Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, and LeBron James together late in their last road trip.

And, to the surprise of no one who has watched the Lakers over the past week, they were on the court for the moments that mattered most, the stretches that turned disappointment into dominations.

After trailing the Nuggets by a dozen at the half, the Lakers’ biggest star and his reserve running mates flipped the game, pushing the Lakers to a convincing 114-93 win.

While Alex Caruso had been a key part of that lineup during road wins in Atlanta and Boston, Vogel used Anthony Davis with the other four late in the third quarter as the Lakers pulled away, a 15-0 run over the final four minutes of the quarter turning things fully around.

Offensively, it was Horton-Tucker attacking the rim repeatedly, using his rangy limbs to create perfect angles for feathery finishes. It was Kuzma and Harrell patiently waiting for their spots and making the most of their opportunities from them.

And it was James doing what he does so well – everything – scoring 27 to go with 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

But what made everyone happiest Thursday was the Lakers’ defense, the grips tightening on Denver’s talented group to hold the Nuggets to only 35 points in the final two quarters, pushing the Nuggets’ field-goal percentage below 40 as they swarmed to contest every look Denver seemed to get.

Western Conference standings
Top eight teams make the playoffs

1. Utah, 17-5
2. Lakers, 17-6, 0.5 GB
2. Clippers, 17-6, 0.5 GB
4. Denver, 12-9, 4.5 GB
4. Portland, 12-9, 4.5 GB
6. Phoenix, 11-9, 5 GB
7. Golden State, 12-10, 5 GB
7. San Antonio, 12-10, 5 GB
9. Memphis, 9-8, 5.5 GB
10. Houston, 11-10, 5.5 GB
11. Sacramento, 10-11, 6.5 GB
12. Oklahoma City, 9-11, 7 GB
13. New Orleans, 8-12, 8 GB
14. Dallas, 9-14, 8.5 GB
15. Minnesota, 5-16, 11.5 GB

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ANGELS

Maria Torres on the Angels: Manager Joe Maddon said recently he believed outfielder Jo Adell, the team’s most heralded prospect since Mike Trout, would benefit from additional development in the minor leagues. His new general manager took the assessment seriously and Thursday night swung a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler.

The Angels will also receive $12.75 million to offset the $14.5-million salary Fowler is owed this season, said a person familiar with the negotiations who was not authorized to comment publicly. In exchange, the Angels will send cash or a player to be named to the Cardinals.

In essence, the Angels will pay less than $2 million to give Adell, an outfielder who figures to play a prominent role in the team’s future, time to refine his offensive and defensive approaches after a troubling debut season. And they’ll add a player that first-year general manager Perry Minasian said still has some upside despite an underwhelming performance in St. Louis.

Fowler, 34, played in 389 games for the Cardinals after signing a five-year contract ahead of the 2017 season. His best season came in 2019, when he had a career-best 19 home runs and 67 RBIs and helped the Cardinals reach the National League Championship Series. But Fowler finished his tenure there with a .233 average and .742 OPS. During four seasons, he was worth just 2.1 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.

Fowler, a switch hitter who will become a free agent at season’s end, had a particularly rough 2020 batting right-handed. He went two for 17 with no extra-base hits. He was better left-handed, batting .260 with four home runs and 23 strikeouts in 73 at-bats. Minasian said Fowler has put in extra work this offseason.

NFL

Emmanuel Morgan on the NFL: Commissioner Roger Goodell in his annual Super Bowl news conference said he is “not satisfied” with the current rate of hiring more minority head coaching candidates but was happy to see progress among the general manager ranks.

“It wasn’t what we expected, and it’s not what we expect going forward,” Goodell said.

Only two of the seven available coaching vacancies were filled with a non-white candidate — New York Jets coach Robert Saleh, a Muslim American of Lebanese descent, and Houston Texans coach David Culley, who is Black.

This offseason, the NFL amended its Rooney Rule, requiring clubs to interview two minority candidates instead of one. More attention shifted toward the lack of diversity among coaches amid a national reckoning on race last summer after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. But candidates whom many expected to receive jobs, including Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, did not make it past the interview phase with several teams.

Goodell said more discussions need to be had with individual candidates and with owners about what went right and what needs to be improved.

“They’re not the outcomes we wanted, and we’re committed more than ever to make sure we do that,” Goodell said. “We want it to be a natural process. We want it to be a process that is what we believe in diversity is what makes us better, ultimately.”

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Weather reports call for 55% chance of rain Sunday in Tampa ahead of the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with wind gusts of up to 12 mph. Though teams have played in worse conditions, the elements are far from ideal for what will be the biggest game of the year.

With the rain is expected to clear up in the afternoon, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said he was more concerned with wind, which will affect the passing and kicking game.

Quarterback Tom Brady, in his 20 seasons with the New England Patriots, played in harsher, colder conditions. Arians is confident with Brady’s preparation, and with other players wearing the right equipment.

“Tom has played in every weather there is,” Arians said. “For our guys, just proper shoes, proper gloves if you’re handling a wet ball.”

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Roger Kingdom aims to get Buccaneers over last hurdle for a Super Bowl title

NHL

Helene Elliott on the NHL: Faced with increased interruptions to its schedule as players and coaches enter COVID-19 protocol, the NHL announced a series of additional measures that are designed to reduce the risk of exposing personnel to the novel coronavirus.

Among the most visible measures will be removing the glass behind the home and visitors’ benches in each arena. According to a news release, the change is intended “To allow for air flow to more easily move away from the benches where Players and Coaches are in close proximity to one another during games.” Apparently, referees will have to use their imagination in calling delay of game penalties for shooting the puck over glass that isn’t there anymore.

Other measures instituted Thursday include limiting the time players spend in an arena by mandating that they can’t arrive more than an hour and 45 minutes before puck drop except to get treatment or otherwise prepare for a game and urging them to leave as soon as possible after games. Meetings will be conducted virtually when possible. Clubs were told to ensure there’s a distance of at least six feet between players’ locker stalls. In addition, the league is considering mandating teams to use portable air cleaners behind the bench.

DIANNE DURHAM DIES

Dianne Durham, the first Black woman to win a USA Gymnastics national championship, died in Chicago after a short illness, her husband said. She was 52.

Durham was a pioneer in American gymnastics. Her victory in the all-around at the 1983 national championships as a teenager was the first by a Black woman in the organization’s history.

“I think between her and Mary Lou Retton, they felt they introduced more of a power gymnastics,” said Durham’s husband, Tom Drahozal. “Dianne was a pioneer for Black gymnasts as well. She paved the way for others.”

That group includes Olympic champions Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas as well as Dominique Dawes, a gold medalist on the storied 1996 U.S. Olympic team.

“The door was open by Dianne,” Drahozal said.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1913 — The New York State Athletic Commission bans boxing matches between fighters of different races.

1919 — Charges against Cincinnati’s Hal Chase of throwing games and betting against his team are dismissed by National League president John Heydler. Two weeks later, Chase is traded to the New York Giants.

1948 — After landing the first double axel in Olympic competition, Dick Button becomes the first American to win the Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Gretchen Fraser becomes the first U.S. woman Olympic slalom champion.

1960 — Bill Russell grabs 51 rebounds in the Boston Celtics’ 124-100 victory over the Syracuse Nationals. Russell is the first player in NBA history to pull in 50 or more rebounds.

1972 — Bob Douglas is the first black elected to Basketball Hall of Fame. Known as “The Father of Black Professional Basketball,” Douglas owned and coached the New York Renaissance from 1922 until 1949.

1976 — Austrian Franz Klammer wins the Olympic gold medal in the downhill at Innsbruck, Austria. Bill Koch wins a silver in the 30-kilometer cross-country race to become the first American to win a medal in a Nordic event.

1980 — Gordie Howe plays his 23rd and final All-Star Game. Howe doesn’t score, but sets up the final goal of the game, by Real Cloutier, in the Wales Conference’s 6-3 win against the Campbell Conference at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

1990 — Notre Dame bucks the College Football Association and becomes the first college to sell its home games to a major network, agreeing to a five-year contract with NBC beginning in 1991.

1991 — Dave Taylor of the Kings has two assists in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers to become the 29th player in NHL history with 1,000 points.

1999 — Patrick Roy, at 33, becomes the youngest goalie in NHL history to earn 400 wins when he makes 26 saves in the Colorado Avalanche’s 3-1 win against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

2003 — Bode Miller of the United States captures his first major title, winning the gold medal in the combined at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

2006 — Pittsburgh wins a record-tying fifth Super Bowl, but its first since 1980 with a 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

2009 — Tennessee’s Pat Summitt becomes the first Division I basketball coach — man or woman — to win 1,000 career games after her Lady Vols beat Georgia 73-43.

2011 — Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia wins the men’s 3,000 at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix, after losing his right shoe at the start of the race. Gebremeskel stays close to the lead throughout the race and takes over on the final lap to finish in 7:35.37. Britain’s Mo Farah finishes second in 7:35.81.

2012 — Eli Manning and the Giants one-up Tom Brady and the Patriots again, coming back with a last-minute score to beat New England 21-17 for New York’s fourth Super Bowl title.

2017 — Tom Brady leads one of the greatest comebacks in sports, let alone Super Bowl history, lifting New England from a 25-point hole to the Patriots’ fifth NFL championship in the game’s first overtime finish. The Patriots score 19 points in the final quarter, including a pair of 2-point conversions, then marches relentlessly to James White’s 2-yard touchdown run in overtime beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.

And finally

The Patriots defeat the Falcons in overtime at the 2017 Super Bowl. 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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