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The Sports Report: Lakers fall to the Suns

Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is stripped of the ball.
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is stripped of the ball by Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) as he bumps into Phoenix Suns forward Dario Saric (20).
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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

Dan Woike on the Lakers: What will the Lakers make of this, there most recent challenge in a stretch where they’ve seemed to out-number the triumphs?

Starting center Marc Gasol didn’t play and will be in the league’s health and safety protocols for an undefined amount of time. Montrezl Harrell, the Lakers starter on Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns, is still trying to grasp the team’s defensive schemes.

Add in the Lakers actual best center – Anthony Davis – on the bench and not particularly fond of playing the center, and this is what the Lakers were left with – make-do options as the team got one precious game closer to the All-Star break.

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Without Gasol, Davis and with Kyle Kuzma a late scratch because of a heel bruise, the Lakers were again short-handed, forced to rely on veteran Jared Dudley and newbie Damian Jones to play critical minutes in the frontcourt in a 114-104 loss to the Suns.

There were some constants – LeBron James scoring 38 to try to pull the Lakers back into a game where they were mostly outplayed. Dennis Schroder scored 17 and Talen Horton-Tucker had 16 off the bench. Guard Alex Caruso had to leave the game because of muscle spasms in his neck, one victim of the game’s brutishness.

The Suns, led by 21 from Saric, now have the second-best record in the Western Conference.

It all happened against the backdrop of the Lakers once again dealing with the league’s health and safety protocols.

Gasol was a surprise addition to the injury report issued to the league Tuesday afternoon. Players are tested three times for the virus on game days, including an early-morning test.

Players can enter the protocols for a variety of reasons, including exposure to someone who tests positive like Alex Caruso and Dennis Schroder had to earlier this season. Players who themselves test positive have to either register consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart or must wait at least 10 days before beginning the process to gaining medical clearance.

Gasol, 36, has started all 35 Lakers games this season, averaging 4.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 20.1 minutes per game.

“It changes things a lot for us,” Vogel said pregame. “Obviously he’s our starting center. All I can really say at this point is he’s out for health and safety protocols and we’re gonna start Montrezl and have a next man up mentality for tonight’s game.”

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CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Every few minutes during Tuesday’s first quarter, a black graphic flashed across the Turner Sports telecast that seemed to be a signal to viewers: Do not adjust your set, what you are seeing is correct.

Reggie Jackson, the Clippers’ backup guard who had not started since Feb. 17, was on the floor inside Boston’s TD Garden at tipoff. Kawhi Leonard was nowhere to be seen.

Leonard tried to warm up through back spasms but was scratched only minutes before tipoff. His night ended there.

His team’s chances to win didn’t.

Buoyed by Jackson’s season’s best, 25-point performance — after he played just three minutes in a loss at Milwaukee — and Paul George’s 32 points, the Clippers hung tough against the Celtics. They made 58% of their shots to lead by one at halftime and 53% through three quarters to stay ahead, despite losing forward Marcus Morris to a concussion late in the first half.

But the Clippers ultimately couldn’t withstand missing two of their best shooters, unable to sustain their offense as a second consecutive game slipped away in the final minutes, a 117-112 loss to Boston, the third loss in four games on this trip.

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Terance Mann did special things kids don’t do. Now he’s doing them for the Clippers

DODGERS/ANGELS

What’s it like in spring training this year? After a year mostly without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Monday, 2,341 people attended the Dodgers’ Cactus League home opener. Thirty minutes away, the Angels announced a crowd of 1,864 for their first home game this spring.

The Dodgers, who played in front of fans only in the final postseason rounds last year, welcome the change.

“It was a huge difference in Texas when there was 10,000 people there,” Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger said of last October. “It felt like 40 [thousand]. So definitely won’t take that for granted ever again, playing in front of people.”

A season without fans, he said, “kind of sucked.”

Both the Dodgers’ and Angels’ home parks for this spring training made changes to accommodate the limited crowds. White squares were painted onto the outfield grass, keeping pods of fans separated on the berm. Most infield seats were zip-tied shut to ensure spectators remained spread out. Plastic shields lined the front of concession stands and communal tables were removed from traditional concourse seating areas. Six- or 12-feet buffer zones were created around the dugouts and bullpen areas.

Fans take photos through the locked gates at the Cactus League’s Sloan Park, the spring training site of the Chicago Cubs.

The precautions are expected to last through the spring. Tailgating is prohibited. Autographs are banned.

Everyone older than 2 is required to wear masks except when eating or drinking. Gaiters, bandanas and masks with valves aren’t accepted.

At Camelback Ranch, bags, including purses, aren’t permitted except for medical purposes and manufactured diaper bags accompanied by an infant. No outside food or drink is permitted besides one unopened water bottle — one liter or smaller — per person. One of the two team stores is open. All transactions in the ballpark are cashless. Every other urinal and sink in bathrooms is blocked off to ensure social distancing.

Could fans still enjoy the games even with all the enhanced safety measures?

“Oh, hell yeah,” Angels fan John Sampson said. “Absolutely. After the lockdown, being confined, not being able to go nowhere, it’s well worth it.”

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: After a chaotic year of pandemic postponements and scheduling uncertainty that ended in a hastily thrown together title game defeat, USC’s slate for the upcoming 2021 season has officially been set.

And the schedule, as it currently stands, offers cause for hope that the Trojans could again be serious contenders for a Pac-12 title.

USC won’t play Washington or Oregon, who have won four of the last five conference championships. For the first time since 2009, it won’t play a regular-season game on a Friday (or any other day but Saturday). And its road slate, with just one set of back-to-back games away from the Coliseum, is as manageable as it’s been in recent memory.

2021 USC FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 -- San Jose State

Sept. 11 – Stanford

Sept. 18 – at Washington State

Sept. 25 – Oregon State

Oct. 2 – at Colorado

Oct. 9 – Utah

Oct. 16 -- Open date

Oct. 23 – at Notre Dame

Oct. 30 – Arizona

Nov. 6 – at Arizona State

Nov. 13 – at California

Nov. 20 – UCLA

Nov. 27 – Brigham Young

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Deep thoughts on UCLA’s 2021 football schedule probably won’t be forthcoming from Chip Kelly given what the Bruins coach said Tuesday on the Pac-12 Network.

Kelly, on the schedule that was released earlier in the day: “We didn’t really look at it.”

Kelly, on what he likes about playing Hawaii in Week Zero: “I don’t. I never even thought of it.”

Kelly, on the potential for his players to look ahead to their second game, against Louisiana State at the Rose Bowl: “I don’t even know if our kids know the schedule was released today because it’s March 2 and we’re really concerned with March 2.”

2021 UCLA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Aug. 28 – Hawaii

Sept. 4 – LSU

Sept. 18 – Fresno State

Sept. 25 – at Stanford

Oct. 2 – Arizona State

Oct. 9 – at Arizona

Oct. 16 – at Washington

Oct. 23 – Oregon

Oct. 30 – at Utah

Nov. 13 – Colorado

Nov. 20 – at USC

Nov. 27 – California

SPARKS

Nneka Ogwumike, the WNBA most valuable player when she led the Sparks to the 2016 championship, has re-signed with the team.

No details of the contract were released by the Sparks, who announced the signing Tuesday.

“Los Angeles has been my professional home for the last decade and I’m excited to continue my journey as a member of the L.A. Sparks,” Ogwumike said in a statement released by the team. “I want to thank our ownership group, our entire front office staff, and our coaches for their commitment and dedication to growing our league. I’m determined and focused on competing at the highest level with my teammates.”

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1920 — The Montreal Canadiens set an NHL record for most goals in a game with a 16-3 rout of the Quebec Bulldogs.

1951 — Temple’s Bill Mlkvy scores an NCAA-record 73 points in a 99-69 rout over Wilkes.

1966 — Buckpasser, ridden by Bill Shoemaker, wins the Flamingo Stakes by a nose. The colt is such a prohibitive favorite among the field of nine the race is declared a non-wagering contest. The race is known as “The Chicken Flamingo.”

1968 — Montreal’s Jean Beliveau becomes the second NHL player to score 1,000 points with a goal in a 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

1984 — Peter Ueberroth, president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, is elected commissioner of baseball by major league team owners.

1985 — Bill Shoemaker becomes the first jockey to win $100 million in career purses after riding Lord at War to victory at the Santa Anita Handicap in Arcadia, Calif.

1985 — Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics scores a team-record 56 points, making 22 of 28 shots in a 138-129 home victory over Detroit.

1987 — Mike Tyson adds the WBA heavyweight crown to his WBC heavyweight crown with a unanimous 12-round decision over James “Bonecrusher” Smith in Las Vegas.

2000 — Edward Fryatt ties a PGA Tour record with eight consecutive birdies in the second round of the Doral-Ryder Open. Fuzzy Zoeller did it in the 1976 Quad Cities Open, and Bob Goalby in the 1961 St. Petersburg Open.

2001 — A bloodied John Ruiz becomes the first Hispanic heavyweight champion by knocking down Evander Holyfield in the 11th round and earning a unanimous decision for the WBA title.

2012 — Wladimir Klitschko stops France’s Jean-Marc Mormeck in the fourth round to retain the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles. Klitschko is credited with the 50th KO of his career as he improves to 57-3.

2012 — No. 2 Syracuse beats No. 19 Louisville 58-49 to tie the Big East record for victories. The Orange (30-1, 17-1) match Connecticut’s 17 conference wins in 1995-96 and finishes the regular season with 30 wins for the first time in Jim Boeheim’s 36 years as coach.

2014 — LeBron James scores a career-high 61 points, breaking Glen Rice’s franchise record, and the Miami Heat defeat the Charlotte Bobcats 124-107.

2017 — Kyrie Irving scores 43 points, LeBron James has 38 and the Cleveland Cavaliers set the NBA regular-season record with 25 three-pointers in holding off the Atlanta Hawks 135-130.

2018 — Deontay Wilder survives a pummeling from Luis Ortiz, then knocks out the challenger in the 10th round to retain his WBC heavyweight title.

And finally

Mike Tyson defeats Bonecrusher Smith. 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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