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The Sports Report: An NBA mid-season report card

LeBron James of Team LeBron James dunks the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game.
LeBron James of Team LeBron James attempts to dunk the ball during the 70th NBA All-Star Game.
(Timothy A. Clary / Getty Images)

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

Broderick Turner on the NBA: The NBA concluded the first half of the season Sunday in Atlanta when Team LeBron won a fourth consecutive All-Star game that many players wished did not happen during a condensed season that has forced some games to be postponed because of COVID-19 issues.

While the pandemic presented its own challenges for the league and players, the teams that were expected to be contenders for the championship the Lakers now hold remain the favorites.

In the Western Conference, the Lakers and Clippers remain the top contenders despite being third and fourth, respectively, in the standings behind league-leading Utah and second-place Phoenix.

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The thought is that the brilliant duo of LeBron James and a healthy Anthony Davis, who has missed 14 games this season, will make the Lakers too powerful to overcome while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two of the most dominant wing players in the league, will pull the Clippers into a Staples Center showdown in the West finals.

In the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers has the 76ers playing at a high enough level to be first in the East, just ahead of superstar-laden Brooklyn, which picked up former All-Star Blake Griffin over the weekend. The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and defending conference champion Miami Heat also should be in contention.

The question is which team will impose its will if the 76ers and Nets meet in the East finals?

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid has become a superstar and Ben Simmons is on the cusp, but can Embiid be the dominant force inside over the supremely talented Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden from the Nets?

Surprise teams: Utah, Phoenix, New York, Charlotte.

Disappointing teams: Boston, Dallas.

MVP: LeBron James

Defensive player of the year: Rudy Gobert, Utah.

Rookie of the year: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte.

Sixth man of the year: Jordan Clarkson, Utah.

Coach of the year: Quin Snyder, Utah.

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PAC-12 MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ryan Kartje on Pac-12 basketball: No player in the Pac-12 was more dominant during this strange pandemic season than USC’s Evan Mobley, who was selected the conference’s player of the year, freshman of the year and defensive player of the year on Tuesday.

Mobley is the fourth Trojan to be named the conference’s player of the year and the first since Sam Clancy in 2002. But neither Clancy, nor Harold Miner (1992) nor Wayne Carlander (1985) pulled off a sweep of the Pac-12 hoops awards. The only player from a major conference to match Mobley in that regard is former Kentucky standout and current Lakers star Anthony Davis, who won all three Southeastern Conference awards in 2012.

Mobley is the second Pac-12 player to win the conference’s player of the year award while also being named its best defensive player. The other freshmen to win the Pac-12’s top honor are California’s Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1996), UCLA’s Kevin Love (2008) and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton (2018).

Mobley was the centerpiece of a season for USC that exceeded the most ambitious of expectations, as Andy Enfield, in his eighth and most impressive season, led the Trojans to the doorstep of their first Pac-12 title since 1985. They may not have finished the job, faltering over the season’s final road trip to the Rockies, but USC’s 21 wins this season led all Pac-12 teams. USC went 15-5 in the conference, finishing second to Oregon (14-4) by percentage points.

It was a banner season amid difficult circumstances for Enfield, who was honored as the Pac-12’s coach of the year. Enfield is the first USC coach to earn the conference’s top honors since George Raveling in 1992. Bob Boyd (1979) and Stan Morrison (1985) also won the award.

UCLA had its own expectations this season, picked to finish at the top of the conference, while USC was slated for sixth. While the Trojans swept the Pac-12’s top honors, the Bruins had more players honored on the All-Pac-12 teams.

Bruins point guard Tyger Campbell was named to the conference’s first team, while Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang were named to the second team. Jaquez also earned a place on the all-defensive team.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: The Chargers opted to not franchise tag Hunter Henry before the deadline Tuesday, meaning the tight end is set to become a free agent next week.

Henry played last season on a tag that paid him $10.6 million. That price would have risen to $12.7 million in 2021. The Chargers still could sign Henry to a multiyear extension, which would enable the team to lower his immediate salary cap hit.

With the cap dropping this offseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NFL teams are being forced to tighten budgets.

Several clubs in recent weeks have released veterans or worked out restructured contracts to free cap space. The Chargers have yet to make any such moves, but do have cut candidates, including right guard Trai Turner and cornerback Casey Hayward, among others.

Henry, 26, is entering this sixth season after being a second-round pick in 2016 out of Arkansas. He had a career-high 60 receptions for 613 yards and four touchdowns last season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

MEN’S
BIG WEST (at Las Vegas)
All times Pacific
Tuesday’s results

No. 9 Long Beach State 85, No. 8 CS Northridge 63
No. 10 Cal Poly 87, No. 7 CS Fullerton 82

Thursday

No. 1 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 9 Long Beach State, 11 a.m., ESPN3
No. 4 UC Davis vs. No. 5 CS Bakersfield, 2 p.m., ESPN3
No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 10 Cal Poly, 5 p.m., ESPN3
No. 3 UC Riverside vs. No. 6 Hawaii, 8 p.m., ESPN3

Friday
Semifinal: #1/8/9 winner vs. #4/5 winner, 6 p.m.
Semifinal: #2/7/10 winner vs. #3/6 winner, 9 p.m.

Saturday
Championship, 8:30 p.m.

Pac-12 (at Las Vegas)

Today
No. 8 Arizona State vs. No. 9 Washington State, 1 p.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 7 Utah vs. No. 10 Washington, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 6 Stanford vs. No. 11 California, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Network

Thursday
No. 1 Oregon vs. TBD, 11:30 a.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 5 Oregon State, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 2 USC vs. TBD, 5:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network
No. 3 Colorado vs. TBD, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

Friday
Semifinal 1, 5:30 p.m.
Semifinal 2, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday
Final, 7:30 p.m.

WOMEN’S
Big West (at Las Vegas)

Tuesday’s result
No. 9 CS Fullerton 55, No. 8 UC Riverside 51

Today
No. 1 UC Davis vs. No. 9 CS Fullerton, 11 a.m.
No. 4 CS Bakersfield vs. No. 5 Hawaii, 2 p.m.
No. 2 UC Irvine vs. No. 7 UC Santa Barbara, 5 p.m.
No. 3 Long Beach State vs. No. 6 Cal Poly, 8 p.m.

Friday
Semifinal: #1/8/9 winner vs. #4/5 winner, 12 p.m.
Semifinal: #2/7 winner vs. #3/6 winner, 3 p.m.

Saturday
Championship, 5 p.m.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1913 — The Quebec Bulldogs win the Stanley Cup in two games over Sydney.

1920 — Quebec’s Joe Malone scores six goals to lead the Bulldogs to a 10-4 rout of the Ottawa Senators.

1961 — Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors becomes the first NBA player to score 3,000 points in a season. Chamberlain scores 32 points in a 120-103 loss to Detroit to bring his season total to 3,016.

1963 — Wilt Chamberlain of the San Francisco Warriors scores 70 points in a 163-148 loss to Syracuse.

1985 — Dick Motta becomes the fourth NBA coach to record 700 victories as Dallas beats New Jersey 126-113.

1991 — Eddie Sutton of Oklahoma State becomes the first coach to lead four schools into the NCAA tournament. Sutton also coached Creighton, Arkansas and Kentucky in the tournament.

1992 — New York Islanders coach Al Arbour becomes the second coach in NHL history to win 700 games with a 5-2 victory over Philadelphia.

2001 — With Swedish great Ingemar Stenmark looking on, Hermann Maier wins the giant slalom for his 13th victory this season, equaling one of the mightiest alpine skiing records. Maier, winner of the overall World Cup title three of the last four years, ties the record Stenmark set in 1979.

2002 — John Stockton, the NBA’s career assist leader, has 13 assists in Utah’s 95-92 loss at Houston to give him exactly 15,000 for his career.

2004 — Orlando’s Tracy McGrady scores a franchise record 62 points in a 108-99 win over Washington.

2011 — Veteran referees Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton, cited for two errors in the final seconds of the St. John’s-Rutgers game, withdraw from the rest of the Big East tournament. The three officials missed two calls — a travel and stepping out of bounds — in the final 1.7 seconds of St. John’s 65-63 win in the second-round of Big East tournament. The Big East acknowledged after the game the officials blew the calls.

2014 — The game between Dallas and the Columbus Blue Jackets is postponed by the NHL after Stars forward Rich Peverley collapses on the bench during the first period.

2018 — Texas Southern beats Arkansas-Pine Bluff 84-69 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game. Texas Southern (15-19) earns an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament after starting out 0-13 this season. The Tigers didn’t win a game until Jan. 1 and never beat a nonconference opponent.

2018 — The Vegas Golden Knights set a record for road wins by an expansion team with a 2-1 shootout victory at Buffalo. At 20-12-3, the Golden Knights break a tie with the 1993-94 Anaheim Ducks for most road wins by an NHL team in its first season.

And finally

Highlights of the 2021 slam dunk contest. Watch them 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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