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Clippers join Lakers on brink of elimination

LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) yells out after an apparent foul
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) yells out after an apparent foul committed by Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein (33) that wasn’t called during Game 5 of the first round Western Conference playoffs Wednesday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, I’m your host, Iliana Limón Romero, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s on vacation (probably wondering why the Dodgers can’t score 11 runs in an inning every game). Let’s get right to the news.

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: It is typically inadvisable to go after the same rebound that Boban Marjanovic wants.

At 7-foot-4, with a reach as wide as a Texas live oak and hands like baseball mitts, Dallas’ center owns much of the airspace near the rim. When a Mavericks shot caromed off the rim early in the third quarter Wednesday, he grabbed hold of the ball, appearing to extend the Mavericks’ possession. But he never saw Kawhi Leonard run in to meet him.

Leonard clamped his 11 ¼-inch wide hands onto the pebbled leather and, with a twist of his hips, cleanly ripped it out of Marjanovic’s grip.

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If there was ever a night for the Clippers’ taking, this was it. Returning home after two consecutive road wins to even this first-round playoff series entering Game 5 at Staples Center, the Clippers had the healthy superstars, the momentum and the welcoming crowd aching to witness the team’s first postseason win at home since 2017.

Yet the moments when they flexed their muscles were too infrequent, their hold never strong enough. Because of it, after a 105-100 loss, their championship ambitions are again hanging on for dear life trailing 3-2 in the series, with Game 6 coming Friday in Dallas.

“Got to win in seven now,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.

Dylan Hernández on the Clippers: There are new voices.

“I think we’re fine,” coach Tyronn Lue said.

Yet here they are again, on the precipice of another disaster.

There is renewed determination.

“We’re confident,” Paul George said.

Yet here they are again, on the brink of another humiliating expulsion from the postseason.

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DODGERS

Los Angeles Dodgers' Cody Bellinger, center, smiles in the dugout
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, center, smiles in the dugout after hitting a grand slam against the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday in Los Angeles.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Bill Shaikin on the Dodgers: And now we resume our regularly scheduled programming, with the Dodgers laying waste to the National League West.

That might be a bit of hyperbole, considering the team currently occupies third place in the division. But it might not.

The Dodgers could move back into first place by the end of the weekend and, if they keep playing like this, they might never leave.

Mookie Betts? Back hitting. Cody Bellinger? Back, and back hitting. AJ Pollock, Tony Gonsolin, Brusdar Graterol and Jimmy Nelson? Back soon.

Back at reasonably full strength, what might the Dodgers do? They spooked the rest of the West on Wednesday, putting up the biggest inning in Los Angeles history in the very first inning.

Eleven runs in the inning, their most in a regular-season game since a 1954 afternoon when they played in Brooklyn and their cleanup batter was Jackie Robinson.

LAKERS

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) is guarded by Phoenix Suns' Jae Crowder
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) is guarded by Phoenix Suns’ Jae Crowder during their playoff series.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Dan Woike on the Lakers: Can the Lakers find hope amidst the chaos, their season teetering on shaky legs and sprained muscles, with their much-celebrated togetherness threatened under the stresses of failure?

Can they survive the premature autopsies, the talk about LeBron James’ early retreat to the locker room and a fresh round of concerns and quips over Anthony Davis?

Can they rediscover their swagger, find some fight and rely on a championship DNA that hasn’t yet been activated?

Most importantly, can the Lakers give themselves a chance?

UCLA

Pitcher Rachel Garcia throws the ball
UCLA’s Rachel Garcia pitches a no-hit shut out against Oregon State on April 16 in Westwood.
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on UCLA softball: As much as she’s known for flummoxing hitters with a devastating rise ball or smashing home runs, Rachel Garcia is recognized for her stone-faced expression while she does it all. UCLA’s star pitcher shows nothing more than a smirk if she gives up a home run and simply purses her lips for a split second if she disagrees with an umpire’s strike call.

But after nearly six years with the Bruins, one thing evokes emotions in Garcia: her relationship with assistant coach Lisa Fernandez.

“I look up to Coach Lisa so much,” she said while fighting back tears. “She’s been a huge impact in my life.”

Fernandez, a two-time NCAA champion at UCLA and three-time Olympic gold medalist, cast a long shadow for Garcia since she arrived in Westwood. Observers quickly compared the two: They were both short, right-handed pitchers who did as much damage at the plate as in the circle.

Garcia is the “newer Barbie of Lisa Fernandez,” said former Washington pitcher Danielle Lawrie. ESPN analyst Michele Smith, who won two gold medals with Fernandez, said seeing Garcia debut as a redshirt freshman in 2017 was like watching “a mini Lisa Fernandez.”

Maybe comparing a then-19-year-old to one of the most iconic players in the sport was premature, but Garcia has soared past sky-high expectations with a resume as long as a CVS receipt. And the 24-year-old is still hoping to bag more items.

In addition to being named the USA Softball collegiate player of the year twice, the Honda Cup winner as the top female collegiate athlete and the most outstanding player in the 2019 NCAA tournament that the Bruins won, Garcia is chasing a second NCAA championship and an Olympic medal.

Second-seeded UCLA faces Florida State at 6:30 p.m. PDT Thursday in the first round of the eight-team Women’s College World Series, with the best-of-three championship series concluding June 9 in Oklahoma City. The opener will air on ESPN.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1932 — Lou Gehrig becomes the first major league player to hit four consecutive home runs in a game, giving the New York Yankees a 20-13 win over the Philadelphia A’s. Gehrig’s feat, however, is overshadowed by the resignation of John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants for 30 years.

1944 — Bounding Home, ridden by G.L. Smith, wins the Belmont Stakes by one-half length over Pensive, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

1961 — Sherluck, ridden by Braulio Baeza, wins the Belmont Stakes. Carry Beck, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, finishes seventh.

1984 — Patty Sheehan wins the LPGA championship by a record 10 strokes over Beth Daniel and Pat Bradley.

1991 — Thomas Hearns becomes a world champion for the sixth time, capturing the World Boxing Association’s light-heavyweight title with a 12-round unanimous decision over Virgil Hill.

1992 — Chicago’s Michael Jordan scores a record 35 points, including a record six 3-pointers, in the first half as the Bulls beat Portland 122-89 in the opening game of the NBA Finals. Jordan finishes with 39 points and Chicago is only two points shy of the largest victory margin in the finals.

1995 — Pedro Martinez of Montreal pitches nine perfect innings against San Diego before giving up a leadoff double to Bip Roberts in the 10th inning of the Expos’ 1-0 win.

1999 — Four days after her first LPGA Tour victory, Kelli Kuehne ties the Women’s U.S. Open record with an 8-under 64 in the first round to take a one-stroke lead over Juli Inkster.

2001 — Karrie Webb wins the U.S. Women’s Open in a runaway for the second year in a row. Webb shoots a 1-under 69 for an eight-stroke victory, the largest margin at a Women’s Open in 21 years.

2004 — Calgary ties an NHL record with its 10th road win of the playoffs with a 3-2 overtime victory over Tampa Bay in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals. The New Jersey Devils also won 10 road playoff games during their championship seasons of 1995 and 2000.

2006 — Jeff Burton has the biggest come-from-behind win ever in a Busch race, overcoming a 36th-place starting position in the Dover 200 for his second victory of the season.

2006 — Russia’s Nikolai Valuev retains his WBA heavyweight title in Hanover, Germany, stopping Jamaican challenger Owen Beck with a right uppercut in the third round.

2011 — Roger Federer ends Novak Djokovic’s perfect season and 43-match winning streak, beating him 7-6 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in the French Open semifinals. Federer advances to the title match against five-time champion Rafael Nadal. Nadal reaches his sixth final in seven years at Roland Garros by defeating Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in the other semifinal.

And finally

A newsletter exclusive: Check out the latest episode of “Fernandomania @ 40" an hour before its wide release. This episode focuses on how Fernando Valenzuela’s opening day came together his transformational rookie season in 1981.

Watch the episode 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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