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The Sports Report: Lakers’ season comes crashing down

Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope fights for control of the ball with Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne.
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope fights for control of the ball with Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne during the second quarter of Game 6 at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, we’re your hosts, Austin Knoblauch and Iliana Limón Romero, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s on vacation (and probably wondering why he always writes the newsletter solo.) Let’s get right to the news.

Dan Woike on the Lakers: Kobe Bryant wrote the words to Devin Booker on a pair of sneakers. Booker inked the words in Bryant’s handwriting on the inside of his arm. on Thursday night, it was Booker, and not LeBron James or Anthony Davis, that was able to live the motto.

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“Be legendary.”

Bryant knew. Now the Lakers do too.

Booker scored 47, punctuated with a dunk, the Suns eliminating the Lakers in six games of the first-round playoff series with a 113-100 win at Staples Center.

The Lakers season ended Thursday night, the team unable to stop the series’ most explosive player who quickly turned Game 6 into a blowout early and helped the Suns hold off the Lakers, who became the first defending champions to get eliminated in the first round on their home court since 1984.

Suns guard Devin Booker drives with the ball ahead of Lakers guard Dennis Schroder.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker drives with the ball ahead of Lakers guard Dennis Schroder during the first quarter of the Lakers’ Game 6 loss at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers finally found some fight in the second half, cutting what was once a 29-point Suns lead down to 10 in the fourth, the silent Staples Center crowd suddenly feeding off the energy their team was playing suddenly playing with.

But the sense of urgency that Lakers veteran Markieff Morris said the team never could find showed up far too late, the early damage from Booker and the Suns too much to overcome.

Bill Plaschke on the Lakers: It was the definition of disturbing, the epitome of embarrassing, the portrait of failure.

Anthony Davis sitting on the bench with his face completely wrapped in a towel.

LeBron James throwing the ball into the scorer’s table then helplessly turning up his palms.

Frank Vogel shaking his fist and screaming.

Profane chants from a crowd that, frankly, didn’t know what else to say.

On a stunningly sordid Thursday night at Staples Center, the Lakers’ title defense lasted about as long as Davis.

Davis was gone in the first quarter with a strained groin, and the Lakers were gone in the first round after a fractured season, wiped out by the Phoenix Suns 113-100 in Game 6 that gave the Suns a first-round series win 4-2.

Yes, this really happened. No, it is no joke that the favorites to repeat as NBA champions ended up as a punch line. Nine months after they danced off a court in the middle of Florida with the franchise’s 17th championship, the Lakers trudged off a court in downtown Los Angeles with one of the franchise’s greatest debacles.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” said Vogel.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder pressures Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul  on the court
Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder, back, puts pressure on Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) Thursday night.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: Dennis Schroder began his postgame videoconference talking about how he was going to “work my ass off” over the summer because he wanted to win a championship with the Lakers.

He and the Lakers had just been sent packing from the NBA playoffs, their 113-100 defeat to the Phoenix Suns ending their quest to repeat as champions by losing the best-of-seven series 4-2.

Schroder, who will be a free agent this summer, was asked late Thursday night if it was his intention to re-sign with the Lakers.

“The Lakers, they didn’t do nothing to me. They been great,” Schroder said. “They got the top two players [LeBron James and Anthony Davis] in the league. Everybody in the locker room is great, so at the end of the day, like I said, I want to be here and win the championship. That’s not even a question.”

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CLIPPERS

Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell tangles with Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and guard Paul George.
Dallas Mavericks center Dwight Powell, center, tangles with Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, and guard Paul George while battling for a rebound in Game 5 on Wednesday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Otis Birdsong was on a business trip in Florida when he began watching Game 5 of the first-round matchup between the Clippers and Dallas on Wednesday night. Seeing the Clippers lose at home for the third time in the series, and only days after they’d drawn even with two road wins in Texas, went nothing like his prediction.

“If I was a betting man, I would have bet a lot of money that they would win Game 5,” Birdsong said Thursday. “This series is crazy.”

As surprised as Birdsong was, he should not have been. After all, he is one of about four dozen NBA players in the league’s 75-year history who knows what it feels like to be in the Clippers’ and Mavericks’ sneakers, amid a series defying one of the NBA’s most closely held beliefs: In the increased intensity of the playoffs, home is where the advantage lies.

Before the road team won the first five games of this matchup, it had happened only twice before: in 1984, when a New Jersey Nets roster featuring Birdsong, a 6-foot-3 guard, stunned defending champion Philadelphia in a five-game, first-round series, and in the 1995 best-of-seven Western Conference finals in which Houston outlasted a top-seeded San Antonio team featuring the league’s most valuable player, David Robinson, and three future NBA coaches in Doc Rivers, Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson.

For participants of both series, watching the Clippers and Mavericks alternate losing home-court advantage in a slugfest with plot twists produced by Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Luka Doncic has brought back memories of their own places in the league’s more obscure playoff history.

COLLEGE SOFTBALL

UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia delivers during a game on May 27.
UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia delivers during a game on May 27. Garcia pitched a shutout against Florida State on Thursday.
(John McCoy / Associated Press)

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on UCLA softball: A rising star on UCLA’s elite pitching staff went down in the biggest moment of the season, but the Bruins’ longtime ace was shining as bright as ever.

With pitcher Megan Faraimo’s status for the Women’s College World Series in question because of an injured hand, Rachel Garcia pitched a shutout in Thursday’s opening round against No. 10 seed Florida State as the No. 2 Bruins came alive late for a 4-0 victory.

UCLA (47-5) will face No. 3 seed Alabama in the second round Friday at 6:30 p.m. PDT.

Garcia gave up five hits and two walks with 11 strikeouts, her seventh double-digit strikeout performance of the season.

BASKETBALL

Ethan Sands on the Sparks: An eventful Thursday night game that started with a tribute to Seimone Augustus and fans returning to the Los Angeles Convention Center was rounded out with a dominant Sparks 98-63 win over the visiting Indiana Fever .

The Sparks (3-3) rolled to the win, offsetting the absence of stars Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike sidelined by knee injuries.

The team closed the first quarter with a 10-2 run and never took its foot off the pedal. At halftime, Kristi Toliver showcased why she’s one of the top scorers in the league, leading the way with 15 points on five-of-eight shooting and two of five from behind the arc. Bria Holmes was close behind with 10 points on four-of-six shooting and a perfect two for two from deep while tallying six total rebounds. And although Te’a Cooper picked up three fouls in the first half, she was the aggressor on offense and defense throughout the entire game.

Twelve of her points came from inside the lane or from the free-throw line. All of her moves to the basket had a variation of an in-and-out cross or a hesitation cross.

Kobe Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, watch as Rob Pelinka, right, speaks March 10, 2017.
Vanessa and Kobe Bryant in 2017.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

Victoria Hernandez on Vanessa Bryant: Nike has some explaining to do.

Vanessa Bryant posted on Instagram early Thursday, upset that a pair of sneakers she worked on with the athletic wear giant in honor of her daughter Gianna were released to the public without her consent.

The shoes were supposed to be called “Mambacita” after Gigi’s nickname and have “an exclusive black and white colorway on her daddy’s shoes,” the Nike Kobe 6 Protro. They have gold detailing, including Kobe and Gigi’s names on the back and her number 2 on the sides.

Bryant explains that she wanted to sell the shoes with the proceeds going to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation and ultimately didn’t give the green light for the shoes to be sold after she didn’t re-sign her husband’s contract with Nike.

“The MAMBACITA shoes are NOT approved for sale,” she said, adding that “The MAMBACITA shoes were not approved to be made in the first place.”

BASEBALL

The Milwaukee Brewers celebrate after beating the Dodgers in 11 innings on May 1 in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Brewers celebrate after beating the Dodgers in 11 innings on May 1 in Milwaukee.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

Jorge Castillo on baseball rules: May 1 was the 101st anniversary of a remarkable if obscure baseball game rediscovered every year. On that date in 1920, Leon Cadore, a right-hander for the Brooklyn Robins, and Joe Oeschger of the Boston Braves tossed 26-inning complete games opposite each other. Cadore is estimated to have thrown 338 pitches. Oeschger tossed 316. The game ended in a 1-1 tie because of darkness after 3 hours and 50 minutes.

The Dodgers — the Robins’ descendants — were in Milwaukee for the anniversary this year. Cadore’s name accordingly resurfaced during the television broadcast while the Dodgers and Brewers played a game that would’ve been unrecognizable to him.

The Brewers beat the Dodgers that day, 6-5, in 11 innings at American Family Field. Starter Dustin May blew out his elbow in the second inning and the Dodgers used 10 pitchers. The Brewers countered with six. The Dodgers, left without a bench, used Clayton Kershaw as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the 10th inning for the second time in a week. The game still lasted 4:48.

It probably would’ve gone longer if a runner wasn’t placed at second base to start each extra inning. It’s a rule Major League Baseball — an institution slow to enforce change in recent decades — initially implemented in 2020 to expedite results during the pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season after trials in the minors. It was kept for the 2021 regular season — not the postseason — after widespread approval outweighed initial aversion. The rationale: The league wants to avoid marathon games for both baseball and entertainment purposes.

ANGELS

Angels starting pitcher Griffin Canning delivers against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Jeff Miller on the Angels: The Angels enjoyed a run of improved starting pitching during a recent surge that carried them into the opener of their latest homestand.

Griffin Canning was unable to contribute to that run Thursday in the first of four games against Seattle.

The right-hander couldn’t make it through the fourth inning on a night when the Angels blew an early two-run lead and lost 6-2.

Canning was lifted after allowing a three-run homer to Jake Fraley, giving the Mariners a 4-2 edge.

In nine of their previous 13 games, Angels starters had gone at least five innings and surrendered no more than three earned runs. The team entered Thursday having won six of nine.

Canning gave up six hits total and walked two. Of his 80 pitches, 50 were strikes. He was replaced by Jose Suarez.

DODGERS

Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock drives in a run against the Cincinnati Reds on April 28.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The Dodgers added more reinforcements Thursday ahead of their six-game trip, activating outfielder AJ Pollock and right-hander Jimmy Nelson from the injured list. Relievers Alex Vesia and Edwin Uceta were optioned to triple-A Oklahoma City to make room on the roster.

The 33-year-old Pollock was placed on the injured list May 15 after re-straining his left hamstring. He missed 17 games and appeared in four games on a rehabilitation assignment with single-A Rancho Cucamonga. He went two for nine with a home run in the stint. Pollock, who figures to platoon in left field with Matt Beaty, is batting .277 with four home runs and a .791 OPS in 32 games this season.

Nelson has been on the injured list since May 23 with forearm and elbow soreness. The 31-year-old starter-turned-reliever has given up five runs in 18 2/3 innings across 16 appearances this season.

RAMS

Punter Johnny Hekker, always a huge Rams asset in the past, did not have a great season in 2020.
(Corey Perrine / Associated Press)

Gary Klein on Rams punters: He is the longest-tenured Rams player.

Punter Johnny Hekker started his career with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012. The four-time Pro Bowl selection is the NFL’s highest-paid player at his position, carrying a salary-cap number of $4.9 million, according to overthecap.com.

And for the first time in years, Hekker is competing for his job.

Last season, Hekker averaged a career-low 45.6 yards per punt. In April, after the Rams signed former Buffalo Bills punter Corey Bojorquez, Rams coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead, when pressed, said there was not a punting competition.

But Thursday, during a videoconference with reporters, Hekker, 31, said words spoken in news conferences were just that: words. He is approaching every organized-team activity workout on the field and in the weight room as a competition.

“When push comes to shove, they have to make the best decisions for this roster,” Hekker said, “and there’s no running around the financial aspect of it. So, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to put together the best roster that you can.

“And Corey is wildly talented. And so I think for me, to for a second not think of this as a competition and not prepare myself every day like it is a competition would be doing myself and this team a disservice.”

NBA PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE/RESULTS

FIRST ROUND
All times Pacific

WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Utah vs. No. 8 Memphis

Memphis 112, Utah 109
Utah 141, Memphis 129
Utah 121, Memphis 111
Utah 120, Memphis 113
Utah 126, Memphis 110
Utah wins series, 4-1

No. 2 Phoenix vs. No. 7 Lakers

Phoenix 99, Lakers 90
Lakers 109, Phoenix 102
Lakers 109, Phoenix 95
Phoenix 100, Lakers 92
Phoenix 115, Lakers 85
Phoenix 113, Lakers 100
Phoenix wins series, 4-2

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 Portland

Portland 123, Denver 109
Denver 128, Portland 109
Denver 120, Portland 115
Portland 115, Denver 95
Denver 147, Portland 140 (2OT)
Denver 126, Portland 115
Denver wins series, 4-2

No. 4 Clippers vs. No. 5 Dallas

Dallas 113, Clippers 103
Dallas 127, Clippers 121
Clippers 118, Dallas 108
Clippers 106, Dallas 81
Dallas 105, Clippers 100
Today: at Dallas, 6 p.m., ESPN
*Sunday: at Clippers, 12:30 p.m., ABC

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 Philadelphia vs. No. 8 Washington

Philadelphia 125, Washington 118
Philadelphia 120, Washington 95
Philadelphia 132, Washington 103
Washington 122, Philadelphia 114
Philadelphia 129, Washington 112
Philadelphia wins series, 4-1

No. 2 Brooklyn vs. No. 7 Boston

Brooklyn 104, Boston 93
Brooklyn 130, Boston 108
Boston 125, Brooklyn 119
Brooklyn 141, Boston 126
Brooklyn 123, Boston 109
Brooklyn wins series, 4-1

No. 3 Milwaukee vs. No. 6 Miami

Milwaukee 109, Miami 107
Milwaukee 132, Miami 98
Milwaukee 113, Miami 84
Milwaukee 120, Miami 103
Milwaukee wins series, 4-0

No. 4 New York vs. No. 5 Atlanta

Atlanta 107, New York 105
New York 101, Atlanta 92
Atlanta 105, New York 94
Atlanta 113, New York 96
Atlanta 103, New York 89
Atlanta wins series, 4-1

*-if necessary

NHL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE/RESULTS

SECOND ROUND
All times Pacific

East Division

New York Islanders vs. Boston

Boston 5, New York 2
New York 4, Boston 3 (OT)
Thursday: at New York, 4:30 p.m., NBCSN
Saturday: at New York, 4:15 p.m., NBCSN
*Monday: at Boston, TBD, TBD
*Wednesday at New York, TBD, TBD
*Friday, June 11: at Boston, TBD, TBD

Central Division

Tampa Bay vs. Carolina

Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 1
Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 1
Thursday: at Tampa Bay, 5 p.m., USA
Saturday: at Tampa Bay, USA
*Tuesday: at Carolina, TBD, TBD
*Thursday: at Tampa Bay, TBD, TBD
*Saturday, June 12: at Carolina, TBD, TBD

West Division

Colorado vs. Vegas

Colorado 7, Vegas 1
Colorado 3, Vegas 2 (OT)
Today: at Vegas, 7 p.m., NBCSN
Sunday: at Vegas, 5:30 p.m., NBCSN
*Tuesday: at Colorado, TBD, TBD
*Thursday: at Vegas, TBD, TBD
*Saturday, June 12: at Colorado, TBD, TBD

North Division

Winnipeg vs. Montreal

Montreal 5, Winnipeg 3
Today: at Winnipeg, 4:30 p.m., USA
Sunday: at Montreal, 3 p.m., NBCSN
Monday: at Montreal, TBD, TBD
*Wednesday: at Winnipeg, TBD, TBD
*Friday, June 11: at Montreal, TBD, TBD
*Sunday, June 13: at Winnipeg, TBD, TBD

*-if necessary

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1870 — Ed Brown becomes the first African-American jockey to win the Belmont Stakes, with Kingfisher.

1927 — The United States wins the first Ryder Cup golf tournament by beating Britain 9½-2½.

1932 — Faireno, ridden by Tommy Malley, wins the Belmont Stakes by 1½ lengths over Osculator. Burgoo King, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, doesn’t race.

1966 — Ameroid, ridden by Bill Boland, wins the Belmont Stakes by 2½ lengths over Buffle. Kauai King, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, finishes fourth.

1987 — Danny Harris defeats Edwin Moses in the 400 hurdles at a meet in Madrid, ending the longest winning streak in track and field. Moses, had won 122 consecutive races dating to Aug. 26, 1977.

1988 — West Germany’s Steffi Graf beats 17-year-old Natalia Zvereva of the Soviet Union in 32 minutes with a 6-0, 6-0 victory to win the French Open for the second straight year.

1990 — Penn State is voted into the Big Ten. The school becomes the 11th member of the league and first addition to the Midwest-based conference since Michigan State in 1949.

1994 — Haile Gebrselassie becomes the first Ethiopian to set a world track record with a time of 12:56.96 in the men’s 5,000 meters at Hengelo, Netherlands.

1998 — Harut Karapetyan of the LA Galaxy scores three goals in five minutes for the fastest hat trick in MLS history in an 8-1 rout of the Dallas Burn. The seven-goal margin sets an MLS record.

2005 — Justine Henin-Hardenne beats a rattled and fumbling Mary Pierce 6-1, 6-1 to win the French Open, capping a comeback from a blood virus with her fourth Grand Slam title and her second at Roland Garros.

2005 — Eddie Castro sets a North American record for most wins by a jockey in one day at one track, winning nine races on the 13-race card at Miami’s Calder Race Course.

2008 — The Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in 11 seasons with a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 .

2009 — Randy Johnson earns his 300th win, becoming the 24th major league pitcher to reach the milestone by leading San Francisco to a 5-1 victory over the Washington Nationals in the first game of a doubleheader.

2011 — Li Na becomes the first Chinese — man or woman — to win a Grand Slam singles title. She beats Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (0) in the French Open final for her fifth career title and first on clay.

2016 — Garbine Muguruza wins her first Grand Slam title by beating defending champion Serena Williams 7-5, 6-4 at the French Open, denying the American her record-equaling 22nd major trophy.

And finally

After a lopsided loss to the Suns that ended the Lakers’ season and hopes of repeating as champions, LeBron James and Anthony Davis fielded questions from the media about the series, their health, the future of the team and more. Watch highlights 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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