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The Sports Report: No more excuses for the Kings

Luc Robitaille
(Getty Images)

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

Helene Elliott on the Kings: Someday for the Kings is now.

The Stanley Cup playoffs have been a distant dream for too long. They can’t continue to make vague promises about when they’ll be competitive again. That dream must become reality this season for the sake of their credibility and their fan base.

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They’ve followed the right plan: constructing a team around the draft takes time, but it’s the only realistic way to build in the NHL. Extra picks or young players can be leveraged in trades to fill lineup needs. If they have the right people behind that plan, their work must pay off this season with a playoff berth.

In the early days of their tenure general manager Rob Blake and team President Luc Robitaille misread the NHL’s trend toward speed and youth and thought they could get another championship out of a group that aged fast while playing heavy hockey. By now, Blake and Robitaille have had time to retrench and replenish the talent pool and produce results.

They’ve advanced to the stage of adding veterans rather than subtracting old, bloated contracts: signing shutdown center Phillip Danault as a free agent and trading second-and third-round draft picks for winger Viktor Arvidsson gives them two serviceable top-six forwards who should ease pressure on the kids. The worst of the pain is over.

Players are scheduled to report to training camp in El Segundo on Wednesday. On Thursday they’ll begin official scrimmages. Why wait? After missing the playoffs three straight seasons and four of the last five, after earning one victory in two playoff series since they won the Stanley Cup in 2014, someday for the Kings is now.

Asked what he’d tell fans, Robitaille delivered a strong message. “We’ve turned the page. We’re done with this you can call it whatever, rebuild, and it’s time to start trending upward. Trending upward means you’ve got to get in the playoffs. You’ve got to compete,” he said in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “You never know what can happen in the playoffs, but you’ve got to get in.

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GYMNASTICS

Helene Elliott on gymnastics: Simone Biles’ schedule last week began with enviable glamour. She wore a swanky gown to the Video Music Awards, attended the Met Gala in a bedazzled outfit that weighed almost as much as she does and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2021. In an accompanying essay, Serena Williams called Biles, “A shining example of what success looks like when you let go of what the world thinks and gather your strength from yourself … from your soul.”

Her week also took a somber turn. Holding back tears, she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday and bluntly called out the organizations and people who couldn’t be bothered to protect gymnasts from the sexual abuse of former national team doctor Larry Nassar, as well as those whose botched investigations gave Nassar time to harm more women. “We have been failed, and we deserve answers,” she said.

Keeping all parts of her life in balance is infinitely more difficult than the routines she performed to win seven Olympic and 25 world championship medals, feats that earned her the nickname G.O.A.T (greatest of all time). Asked how she maintains her equilibrium, she smiled.

“That’s a good question,” she said during a Zoom interview. “I think it’s just really taking everything one day at a time, and that has helped me stay the most sane.”

Her representative said Biles wouldn’t discuss her congressional testimony because she wants to move forward, but the trauma is never far from her mind. For Biles, moving forward includes being the headliner of the impressive cast of the 35-city Gold Over America Tour, which will visit Honda Center in Anaheim on Friday and Staples Center on Saturday.

NFL

LZ Granderson on the NFL: Expect plenty of Super Bowl talk when the Los Angeles Rams face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in L.A. on Sunday. First, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is basically synonymous with the Super Bowl, and his team is the defending champion. Second, it’s a preview of sorts, because L.A. will be hosting the Super Bowl this season, for the first time since 1993.

February’s big game is not just a perfect chance to showcase the $5-billion crown jewel SoFi Stadium, which opened a year ago. It’s also the logical time and place for the league to correct a historical injustice.

Riddle me this: How is it possible that in the city of Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers, the name Kenny Washington generally inspires blank stares?

Who is Kenny Washington?

Well, in March 1946 he became the first Black player in the modern era to sign an NFL contract. The team? The Los Angeles Rams.

It’s an undertold story, especially considering that both Washington and Woody Strode, who signed with the Rams two months after Washington, were Robinson’s teammates in the football program at UCLA. Although the Bruins retired Washington’s number and he’s in the College Football Hall of Fame, he is nowhere near as celebrated by the NFL as Robinson is by MLB and by American culture at large.

And Washington even broke the color barrier a year before Robinson did.

DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: The expectation was the Dodgers, when Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin came off the injured list earlier this month to make their rotation finally whole again, would benefit from quality starts almost every day as they chased the San Francisco Giants down the stretch.

Kershaw and Gonsolin’s health were question marks but Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler, and Julio Urías had become Cy Young Award candidates. Scripted bullpen games were in the past. The quintet would spell the relief corps and the team’s elite run prevention would continue with a slightly different formula.

But the rollout hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated. A night after Urías’ velocity dropped again for the second consecutive abbreviated outing, Buehler didn’t survive the fourth inning and the Dodgers’ pitching staff absorbed a rare letdown in the team’s 10-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.

“I didn’t do my job,” Buehler said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. They gave me a lead and then I couldn’t protect it. My job is to set the tone and I didn’t do that.”

ANGELS

Jack Harris on the Angels: As the Angels play out the string on another losing season, their seventh straight without a playoff berth, Joe Maddon’s patience is wearing thin. His frustration is not with his team’s effort but rather its personnel, a sentiment he voiced in response to a question about top prospect Reid Detmers’ rotation-worthiness in 2022.

“Listen, what’s your agenda next year?” the Angels manager said before Wednesday night’s game against the Houston Astros. “Is it to participate in the American League West and hopefully, possibly, make it to the end, and play a game in October?

“My point is, we have to get guys who are ready to win right now in that rotation in order to get to where we want to be. Otherwise, you’re going to keep perpetuating this method.”

The Angels plan to be aggressive in their pursuit of starting pitchers this winter, and there will be no shortage of high-end, free-agent arms available, including veterans Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodón, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Corey Kluber.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: It’s something of a game-day ritual for Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians whenever Matthew Stafford is the opposing quarterback.

Through the years, when Stafford played for the Detroit Lions and Arians was an assistant or head coach of other teams, Arians left the locker room early so could be on the field to watch Stafford warm up. Arians was not searching for flaws or ways that a defense could pressure Stafford. He simply enjoys watching the Rams quarterback throw a football.

“He can make every throw from every angle,” Arians said Wednesday during a conference call with Los Angeles reporters. “He’s just so talented, and I love watching really talented guys.”

On Sunday, Arians will be out early at SoFi Stadium to observe Stafford get ready for an early-season showdown against the Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: Asante Samuel Jr. had his first career interception Sunday, picking off an errant Dak Prescott pass to end Dallas’ second possession.

Coach Brandon Staley praised the Chargers’ rookie cornerback for the play but said there were better ways to gauge Samuel’s performance to date.

“You can really measure him when he’s going nose to nose with somebody really good,” Staley said Wednesday. “You can measure Asante less on his interception — which is fantastic — but more on a nose-to-nose play.”

Two examples from Sunday came against Amari Cooper, the Cowboys’ four-time Pro Bowl wideout.

Samuel broke up a second-down pass intended for Cooper in the end zone in the first quarter. He then blanketed Cooper to force an incompletion on fourth down shortly before halftime.

“When you’re nose to nose with a premium player, with a $100-million receiver, how are you playing?” Staley said. “He’s shown that he can go nose to nose.”

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: His eyes slickened, his expression uneasy, Sam Marrazzo wanted to share a friend’s pain.

“Can I just say something real quick first, before we get questions?” the UCLA senior center asked Wednesday at the start of his Zoom session with reporters.

Marrazzo went on to tell the story of teammate Jon Gaines II’s father, Jon, who beat kidney cancer but is on dialysis twice a week and fighting the loss of both kidneys while waiting for a transplant.

“Even when he comes to watch Jon play,” Marrazzo said of the elder Gaines, “he has to get [dialysis] out here, so I just wanted to kind of get that out there. Jon’s been here every day through the whole thing, battling through it, he’s a great guy and I feel like just to get that story out there and hopefully help his dad out a little bit in the process.”

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1926 — Gene Tunney beats Jack Dempsey with a 10-round decision to retain the world heavyweight title.

1952 — Rocky Marciano knocks out Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round to retain the world heavyweight title.

1979 — St. Louis’ Lou Brock steals his 938th base to break Billy Hamilton’s record as the Cardinals beat New York Mets 7-4 in 10 innings.

1979 — The Houston Oilers overcome a 24-0 deficit to beat the Cincinnati Bengals 30-27 in overtime.

1983 — Gerry Coetzee knocks out Michael Dokes in the 10th round to win the WBA heavyweight title in Richfield, Ohio.

1992 — Manon Rheaume becomes the first woman to play in one of the four major pro sports leagues when she takes the ice in the first period for the NHL expansion Tampa Bay Lightning in an exhibition game. The 20-year-old goalie faces nine shots and allows two goals in St. Louis’ 6-4 victory.

2000 — Ben Matthews ties an NCAA record with five interceptions as Bethel beat Gustavus 14-13. Matthews ties the all-division record shared by eight players.

2007 — For the first time in NFL history, two players have 200-plus yards receiving in the same game — whether they were opponents or teammates — in Philadelphia’s 56-21 rout of Detroit. Philadelphia’s Kevin Curtis has 11 receptions for 221 yards and Detroit’s Roy Williams catches 9 passes for 204. Detroit’s Jon Kitna sets a franchise record with 446 yards passing.

2012 — The Tennessee Titans become the first team in NFL history to score five touchdowns of at least 60 yards in a game in their 44-41 overtime win over Detroit. The scorers are Tommie Campbell with a 65-yard punt-return; Jared Cook’s 61-yard reception from Jake Locker; Darius Reynaud’s 105-yard kick-return; Nate Washington’s 71-yard reception from Locker; and Alterraun Verner’s 72-yard fumble-return. The Lions also become the first team in NFL history to score two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation to either take the lead or force overtime.

2012 — Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles rushes for 233 yards, including a 91-yard TD run in the Chiefs’ 27-24 overtime win over New Orleans. Ryan Succop kicks six field goals, one to force overtime in the final seconds and a 31-yarder in overtime for the Chiefs.

2017 — The St. John’s-St. Thomas rivalry game obliterates the NCAA Division III attendance record with a crowd of 37,355. The Tommies use a stingy defense to hang on for a 20-17 win over the Johnnies at Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins. The previous mark was set on Oct. 8, 2016, with 17,535 fans watching Wisconsin-Oshkosh play at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

2017 — Juwan Johnson catches a seven-yard TD pass as time expires and fourth-ranked Penn State rallies to stun Iowa 21-19 in the Big Ten opener for both teams. Saquon Barkley has 211 yards rushing and 94 yards receiving for the Nittany Lions, who outgain Iowa 579-273 but nearly blew the game. With the Hawkeyes leading 19-15, Penn State goes 80 yards on 12 plays to close out the game, and Trace McSorley finds Johnson in a crowded end zone on fourth down.

2018 — Tiger Woods caps off one of the most remarkable comebacks in golf history. Woods ends his comeback season with a dominant victory at the Tour Championship. He taps in for par and a 1-over 71 for a two-shot victory over Billy Horschel. It’s the 80th victory of his PGA Tour career and his first in more than five years.

2018 — Drew Brees sets the NFL record for career completions while passing for 396 yards and three touchdowns and running for two scores to lift New Orleans past Atlanta 43-37 in overtime. Brees breaks the record of 6,300 career completions set by Brett Favre.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Lou Brock sets the stolen base record. Watch and listen 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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