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The Sports Report: LeBron James out of COVID-19 protocols, will play tonight

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James ribbles.
LeBron James
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

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

Dan Woike on the Lakers: It’s the kind of news that might’ve even made a young Russell Westbrook pull his head out of his text book after learning on the eve of a big game in Los Angeles that the most famous player will be reinserted into the mix.

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LeBron James’ quick return to the Lakers lineup from the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols after a false-positive test is the type of big deal that elevates an already big game — even if it wasn’t always that way for one of the local stars playing in it.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Westbrook didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the simmering NBA rivalry in his city. It wasn’t just because the Lakers were the city’s established champion and the Clippers were mostly a punching bag.

James will be back in the lineup after multiple rounds of negative tests have him cleared and ready to play after missing the team’s win Tuesday in Sacramento.

He’ll be on the court with a Lakers team that’s hopeful its on an upward trajectory after winning consecutive games with a lineup that’s getting healthier after a ragged start. Guard Avery Bradley will avoid thumb surgery, while veteran forward Trevor Ariza, who coach Frank Vogel said was a key to the Lakers’ small-ball lineups, was a participant in his first practice since the beginning of training camp. Bradley will be able to play with his thumb in a splint while Ariza is still doing noncontact work.

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USC FOOTBALL

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Trojans: Players went to practice only to mysteriously return to the John McKay Center. Some assistants, who walked onto the USC’s practice field early, did a similar U-turn. Only a season that has hit almost every roadblock possible could turn a seemingly mundane Wednesday practice into another detour.

An impromptu meeting delayed the start of USC’s practice Wednesday, and Donte Williams didn’t walk up the tunnel toward the practice field until 25 minutes past the scheduled start time. The interim coach wore a serious expression, but once he spotted reporters waiting at the top of the ramp, he flashed a smile.

The Trojans are putting on a brave face amid one final twist to their chaotic season. Saturday’s game at California represents what might be the least consequential game in recent USC history. Neither team has bowl aspirations. Because they were both out of the conference title race when Cal (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) suffered a COVID-19 outbreak in November, the matchup was rescheduled for the day after the Pac-12 title game. Fans might want to show up with sleeping bags for the 8 p.m. kickoff time.

On the other side of the postponed season finale waits an uncertain future for USC. Newly hired head coach Lincoln Riley patrolled the sideline at practice this week.

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Tracking Lincoln Riley’s USC recruits: Mater Dei’s Raleek Brown commits to Trojans

BASEBALL

Bill Shaikin on baseball: As major league teams lavished close to $2 billion on players in the final days ahead of Wednesday night’s lockout, fans and analysts frantically searched for clues toward the resolution of baseball’s labor mess. Team owners were Oprah one day — a big fat contract for you, for you, for all of you! — and the Grinch the next. What does it all mean?

After Commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark staged news conferences Thursday, what it all means appears plain. The owners spent all that money on the premise that baseball’s economic system under the next collective bargaining agreement will look pretty much the same as it did under the old one.

The owners, at least, already have decided how the lockout will end. As the owners appear to see it, based on the news conferences from both sides, the players will back off on what they have prioritized as core issues, or the next major league game will take place a long, long time from now.

Since owners value younger players more than ever, the union argues, the owners should pay younger players better than ever: salary arbitration after two years instead of three; free agency after five years instead of six.

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Dodgers must address their thin starting rotation when the lockout ends

Lockout begins with the Angels still needing starting pitching

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: He was selected fifth in the 2016 NFL draft and played three-plus seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said Thursday that it would be just another game when the Rams play his former team Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Ramsey, 27, earned three Pro Bowl selections with the Jaguars. But his time with the team also was marked by his arrival to 2019 training camp in a vehicle that resembled a bank truck, an on-field argument with former coach Doug Marrone and, reportedly, a request to be traded.

In October 2019, the Rams sent two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars in exchange for Ramsey. Eleven months later, they gave him a five-year extension that included $71.2 million in guarantees and could be worth as much as $105 million.

“I’m genuinely grateful for my time there and that whole experience,” Ramsey said of Jacksonville after practice. “Like, it was a part of my life that I needed, that I appreciated, and I went through things there that make me a better man today, make me appreciate the situation I’m in today even more.”

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: It is December, and the Chargers’ second-leading rusher remains Justin Herbert.

Even though Herbert has notable mobility, this doesn’t reflect well on a running game that — as with the 2021 Chargers in general — has struggled to maintain consistent production.

This offense ranks 22nd in yards rushing, averaging 103 per game. Individually, Austin Ekeler also is 22nd, at 54.9.

After Ekeler, the team’s next three running backs — Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree III — have combined to rush for only 231 yards, which is 12 fewer than Herbert has managed.

Of that total, 75 came on one rush by Jackson against New England. Take away that play and the trio has carried 61 times for 156 yards, an average of 2.6 per attempt.

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NFL Week 13 picks: Bills beat Patriots; Rams bounce back

Antonio Brown among three NFL players suspended for violating COVID rules

Defense lifts Cowboys to a 27-17 victory over sinking Saints

UCLA BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: UCLA’s basketball game against Washington on Sunday in Seattle remained in limbo after the Huskies were forced to postpone their Pac-12 Conference opener because of COVID-19 issues within their program.

One person close to the situation told The Times on Thursday that seven Washington players and coaches had tested positive for the virus, leading to the postponement of the Huskies’ game against Arizona on Thursday night.

A Washington athletic department spokesperson said he could not discuss how many members of the team and coaching staff were under COVID-19 protocols but added that the players and staff were 100% vaccinated, meaning any positive tests would involve breakthrough cases. As of Thursday afternoon, the spokesperson said, Sunday’s game remained on track to be played.

Washington played Nevada on Nov. 24, six days before Wolf Pack coach Steve Alford announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would isolate for 10 days. Nevada assistant coach Craig Neal did not attend the team’s 79-66 victory over Pepperdine on Tuesday after being held out because of COVID-19 protocols.

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Can UCLA broadcaster Josh Lewin cover two games in two states during a 10-hour span?

KINGS

Andrew Mangiapane and Milan Lucic scored on the power play, and the Calgary Flames won their fourth straight road game, 3-2 over the Kings.

Matthew Tkachuk had a goal, Jacob Markstrom make 40 saves and the Flames improved to a league-leading 10-2-2 on the road.

Alex Edler got his 100th career goal and Alex Iafallo also scored, but the Kings lost for the seventh time in eight games. Cal Petersen made 29 saves.

ANGEL CITY

Kevin Baxter on Angel City: Angel City FC obtained the rights to a second two-time World Cup champion Thursday, acquiring midfielder Julie Ertz in a trade with the Chicago Red Stars.

In L.A. Ertz, 29, will be reunited with forward Christen Press, her teammate with Chicago and on world champion national teams in 2015 and 2019. In addition to Ertz, Angel City also acquired Sarah Gorden, 29, an NWSL defender of the year nominee. Angel City will also get an international slot from the Red Stars for 2022 and 2023. In exchange, Chicago will have full roster protection from Angel City in this month’s expansion draft.

Angel City opens plays in the NWSL next spring.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1943 — Notre Dame quarterback Angelo Bertelli wins the Heisman Trophy.

1946 — Army halfback Glenn Davis is named the Heisman Trophy winner.

1950 — Tom Fears of the Rams has 18 receptions against Green Bay.

1950 — Cloyce Box of the Detroit Lions has 302 yards receiving and scores four touchdowns against the Baltimore Colts.

1956 — Wilt Chamberlain scores 52 points in his collegiate debut with Kansas.

1957 — Texas A&M halfback John David Crow is named the Heisman Trophy winner.

1972 — Bobby Howfield of the New York Jets kicks six field goals against New Orleans.

1973 — Dick Anderson of the Miami Dolphins intercepts four passes, returning two for touchdowns, against Pittsburgh.

1979 — USC halfback Charles White is named the Heisman Trophy winner.

1982 — Tommy Hearns wins the WBC welterweight title with a 15-round decision over Wilfred Benitez in New Orleans.

1994 — Sixth-ranked Florida beats undefeated and third-ranked Alabama 24-23 in the first SEC Championship game played in Atlanta.

1999 — Marshall beats Western Michigan 34-30 on the last play of the MAC Championship game. Down 30-27 with four seconds left in the game, Chad Pennington throws his 100th career touchdown pass to Eric Pinkerton as time expires to give the Thundedring Herd their third consecutive MAC title.

2000 — The 200-yard rushing games by Mike Anderson, Corey Dillon, Warrick Dunn and Curtis Martin mark the first time in NFL history that four runners have 200 yards on the same day. Its never happened three times in a single day. Anderson rushes for an NFL rookie record 251 yards and four touchdowns in Denver’s 38-23 victory over New Orleans.

2004 — Bode Miller wins his fourth race of the season in the downhill at Beaver Creek, Colo., and Daron Rahlves is second to give the United States its first 1-2 finish on the World Cup circuit. The last time U.S. men went 1-2 in any elite international race was 1984, when Phil Mahre won the Olympic slalom in Sarajevo and twin brother Steve took the silver medal.

2005 — USC wins its 34th consecutive game and 16th straight against a ranked opponent, beating No. 11 UCLA 66-19. The 16 victories against Associated Press ranked teams is one better than Oklahoma, which won 15 from 1973-76.

2014 — The Philadelphia 76ers avoid tying the record for the worst start to a season in NBA history, ending their 0-17 skid with an 85-77 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

2015 — Aaron Rodgers throws a 61-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers with no time left to give the Green Bay Packers a 27-23 comeback victory over the Detroit Lions. Detroit went ahead 17-0 after its first three drives and capped the opening possession of the third quarter with a field goal to go ahead 20-0.

2017 — Tom Brady continues his career-long dominance of the Buffalo Bills completing 21 of 30 for 258 yards and an interception in New England’s 23-3 victory. He improves to 27-3 against Buffalo and breaks Brett Favre’s record for wins by a quarterback against any one opponent.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Charles White discusses his time at USC. 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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