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The Sports Report: Clippers lose to Brooklyn

Brooklyn's DeAndre' Bembry dunks over Eric Bledsoe.
Brooklyn’s DeAndre’ Bembry dunks over Eric Bledsoe.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

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

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Much of the preseason discussion surrounding the Clippers centered on the return of so-called Indiana Paul – the version of Paul George who thrived as the undisputed No. 1 option while playing with Indiana to begin his career, and how the experience could inform how he might play under similar circumstances, with Kawhi Leonard recovering from injury.

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With a torn elbow ligament knocking George out of the lineup for at least three weeks, the conversation needs reframing, after Monday’s 124-108 loss to Brooklyn: How likely is a return of New York Marcus?

Marcus Morris Sr. spent only half a season with the Knicks in 2019-20 but the veteran was at his most prolific playing the role of the Knicks’ go-to scorer: a career-high 19.6 points per game and 4.6 free-throw attempts to go with 43.9% three-point shooting.

The Clippers (17-17) envision using this time without George’s services as a testing ground for young players who otherwise would have a more difficult time finding playing time – opportunities they hope will develop such players into solid rotation pieces in coming seasons, as bona fide championship pursuits resume. But the Clippers also want to win now, and without their leading scorer, points are a precious commodity.

Enter Morris, who returned Crypto.com Arena on Monday after missing four games while in or returning from the NBA’s COVID-related protocols and stepped immediately into a top-scorer responsibility.

In 27 minutes, Morris finished with the kind of shooting night that would stand out at any point of the schedule, let alone considering he had been on the court for conditioning work for only a couple of days since being cleared to return. He scored 24 points with six assists and five rebounds. He made six of his 13 shots, four of his seven three-pointers and all eight of his free throws – drilling spot-up three-pointers as well as his baseline fadeaway staple.

“Being in the league 11 years with the credentials he has, guys listen to him,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “It’s good to have him back. He’s one of our better scorers on our team. He’s one of our leaders.”

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LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: Russell Westbrook leaned back in his chair and laughed Monday after the Lakers’ practice, the subject matter more of a riddle than a knee-slapping joke.

How should Westbrook, the Lakers’ $44-million-plus investment this season, play?

As the team hits the midway mark of the season in two weeks, it’s hard to fathom that the Lakers don’t feel any closer to knowing that answer.

The plan all along, according to the team’s stars, has been to embrace Westbrook’s game and mold theirs around it.

“As far as Russ, we need Russ to be Russ,” LeBron James said on Sept. 28 during the Lakers’ media day. “We don’t need Russ to change for anybody. That’s why we got him.”

Yet with the Lakers’ record below .500, the team mired in a five-game losing streak and failing the eye test, is “Russ being Russ” the best fit for the team? Is it even happening yet?

Maybe that’s why all this is so funny to Westbrook. How teammates mesh with his style of his play was the same question asked in Oklahoma City, Houston and Washington.

“Honestly, I’m over the whole situation with what everyone else wants me to do and what they think I should be doing,” Westbrook said Monday, now very serious. “And I’m going to go out and just play and do what I do best — and that’s compete my ass off, compete to win games and make my teammates better like I’ve done many, many years. And I’ll continue to do that. It’s as simple as that.

“… People are saying, ‘let Russ be Russ.’ I think nobody understands what that means. I think people just say it — ‘let Russ be Russ’ — but nobody actually knows what that means but myself.”

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NBA changes COVID protocols in hopes of shortening missed time

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Exactly four months after opening one of the more puzzling seasons in school history, some answers should finally emerge for UCLA.

Are the Bruins firmly on the upswing under coach Chip Kelly, an unequivocal success that can pardon those first three losing seasons like a sprinter’s slow start in a winning race?

Or are the Bruins back to making fans wonder where they might be headed, their progress darkened by an inability to beat any team that finished its season with a winning record?

Resolution should come in emphatic fashion Tuesday evening in the Holiday Bowl at Petco Park, where the Bruins will face No. 18 North Carolina State with an opportunity to produce the sort of statement their coach was unwilling to make.

While Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren acknowledged the chance to notch a meaningful victory and create offseason momentum — all standard bowl pablum — Kelly issued his usual contrarian fare about having a really good Tuesday.

“This is our Super Bowl, so we can say it’s our Holiday Bowl and we’re excited,” Kelly said Monday afternoon during a coaches news conference. “This is the next opportunity for this team to play and we don’t worry about making statements, we don’t talk about what the impact of what the win does or the impact of ‘this’ does; it’s an opportunity for this group to play one last game together and they truly love each other and it’s a brotherhood and they’re excited about that opportunity.”

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: The Rams returned from Minnesota with a playoff spot secured and in control of the NFC West. They also sustained some losses in their 30-23 victory over the Vikings, one that could accelerate the return of running back Cam Akers for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, coach Sean McVay said Monday.

Starting linebacker Ernest Jones suffered a left ankle injury that will require surgery and running back Darrell Henderson has a right knee sprain that could keep him sidelined for three to five weeks, McVay said during a videoconference with reporters.

Both players will be placed on injured reserve.

Defensive lineman Greg Gaines had surgery Monday for a finger injury on his left hand, but McVay said he expected Gaines would play with a cast Sunday.

Jones, a third-round draft pick from South Carolina, moved into the starting lineup in October after the Rams traded Kenny Young to the Denver Broncos. He has intercepted two passes.

Jones was injured in the first quarter of the victory over the Vikings.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: The Chargers have dropped two games in a row — including at Houston on Sunday, when they were favored by nearly two touchdowns — and have fallen out of position to make the playoffs.

The losing continued Monday when they put six more players on the COVID-19 reserve list, including defensive backs Chris Harris Jr., Nasir Adderley and Alohi Gilman.

“Everybody in the NFL is going through a really, really challenging circumstance,” coach Brandon Staley said. “We’re trying to figure it out the best we can.”

Harris, Adderley and Gilman joined cornerback Michael Davis, who went on the list after he tested positive shortly before the Chargers’ 41-29 loss to the Texans.

HORSE RACING

John Cherwa on horse racing: Santa Anita canceled horse racing for Thursday in anticipation of heavy rain Wednesday that is likely to continue into the next day. It was also cause for some shifts in the stakes schedule over the remainder of the weekend.

The track started its signature season Sunday by moving six of its 11 races off the turf because of rain the previous week. Limited turf racing resumed on a special Monday card.

Santa Anita has been trying to build a strong turf schedule the last two years, sometimes making half the races on the grass. However, turf doesn’t have the flexibility that the dirt track has when it comes to handling excess water. A dirt surface can be sealed, or compressed, allowing water not to seep into the ground but instead run off the top. Track maintenance will then harrow the track to release the compactness and return it to its regular consistency for racing.

Some of the races scheduled for Thursday will be melded into Friday’s card. It’s unclear if Friday will be completely dirt racing or if a few races will be run on grass. The Eddie Logan Stakes and Blue Norther Stakes scheduled for Friday have been moved to Sunday. Both are one-mile turf races for 2-year-olds. The Robert Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles on turf has been moved to Saturday.

USC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Trojans: USC postponed its Pac-12 women’s basketball opener against No. 4 Arizona at Galen Center because of COVID-19 protocols within the Trojans program, the school announced Monday.

The game, which was slated for Friday will be rescheduled. It’s USC’s third conference game to be affected during the national surge in coronavirus cases after two rivalry games against UCLA were rescheduled. The games, originally scheduled for last Tuesday and Jan. 22, are now scheduled for Jan. 20 in Westwood and Jan. 23 at Galen Center.

USC’s next scheduled game is Sunday at home against Arizona State. The Trojans (7-3) have not played since defeating Texas Southern on Dec. 18.

YEAR IN REVIEW

From Clayton Kershaw’s living room to Tokyo 7-Elevens, Times Sports’ favorite 2021 stories

The big lives they led: A look back at those the sports world lost in 2021

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1944 — Maurice Richard has five goals and three assists to lead the Montreal Canadiens to a 9-1 rout of the Detroit Red Wings.

1947 — The Chicago Cardinals behind Elmer Angsman’s two 70-yard scores and Charlie Trippi’s 44-yard TD run and 75-yard punt return beat the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 for the NFL title on a frozen Comiskey Park field.

1952 — Doak Walker’s 67-yard third-quarter touchdown run leads the Detroit Lions to a 17-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns for the NFL championship.

1954 — Tony Trabert and Vic Seixas give the United States a 3-2 victory over Australia for the Davis Cup.

1958 — The Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants 23-17 in overtime to win the NFL championship at Yankee Stadium. Quarterback Johnny Unitas takes the Colts 80 yards in 13 plays, the last a one-yard carry by Alan Ameche at 8:15 of sudden death overtime. The regulation game ends 17-17 when Baltimore’s Steve Myhra kicks a 20-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the game. The game is widely known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” With a national television audience watching, this game is believed to have made the NFL a challenger to baseball as the national pastime.

1968 — Arthur Ashe leads the United States to its first Davis Cup title since 1963 with a 4-1 victory over Australia.

1975 — The Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings 17-14 on Roger Staubach’s desperate 50-yard pass to Drew Pearson in the final minute of an NFC Divisional playoff game. Staubach connects with Pearson down the right sideline with 24 seconds remaining after the Cowboys had second-and-10 with no timeouts left. Staubach later tells reporters he got knocked down on the play, closed his eyes and said a Hail Mary. The term “Hail Mary” is born.

1988 — Division II Alaska-Anchorage, behind Michael Johnson’s 20 points, pulls the biggest surprise of the college basketball season by stunning No. 2 Michigan 70-66 in the opening round of the Utah Classic.

2000 — Robby Portalatin becomes the fourth bowler to roll a 900 series according to the American Bowling Congress. Portalatin, a 28-year-old worker for an auto parts company, accomplishes the feat at Airport Lanes in Jackson, Mich.

2003 — Jamal Lewis becomes the fifth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards in a season. He gained 114 yards in 27 carries in Baltimore’s 13-10 overtime victory against Pittsburgh, finishing the year with 2,066 yards — second-most in NFL history.

2003 — San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson rushes for a career-high 243 yards and two touchdowns in a 21-14 win over Oakland. Tomlinson also becomes the first halfback in NFL history to catch 100 passes.

2008 — The Detroit Lions lose to the Green Bay Packers 31-21, making them the first team to go winless through a 16-game season.

2008 — The New England Patriots become the NFL’s first team with an 11-5 record to miss the playoffs since Denver in 1985 and the first since the NFL expanded to six playoff teams per conference in 1990.

2008 — The Cleveland Browns lose to Pittsburgh 31-0, setting an NFL record by failing to score a touchdown for six straight games.

2015 — Keenan Reynolds wraps up his record-setting college career at Navy in spectacular fashion, running for three touchdowns and throwing for another to lead the Midshipmen past Pittsburgh 44-28 in the Military Bowl. Navy (11-2) sets a record for wins in a season and Reynolds finishes as the NCAA career leader with 88 touchdowns and 530 points. His 4,559 yards rushing are the most by a quarterback in NCAA history.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

The Staubach-to-Pearson Hail Mary. 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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