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The Sports Report: Stumbling Lakers fall to Grizzlies

LeBron James and Ja Morant.
(Justin Ford / Getty Images)

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

Dan Woike on the Lakers: For so much of this Lakers season, you’d need to squint to see the stretches that Lakers players and coaches would talk about, the minutes that kept them from spiraling into a deserved panic because of how bad they looked so frequently.

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This, Wednesday night in Memphis, was not that.

For most of the game against the Grizzlies, the Lakers looked like the team they’ve sworn they are.

The ball zipped around the perimeter on offense just like their feet did on defense. They, not the Grizzlies, were more energized, more urgent in their actions. And the Lakers, of course, have LeBron James, whom the team is starting to weaponize as a center.

But it all fell apart so quickly, the bad decisions compounding as the Lakers couldn’t corral Ja Morant, the young guard leading the Grizzlies to a 104-99 win.

James tied a career high with eight three-point shots and Russell Westbrook had another triple-double, but the two combined for 10 of the Lakers’ 18 turnovers. The carelessness, like it has been for most of the season, was too much to overcome, with James throwing the ball away after a botched late-game possession, costing the team a chance to tie.

Morant brought the Grizzlies back from down double digits in the second half on his way to 41 points.

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Lakers’ LeBron James declines to respond to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s criticism

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CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: The jet lifted off a little after 8 a.m. in Southern California carrying a flight plan for Boston and two Clippers carrying the most valuable possession in the NBA amid a nationwide surge in COVID-cases that has ravaged NBA rosters: a clean bill of health.

Cleared from the league’s health and safety protocols, point guard Reggie Jackson did not play upon arrival here despite his hopes to suit up, given the limited amount of conditioning he had accomplished while in quarantine. His warmup on the TD Garden floor before tipoff was his first time on a court in eight days, but it was the first step in a ramp-up process the Clippers hope will allow him to play on the last two stops of this road trip, in Toronto and Brooklyn.

The private jet’s other passenger, James Ennis III had played against the Clippers only two nights earlier as a Brooklyn Net. And 24 hours before tipoff, he hadn’t even yet signed a 10-day contract with the team. Then rookie Brandon Boston Jr. entered protocols, and a deal was quickly reached, along with a spot on the jet booked.

Each could play valuable roles in the coming days for the rapidly depleting Clippers. But on Wednesday they watched a 91-82 victory unfold, from the starters’ strong early minutes, the bench’s brutal offense, the center-less lineup that sparked a late third-quarter turnaround and one of the worst three-point shooting nights in league history, as Boston made only four of its 42 from deep.

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: North Carolina State flew home Wednesday with the Holiday Bowl trophy from a game that was never played, the Wolfpack counting it as their 10th victory of the season.

In reality, it continued to be a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.

While UCLA stayed mostly mum on having withdrawn less than five hours before kickoff, bowl officials formalized the game’s cancellation after no replacement team could be found and Wolfpack coaches and officials expressed lingering frustration over what they described as a lack of communication from the Bruins.

UCLA also wasn’t exactly thrilled with the circumstances. One person close to the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly disclose sensitive information, told The Times the Bruins pulled out of the game only after a significant number of positive tests for COVID-19 on the morning of the game would have forced some players to play out of position, putting them at increased risk of injury.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: After three weeks of disjointed game preparation because of a coronavirus outbreak, the Rams are back on a regular schedule as they prepare for a road game on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

Other than coach Sean McVay, no one might be more pleased than quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“I am excited to have a little bit of normalcy,” Stafford said Wednesday.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: After beating the New York Giants on Dec. 12, the Chargers were one win from taking over first place in the AFC West.

Since then, they’ve lost twice, put 25 active-roster players on the COVID-19 reserve list and watched Kansas City clinch its sixth consecutive division title.

“I just feel like the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster,” defensive tackle Linval Joseph said Wednesday. “Eventually, you’re going to go on the top end of that rollercoaster. Hopefully, last week was the down end. Now we can come back up.”

The Chargers lost in overtime to the Chiefs, costing them whatever realistic shot they had of winning the AFC West. Then they fell as nearly two-touchdown favorites to a Houston team depleted by COVID and simply playing out the season.

They enter their final home game Sunday against Denver outside a playoff spot, probably needing back-to-back wins and some help in other games to have a chance of qualifying.

“You have to respond after something tough happens,” coach Brandon Staley said. “On Sunday, that was the tough side of the NFL. As a team, it’s just about our response to that.”

USC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Trojans: USC women’s basketball postponed another Pac-12 conference game Wednesday as COVID-19 issues in the program continue. USC‘s next scheduled game is at Colorado on Jan. 7.

The Trojans pushed back a Jan. 2 game against Arizona State at Galen Center, their third consecutive conference game affected during the national rise in coronavirus cases. USC’s original conference opener at rival UCLA was rescheduled from Dec. 28 to Jan. 20, but matchups against Arizona and Arizona State don’t have new dates yet.

Since their nonconference finale on Dec. 21 against Long Beach State was canceled, the Trojans haven’t played since Dec. 18. They had won three of their last four games before the extended stoppage.

UCLA WOMEN’S SOCCER

Kevin Baxter on the Bruins: UCLA has made former Stanford assistant coach Margueritte Aozasa the sixth women’s soccer coach in school history, naming her Wednesday as the replacement for Amanda Cromwell, who led the Bruins to their only national title.

“I could not be more excited to take on the responsibility of leading this Bruin program,” Aozasa said in a statement. “This program’s standard of excellence has been well-established, and I cannot wait to continue its tradition of elite performance on and off the field.”

Aozasa coached at Stanford for seven seasons, helping the Cardinal to NCAA championships in 2017 and 2019 and Pac-12 titles from 2015-19. The 2018 team also reached the College Cup. Stanford’s record during Aozasa’s time there was 125-19-8 and two players — Catarina Macario and Andi Sullivan — won Hermann trophies, college soccer’s version of the Heisman.

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

1956 — The New York Giants win the NFL title with a 47-7 rout of the Chicago Bears.

1962 — The Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 16-7 to win the NFL title for the second straight year.

1973 — The Minnesota Vikings beat the Dallas Cowboys 27-10 to win the NFC championship.

1973 — The Miami Dolphins, behind 266 yards rushing, beat the Oakland Raiders 27-10 for an unprecedented third straight AFC title.

1981 — In the 39th game of the season, Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky scores five goals, including his 50th into an empty net, to lead the Oilers to a 7-5 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Gretzky betters the mark of 50 goals in 50 games held by Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy.

1990 — Orlando point guard Scott Skiles dishes out an NBA-record 30 assists in a 155-116 victory against the Denver Nuggets. Skiles breaks the record of 29 assists set by the Nets’ Kevin Porter in 1978.

2000 — Nebraska ends a disappointing season by setting a bowl record for points in a 66-17 victory over Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl.

2002 — TCU sets an NCAA record for fewest points allowed when the Lady Frogs beat Texas Southern 76-16. The 16 points allowed breaks the Division I record for fewest points. Prairie View scored 19 points against Jackson State in 1983.

2007 — Drew Brees sets an NFL record with 443 completions, passing the previous mark of 418 set by Rich Gannon in 2002. Brees completes 35 of 60 passes for 320 yards with three TD passes in New Orleans’ 33-25 loss to Chicago.

2010 — Top-ranked Connecticut’s record 90-game winning streak in women’s basketball ends when No. 9 Stanford outplays the Huskies from the start in a 71-59 victory at Maples Pavilion — where the Cardinal have their own streak going. Stanford hasn’t lost in 52 games at home. The Cardinal took an early 13-point lead, never trailed and didn’t let the mighty Huskies back in it.

2016 — Isaiah Thomas scores 29 of his career-high 52 points in the fourth quarter, setting a club record for points in a period and leading Boston to a 117-114 victory over the Miami Heat.

2017 — Alex Hornibrook throws four touchdown passes, three of them to Danny Davis, and No. 6 Wisconsin caps off the winningest season in school history by topping No. 11 Miami 34-24 in the Orange Bowl. Jonathan Taylor finishes his record-setting freshman season with 130 rushing yards on 26 carries for the Badgers (13-1). Taylor finishes the year with an FBS-freshman-record 1,977 yards.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Wayne Gretzky scores 50 goals in 39 games. 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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