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The Sports Report: Clippers fall to the Timberwolves

Minnesota forward Anthony Edwards drives past Eric Bledsoe in the first half.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Luca Evans on the Clippers: Halfway through the second quarter of the Clippers’ Monday night tilt with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Eric Bledsoe knifed into the lane, eyes darting for a target. He fired a perfectly placed pass to a wide-open Taurean Prince.

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The problem, however, is Taurean Prince plays for the Timberwolves.

For a split second, time seemed to freeze, as neither team turned to head back down the court. Bledsoe hung his head. Prince froze for a moment while clenching the basketball, seemingly dumbfounded that it had fallen so easily into his hands.

The moment was emblematic of an overall 122-104 loss in which, on a themed “Star Wars Night” for fans, it seemed as if the Timberwolves were casting a cruel Jedi mind trick on Clippers players.

Los Angeles racked up a stunning 13 turnovers in the first half alone, but the number on paper wasn’t nearly as bad as the eye test. A majority of the giveaways came unforced: passes sailed out of bounds or careened off Clipper fingertips without any Minnesota defensive pressure. Bledsoe, who’d been playing such terrific basketball that he was named a finalist for the last Western Conference player of the week award, committed a season-high six before halftime.

With Ivica Zubac in COVID protocols and Isaiah Hartenstein out with an ankle injury, the Clippers’ big-man rotation had been depleted, leaving the 32-year-old Serge Ibaka as the lone proven center on the active roster.

That left acting head coach Brian Shaw with a conundrum, as Minnesota entered Monday’s game as the third-best offensive rebounding team in the league. It didn’t help matters that the Clippers – without injuries – was already one of the worst teams on the glass in the NBA. The Timberwolves, filled with towering giants and aggressive ball-hawks, were licking their chops for a feast on the interior. Standing in their way as the leading rebounder left on the active roster was 6’5 guard Terance Mann.

“We can’t afford to have anybody standing around and watching,” Shaw said before the game. “I said, if they find themselves standing around, find some work.”

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LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: The Lakers have announced that their trade with Cleveland is now official, with Rajon Rondo joining the Cavaliers. The New York Knicks acquired Denzel Valentine as part of the deal, with the Lakers getting the draft rights to French big man Louis Labeyrie.

Labeyrie, a second-round pick in 2014, currently plays in Spain.

By not acquiring Valentine, the Lakers saved more money in luxury tax penalties and created an open roster spot. The team could use that spot to keep forward Stanley Johnson, whose 10-day contract with the team expired after Sunday’s game.

The Knicks also received cash considerations from the Lakers, the team announced.

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Lakers roster moves could soon include debut of Kendrick Nunn

LAFC

Kevin Baxter on LAFC: When LAFC lured Steve Cherundolo home from Germany to coach its affiliate team in the second-tier USL Championship last year, the offer came with a promise: If the team were ever in the market for a first-team coach, the job would be Cherundolo’s to lose.

On Monday LAFC will make good on that promise by announcing the former national team defender will replace Bob Bradley, becoming the second manager in franchise history.

“It was always part of the plan,” said John Thorrington, LAFC co-president and general manager. “This was always part of a potential succession plan. Exactly when it would materialize was unknown when he came. But it was not just happenstance.”

Cherundolo, a teammate of Thorrington’s with the U.S. national team, spent his club career in Germany, making a U.S.-record 302 Bundesliga appearances in a 15-year career that ended in 2014.

UCLA FOOTBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: The quarterback who left his team, saying he was coming to UCLA, is now headed to Oklahoma, presumably replacing a quarterback who entered the transfer portal but may come back.

Got all that?

It was hard to keep track of all the comings and goings Monday after Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams entered the transfer portal, touching off a mad scramble by the university to keep him while prompting Central Florida’s Dillon Gabriel to switch his allegiance from the Bruins to the Sooners.

Eighteen days after posting social media pictures of himself in a UCLA jersey amid palm trees and in front of the Hollywood sign while also looking to throw a pass at the Rose Bowl — got all that? — Gabriel deleted those images in favor of ones showing himself in an Oklahoma jersey.

Gabriel was believed to be lured by the departure of Williams and the arrival of new Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeffy Lebby, who was Gabriel’s quarterbacks coach at Central Florida. Williams referenced the coaching turnover at Oklahoma involving the exit of coach Lincoln Riley for USC in his message about entering the transfer portal.

UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Can you make up a makeup game?

UCLA’s basketball team will have to try after its first two attempts to play Arizona State this season were wiped out by COVID-19 issues within each program. Most recently, a makeup game scheduled for Wednesday night at Pauley Pavilion was postponed because of issues within the Sun Devils’ program.

The teams had originally been scheduled to play Jan. 1 before that game was postponed as part of the fifth-ranked Bruins’ pause of basketball activities after a COVID-19 outbreak starting in mid-December.

UCLA’s next scheduled game is Saturday at California, but the Bruins are searching for an additional opponent to add to their schedule this week before traveling to the Bay Area, even if it’s a nonconference opponent.

USC MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: After its scorching start was put on pause through the holidays because of COVID-19 issues, the USC men’s basketball team returned to practice with an eye on extending its 12-0 run to open the season.

Nineteen days will have passed between games when USC faces California in Berkeley on Thursday night. In the meantime, the Trojans have had one nonconference game canceled and two Pac-12 games postponed. It’s still unclear when USC plans to reschedule its matchups with Arizona and Arizona State, which had been slated for this past Thursday and Sunday.

Another upcoming conference game could be in jeopardy, as Stanford has already postponed its matchup with UCLA scheduled for Thursday. The Cardinal, who are dealing with their own COVID pause, have yet to announce their status ahead of Saturday’s matchup against USC. But for now, the Trojans are planning to travel to Palo Alto for the second game of their Bay Area trip.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: The Rams built their star-studded showpiece roster with a mandate to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium — owner Stan Kroenke’s $5-billion showcase venue.

With one game left in the regular season, the Rams are positioned to possibly host multiple postseason games there.

If the Rams (12-4) defeat the San Francisco 49ers (9-7) on Sunday at SoFi Stadium, they will win the NFC West and clinch the No. 2 seed for the NFC playoffs.

The top-seeded Green Bay Packers will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but as the second-seeded team, the Rams could play wild-card and divisional-round games at home.

The Rams are riding a five-game winning streak, including road victories the last two weeks against the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens.

“We’re taking some good momentum into this thing and hoping to continue to build on that,” receiver Cooper Kupp told reporters during a videoconference Monday.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: They still aren’t averaging as many rushing yards per game as Derrick Henry did before he got hurt.

And the Chargers are only one yard ahead of the weekly pace being set by Jonathan Taylor, the NFL’s leading rusher.

But, over the past several weeks, they’ve become much more effective running the ball, something that could prove significant in Las Vegas on Sunday night when the Chargers play for their postseason lives.

“We truly have the threat of running the football now,” coach Brandon Staley said Monday. “You can’t just say, ‘Hey, this team has got people out there that would suggest they’re going to run it and then they’re going to throw it.’ ”

————

NFL: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers top Browns to stay in playoff mix

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Q&A: Max Scherzer says MLB’s integrity is at heart of CBA negotiations

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1970 — The Minnesota Vikings become the first expansion team to win the NFL title by beating the Cleveland Browns 27-7 in 8-degree temperatures in Bloomington, Minn.

1970 — Kansas City’s defense, highlighted by four interceptions, three in the final quarter, carries the Chiefs to a 17-7 victory over Oakland Raiders in the last AFL title game.

1976 — The Dallas Cowboys become the first wild-card team to make it to the Super Bowl with a 37-7 rout of the Rams in the NFC title game.

1986 — Eric Dickerson shatters the NFL playoff record with a 248-yard rushing performance and two touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 20-0 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

1991 — Fu Mingxia, a 12-year-old from China, becomes the youngest world titlist in the history of any aquatic event by winning the women’s platform gold medal at the World Swimming Championships in Perth, Australia.

1992 — Mike Gartner of the New York Rangers scores his 1,000th NHL point with a power-play goal in the third period of a 6-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

1997 — The Jacksonville Jaguars, in their second year, beat the Broncos in Denver to advance to the AFC Championship game.

2000 — Top-ranked Florida State, the preseason No. 1, holds off Virginia Tech 46-29 in the Sugar Bowl to finish 12-0 and win the national championship. Florida State is the first team to go wire-to-wire in The Associated Press’ poll since preseason rankings began in 1950.

2003 — Bode Miller wins his second straight World Cup giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia to move into first place in the World Cup overall standings. It’s the first time an American man has held the overall lead since Phil Mahre in 1983.

2005 — Matt Leinart throws five touchdown passes and USC overwhelms Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl. USC (13-0) is the first team to repeat as AP national champions since Nebraska in 1994-95 and joins Florida State in 1999 as the only teams to go wire-to-wire — from preseason to post bowls — as No. 1.

2006 — Second-ranked Texas ends USC’s 34-game winning streak, beating the two-time defending national champion 41-38 in the Rose Bowl. The Longhorns also snap USC’s record string of 33 consecutive weeks as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press Top 25. The Longhorns, a unanimous choice, wins a national championship for the first time since 1969.

2012 — Geno Smith ties a record for any bowl game with six touchdown passes, including four to Tavon Austin, and West Virginia sets a bowl scoring record by beating Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.

2013 — Mikaela Shiffrin becomes the first American woman to win two World Cup races before turning 18. The 17-year-old captures a slalom in Zagreb, Croatia by a massive 1.19-second margin. Her first victory came last month in Sweden.

2014 — Andrew Luck throws four second-half touchdown passes and scores on a fumble recovery, leading the Indianapolis Colts from a four-TD deficit to an historic 45-44 comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in a wild-card game.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

USC defeats Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl to win the national championship. 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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