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The Sports Report: Clippers fall to the Suns

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives past Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker drives past Eric Bledsoe during the first half.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

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

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: This Clippers season has been so disjointed, its roster so fragmented by injuries and COVID-related absences, that spotting meaningful trends has felt arduous even for those within the franchise, like piecing together shredded strips of a once-whole paper to see the bigger picture.

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But there amid the night-to-night changes to the team’s injury report, the length injury to leading scorer Paul George and the 16 different starting lineups, point guard Reggie Jackson said earlier this week that he’d spotted a consistency of intent and effort. The team could cycle through as many 10-day contracts as it needed, he said Wednesday, but he predicted a don’t-quit mantra would somehow persist.

It was all there again Thursday – a comeback from 19 down in the first half to just five with six minutes to play at Footprint Center sending murmurs of frustration throughout an arena that had seen a shorthanded Clippers roster become difficult to finish off only six months earlier, in the Western Conference finals.

Phoenix shot just 19% in the third quarter, held to 19 points, allowing the Clippers a way back into game they had appeared to lose grasp of in the second quarter, which Phoenix opened with a 17-2 run to lead comfortably at halftime.

But eventually the difference in one of the West’s elite contenders and a team holding onto its playoff life emerged in a 106-89 Phoenix win.

The Clippers still have fight. But Phoenix still has Chris Paul.

One of basketball’s best closers scored five points, with five assists and four rebounds without committing a turnover in 10 fourth-quarter minutes to bury the Clippers comeback hopes and plunge their record below .500, at 19-20.

Paul finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists to close out what the Suns’ role players had started. With center Deandre Ayton out, Cam Johnson scored 24 points and Jalen Smith added 19 points and 14 rebounds.

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UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Twenty-six days later, as UCLA made its long-awaited return, the Bruins found themselves in a surreal scene reminiscent of one year ago.

There was an arena that was nearly empty. Fake fan noise. Piped-in band music when players ran onto the court before the game.

Reminders of the pandemic’s continuing grip could be seen and heard everywhere Thursday evening inside Pauley Pavilion. Fortunately for the Bruins, there were also some familiar on-court trends that persisted in the team’s first game in nearly a month.

Senior guard Jules Bernard continued his season-long surge and UCLA possessed more than enough firepower even with its defense fading badly in the second half of a 96-78 victory over Long Beach State in a hastily arranged rematch.

The Bruins (9-1) used a strong second-half push to win that first meeting in a 100-79 victory but were better in the first half Thursday before guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. left departed with a sprained right ankle.

Long Beach State scored 49 points in the second half while making 55.6% of its shots but couldn’t make up any ground with the Bruins matching the Beach shot for shot.

USC MEN’S BASKETBALL

Isaiah Mobley had 19 points and nine rebounds and sparked a late surge to help keep No. 7 USC unbeaten as the Trojans held off California 77-63.

Playing for the first time in nearly three weeks after having three games postponed or canceled due to COVID issues, USC (13-0, 3-0 Pac-12) pulled away with a pair of big runs in the second half to extend its best start since winning its first 14 in 2017.

Mobley, who opened the game with a thunderous one-handed dunk, made several clutch jumpers and repeatedly attacked the Golden Bears defense in the paint. Drew Peterson scored a season-high 17 points for the Trojans, and Boogie Ellis added 14 points and four rebounds.

Grant Anticevich had 19 points for California (9-6, 2-2), and Jordan Shepherd added 17 points.

The Golden Bears lost despite becoming the first team to shoot better than 40% against the Trojans.

RAMS

Gary Klein on the Rams: As a team captain and five-time Pro Bowl player, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey helps set the tone for the Rams defense.

Typically, Ramsey directs his spirited, aggressive approach at opponents, while also inspiring teammates.

But during the first quarter of last Sunday’s victory at Baltimore, Ramsey struck Rams safety Taylor Rapp in the face in the huddle.

Ramsey said Thursday that it was “personal disagreement” specific to something that occurred during the game.

“We were able to move on, support each other through the game, communicate better throughout the rest of the game, give each other calls throughout the rest of the game,” Ramsey said during a videoconference with reporters. “We’re fine now.

“But during the heat of the game, both of us being super passionate, wanting to make the right call and put ourselves in the right position for the team, we just had a disagreement and then it got handled how it got handled, but we moved on from it.

“I hope everybody else can too. That’s my dog. ‘T. Rapp’ is my dog. We aren’t tripping about none of that.”

Rapp was not made available to reporters Thursday.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: They exchanged a little trash talk back in October.

This week, Joey Bosa and Derek Carr exchanged anything but.

“I’m a fan of him,” said Bosa, who on Thursday called Carr “one of the top passers” in the NFL, “a really good guy” and a “great competitor.”

Carr, speaking to reporters in Las Vegas a day earlier, labeled the Chargers’ Pro Bowl edge rusher as “one of the best in the world” before adding, “I think the world of Joey.”

Entering the teams’ game Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Bosa and Carr swapped the sort of respect befitting players with a combined 14 NFL seasons who will share the same field for the ninth time.

LAKERS

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: Stanley Johnson, who was impressive during his first stint with the Lakers, signed a second 10-day contract with the team, Los Angeles announced Thursday morning.

Johnson had signed a 10-day hardship exemption contract with the Lakers when they were dealing with COVID-19 issues, and he was impactful.

Johnson, who attended Santa Ana‘s Mater Dei High, averaged 6.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.0 steals in 25.2 minutes during five games, three starts, with the Lakers this season.

KINGS

Filip Forsberg had a goal and an assist for his third straight multi-point outing, Matt Duchene got his first goal in 10 games and the Nashville Predators extended their winning streak to three with a 4-2 victory over the Kings.

Forsberg tops the NHL with 12 goals since Nov. 30 as Nashville has gone 11-2-1 in its last 14 games to grab the Central Division lead.

Matt Luff and Yakov Trenin also scored for the Predators, and Roman Josi added two assists. Juuse Saros stopped 46 shots, tied for the fourth-most of his career.

Dustin Brown and Martin Frk scored for Los Angeles, which lost despite having a 48-20 advantage in shots. Jonathan Quick made 16 saves.

DUCKS

The scheduled game Thursday night between the Ducks and the Detroit Red Wings has been postponed to Sunday because of COVID-19-related issues affecting the Ducks.

Anaheim put center Sam Carrick, goaltender John Gibson, defenseman Hampus Lindholm and right wing Vinni Lettieri into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.

The Red Wings also are set to play Saturday night at the Kings and end their trip Tuesday night at San Jose.

FIGURE SKATING

Helene Elliott on figure skating: Mariah Bell’s timing was as impeccable as her technique and style.

Bell, who trains at Great Park Ice in Irvine, hadn’t landed a triple-triple jump combination in a figure skating event this season. Competing Thursday night in the U.S. championships, which will influence the selection of the U.S. team for the Beijing Olympics, Bell landed a clean triple flip-triple toe combination to help her lead the field after the first phase of the women’s competition.

Bell earned 75.55 points at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, boosted by 41.14 points for the technical elements of her performance to “River Flows in You” by Yiruma. When the pressure was on, she delivered a mesmerizing program. “We’re all very lucky to be here and have this amazing opportunity to make our dreams come true,” said Bell, whose coaching team includes 2018 U.S. men’s Olympian Adam Rippon.

“Today felt really awesome. I’m really lucky to be able to be here and be in good health.”

Karen Chen is close behind at 74.55, with two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu in third with 71.42 points as she pursues her first Olympic spot. The women’s event will end on Friday, with the free skate. Defending champion Bradie Tennell withdrew earlier in the week because of a foot injury.

A selection committee will consider skaters’ performances in national and international competitions over the past year when awarding the Olympic berths. Three men’s singles competitors, three women’s singles competitors, three ice dance teams and two pairs teams will go to Beijing.

ANGELS

Mike DiGiovanna on the Angels: The Angels coaching staff for next season is nearly complete with Ray Montgomery’s shift from the front office to bench coach, the team confirmed Thursday.

Montgomery, 52, was the Angels’ director of player personnel in 2021 after spending six years with the Milwaukee Brewers as a vice president and special assistant to the general manager and four years with the Arizona Diamondbacks as the director of scouting.

Mike Gallego, who spent the previous two seasons as bench coach under manager Joe Maddon, will remain on the staff and coordinate the team’s defense.

HORSE RACING

John Cherwa on horse racing: The California Horse Racing Board, in an attempt to quell the firestorm surrounding its equine medical director, has removed Dr. Jeff Blea from the investigation surrounding the death of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. It will now be headed by Dr. John Pascoe, executive associate dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Blea will continue as equine medical director and the board is hoping this move will bring détente with the state Veterinary Medical Board, which temporarily suspended Blea’s license Monday over concerns about him overseeing the Medina Spirit necropsy and investigation.

TENNIS

Locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigration detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world awaited a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month.

Djokovic, a vocal skeptic of vaccines, had traveled to Australia after Victoria state authorities granted him a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination requirements. But when he arrived late Wednesday, the Australian Border Force rejected his exemption as invalid and barred him from entering the country.

A court hearing on his bid to stave off deportation was set for Monday, while the 34-year-old Serb and defending Australian Open champion was forced to wait it out in Melbourne at a secure hotel used by immigration officials to house asylum seekers and refugees.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1920 — Joe Malone of Quebec scores two goals to become the NHL’s career leader with 59 and leads the Bulldogs to a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Arenas.

1925 — Harry Broadbent of the Montreal Maroons scores five goals in a 6-2 triumph over Hamilton.

1972 — The Lakers defeat the Atlanta Hawks 134-90 for their 33rd straight victory, an NBA record.

1979 — The Pittsburgh Steelers win their third AFC championship by beating the Houston Oilers 34-5 in a cold, steady rain at Three Rivers Stadium.

1981 — Marcel Dionne of the Kings scores his 1,000th point with a goal in a 5-3 triumph over the Hartford Whalers.

1987 — Gary Bossert of Niagara sets an NCAA record by hitting 12 of 14 three-point shots, including 11 straight, against Siena.

1992 — Pitchers Tom Seaver and Rollie Fingers are elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Seaver receives the highest percentage of votes in baseball history.

1997 — Rutgers-Camden ends its NCAA-record 117-game losing streak with a 77-72 victory over Bloomfield College. The Division III Pioneers were winless since beating Ramapo 74-73 on Jan. 18, 1992.

2003 — Kobe Bryant makes an NBA-record 12 shots from 3-point range, including nine straight, and scores 45 points in the Lakers’ 119-98 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.

2004 — Brian Boucher becomes the first NHL goalie in almost 55 years to record four consecutive shutouts. His 27 saves carry the Phoenix Coyotes past Washington 3-0.

2006 — The New England Patriots set an NFL mark with 10 straight postseason victories by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-3. New England’s milestone surpasses the nine straight playoff victories by Green Bay in the 1960s.

2007 — Coach Phil Jackson gets his 900th NBA victory as the Lakers defeat Dallas 101-98. Jackson is the fastest to reach 900, doing so in 1,264 games.

2008 — Second-ranked LSU turns the BCS national championship game into a horrible replay for No. 1 Ohio State. Matt Flynn throws four touchdown passes in a 38-24 win. LSU (12-2) becomes the first two-loss team to play for the title and wins its second BCS crown in five seasons.

2010 — Alabama knocks Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the BCS title game early and goes on to a 37-21 victory for the Crimson Tide’s first national title since 1992.

2011 — Rookie Luke Harangody has career highs with 17 points and 11 rebounds for his first NBA double-double, and the Boston Celtics earn the 3,000th victory in franchise history, beating the Toronto Raptors 122-102.

2012 — Old Dominion routs hapless Towson 75-38 giving the Tigers the NCAA Division I record for consecutive losses at 35. Towson had been tied at 34 with Sacramento State.

2012 — Jarome Iginla scores his 500th goal, leading the Calgary Flames to a 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Iginla is the 42nd player in NHL history to reach the milestone and the 15th to do it with one team.

2013 — Alabama rolls to its second consecutive BCS championship, and third in four seasons, beating No. 1 Notre Dame 42-14 in a BCS championship game. AJ McCarron throws four touchdown passes and Eddie Lacy runs for 140 yards and scores twice for the second-ranked Crimson Tide.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Tom Seaver’s Hall of Fame speech. Watch and listen here. Rollie Fingers’ Hall of Fame speech. 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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