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The Sports Report: Looking ahead to the Rams-Buccaneers game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Sam Farmer on the Rams: The NFL is a copycat league — and now the Rams are angling for an instant replay.

They’re looking to become the second consecutive team to win the Super Bowl in their home stadium.

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A year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made NFL history by doing that, and now the Rams have to get through them — and quarterback Tom Brady — to keep their hopes alive.

“It will be a big challenge for us,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “I think they’re a team that’s different than when we played them last and we are too with personnel and scheme a little bit.”

In each of the last two regular seasons, the Rams have beaten Brady and the Buccaneers, even though the former New England quarterback collected his seventh Super Bowl ring last February.

This time, the 44-year-old Brady is playing behind a bruised and battered offensive line that has the unenviable task of holding off a Rams defensive front that features Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.

But Brady gets the ball out of his hands quickly, and if he has sufficient time he will look to take advantage of a Rams secondary with replacement safeties. Even if L.A. cornerback Jalen Ramsey can blanket Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, those safeties will have the difficult responsibility of covering a talented collection of Tampa Bay tight ends: Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard.

The Rams’ running game is on the rise, with Cam Akers joining forces with Sony Michel to give L.A. an impactful 1-2 punch. Then again, stopping the run is a Tampa Bay specialty.

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So while Stafford is looking for the second playoff win of his career, Brady is in search of his 36th.

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Dylan Hernández: Rams brace for Tom Brady moments after their wild card win over the Cardinals

Helene Elliott: Cam Akers expresses regret, concern for Budda Baker after ugly moment in Rams’ win

‘He’s a freak’: Inside Odell Beckham Jr.’s trick pass, other big plays from Rams’ win

Preparing for Tom Brady on short week? Rams coach not worried

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NFL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Divisional round

Saturday
Cincinnati at Tennessee, 1:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+, Tennessee favored by 3 1/2 points
San Francisco at Green Bay, 5:15 p.m., Fox, Fox Deportes, Green Bay by 6

Sunday
Rams at Tampa Bay, Noon, NBC, Peacock, Universo, Tampa Bay by 3
Buffalo at Kansas City, 3:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+, Kansas City by 2

Note: Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 13 on NBC.

DODGERS

Jack Harris on the Dodgers: The Dodgers are making Brandon Gomes their new general manager, promoting the 37-year-old executive to a post that had been vacant since Farhan Zaidi’s departure four years ago.

A former pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays who joined the Dodgers after his retirement as a player in 2016, Gomes has risen quickly through the club’s front office. He moved from pitching coordinator in 2017 to director of player development in 2018 to vice president and assistant general manager the last three seasons.

Gomes’ promotion on Tuesday comes on the heels of an offseason in which he was reportedly considered as a candidate for other GM openings, including the New York Mets’ position that eventually went to former Angels GM Billy Eppler.

Instead, Gomes will become the first GM to work under Andrew Friedman, Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, since Zaidi was hired by the San Francisco Giants after the 2018 season.

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LAKERS

Dan Woike and Broderick Turner on the Lakers: Frank Vogel, his time with the Lakers at as perilous a point since he was hired as coach in 2019, wanted to make sure everyone knew.

“We put the work in every day,” he said before his team defeated the Utah Jazz on Monday.

The “we” Vogel was talking about in this case wasn’t LeBron James or Russell Westbrook or the recovering Anthony Davis. He was talking about the people on his bench — the coaches on his staff charged with making the most out of a depleted roster while dealing with injuries, old legs and positive COVID-19 tests.

“The coaching staff works tirelessly, OK, both in analyzing our postgame, meeting with our players individually to show them ways that they have to be better, to reinforce ways that they were great, and they work tirelessly in putting together game plans,” Vogel said. “And the game plans, the margin for error is more slim. We’ve got to be tight with all these coverages that go into it. And we know how to build an elite defense. Hasn’t taken form quite yet with this group, but the work is still being put in. And when you work at something, you’re going to improve.”

The statement was made to the media but it might as well have been aimed at Lakers executives Rob Pelinka, Kurt and Linda Rambis and, ultimately, Jeanie Buss. They’re the ones with Vogel’s fate in their hands, and according to NBA insiders, the coach was being seriously evaluated.

Pelinka, the Lakers’ vice president of basketball operations and general manager, and Kurt Rambis, the team’s senior basketball advisor, met with Vogel and assistant coach David Fizdale after last week’s loss to the Sacramento Kings to discuss ways to turn things around. It was the third time the group had met in recent days.

The Lakers then lost on Saturday to the Denver Nuggets by 37 points, their worst defeat of the season, putting more heat on Vogel.

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Stanley Johnson’s impact and role for the Lakers keeps growing

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: When the Clippers begin their longest trip in seven seasons Wednesday, there is hope that a boost of offense will be waiting for them in Denver.

It just won’t be Paul George.

The seven-time All-Star wing, who is averaging 24.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists, hasn’t played since Dec. 22 because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that the team said at the time would require three to four weeks of rest before the next steps could be determined. As the three-week mark arrived Tuesday, a person with knowledge of George’s recovery said that the team is extending the amount of time George will rest beyond the four-week timeline, to gauge how his elbow responds.

Though keeping George sidelined out of caution isn’t unexpected — in late December, some insiders considered it unlikely to see George playing in January because a best-case scenario for his recovery would still require a ramp-up process for his conditioning — Tuesday’s update offered no timeline for another evaluation.

UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: Bring it on, every irritating decibel. The boos, jeers and flapping of newspapers when UCLA’s starting lineup is introduced this week inside hostile venues will all be welcomed by the Bruins.

All organic sounds beat the fake fan noise and the echo of voices inside an empty arena the team recently endured on its home court.

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“I think what will help us is to run out of a tunnel and play in front of fans,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Tuesday. “I think it’s hugely demoralizing to our guys to play games in empty arenas when there’s 80,000 people at the Rams game [Monday], so our guys should be energized — I know they will when we run out in front of other people and get to play a game in front of fans.”

It will qualify as something of a road reprieve, then, when the ninth-ranked Bruins (11-2, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) face Utah (8-10, 1-7) at the Huntsman Center on Thursday and Colorado (12-4, 4-2) at the CU Events Center on Saturday. Both venues have no limitations on attendance, unlike UCLA, USC and Stanford, which have permitted only family members of players in recent weeks amid the worsening pandemic.

USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: Lincoln Riley promised last month that he would mine the NCAA transfer portal for talent at every position. Recently, those efforts have honed in on one position in particular.

The departure of All-Pac-12 Conference wideout Drake London to the NFL draft left USC drastically short on proven wide receivers when Riley first arrived. But over the last two weeks, USC’s new coach and his staff have completely remade their receiver room through the portal, adding three of the top transfers available at the position: Oklahoma’s Mario Williams, Washington’s Terrell Bynum and Colorado’s Brenden Rice.

Any one of that trio, along with four-star freshman C.J. Williams, could make an immediate impact next season in an otherwise uncertain position group. With London gone, USC returns its next three leading receivers — Tahj Washington, Gary Bryant Jr. and Kyle Ford — all three of whom will have to prove themselves in Riley’s offense starting this spring.

KINGS

Victor Hedman had two goals and an assist, Nikita Kucherov extended his scoring tear since returning from injury and the Tampa Bay Lightning topped the Kings 6-4 for their fourth straight win.

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Hedman was one of only four Tampa Bay defensemen who dressed after three were scratched due to injuries. He scored his first goal since Dec. 16 at 13:17 of the first period when he retrieved an errant pass in the Kings zone and beat Cal Petersen glove side on a breakaway to extend his point streak to four games.

Hedman then scored the go-ahead goal at 10:43 of the third when he took Kucherov’s pass and scored on a snap shot. It was the ninth multigoal game of Hedman’s career, and one of three third-period goals by the Lightning that put the game away.

DUCKS

Centers Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nazem Kadri of the Colorado Avalanche and Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers, and Ducks winger Troy Terry won the final roster spots for All-Star Weekend as a result of fan voting, the NHL announced Monday.

The league said Zibanejad cannot attend the Feb. 4-5 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for personal reasons. He will be replaced by Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Jake Guentzel, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division voting. Stamkos will join the Atlantic Division team, Kadri goes to the Central Division squad, and Terry to the Pacific.

The event features a three-game tournament played in a 3-on-3 format, with 11-man teams from each of the league’s four divisions.

Washington star Alex Ovechkin and high-scoring Edmonton teammates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl headlined the rosters announced last Thursday.

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THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1937 — Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker and Cy Young are elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the second year of voting.

1952 — The PGA approves the participation of Black men in golf tournaments.

1972 — Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers becomes the youngest player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame at 36. Yogi Berra and Early Wynn are also elected.

1974 — UCLA’s 88-game winning streak is snapped when Notre Dame overcomes an 11-point deficit in the final 3:32 to win 71-70. With 29 seconds remaining, Dwight Clay’s jump shot from the right corner gives the Irish the lead.

1992 — John Cook is the first golfer in PGA history to chip in on two consecutive holes to win a playoff after he edges Gene Sauers in the Bob Hope Classic.

2004 — Colorado’s Milan Hejduk scores on a penalty shot 59 seconds into overtime to give the Avalanche a 5-4 victory over Tampa Bay. It’s the third time an NHL game ended on a penalty shot in overtime.

2005 — LeBron James becomes the youngest player (20 years, 20 days) in NBA history to record a triple-double, with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in Cleveland’s 107-101 win over Portland.

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2006 — Irina Slutskaya wins her seventh European figure skating title, breaking the record she shared with Katarina Witt and Sonja Henie.

2008 — Bode Miller wins the downhill at the traditional Hahnenkamm World Cup races to become the most successful American skier ever with 28 World Cup wins, overtaking Phil Mahre.

2012 — Serena Williams moves into the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-0, 6-4 victory over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova for her 500th career win.

2014 — Peyton Manning passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns to lead Denver to a 26-16 victory over New England and send the Broncos to their first trip to the Super Bowl in 15 years.

2014 — Russell Wilson throws a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth down and Seattle’s top-ranked defense forces two late turnovers, lifting the Seahawks into their second Super Bowl with a 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

2015 — Lindsey Vonn wins a super-G for her record 63rd World Cup victory. The American breaks Annemarie Moser-Proell’s 35-year-old record of 62 World Cup wins with a flawless run down the Olympia delle Tofane course at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, finishing by a huge 0.85 ahead of Anna Fenninger of Austria.

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2017 — Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is beaten 7-6 (8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 by wild-card entry Denis Istomin in a second-round match. No. 2-ranked Djokovic had won five of the six previous titles at Melbourne Park and six overall, and had never dropped a set in six previous meetings against Istomin.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, called by Vin Scully. 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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