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The Sports Report: Kyle Shanahan is blocking Sean McVay from reaching true greatness

Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan.
(Associated Press)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Bill Plaschke on the Rams: Five seasons later, he’s the face of professional football in Los Angeles, the lightly bearded guru working the levers on this city’s extravagant championship dreams.

It’s hard to believe Sean McVay is still the youngest coach in the NFL.

“I look like I’ve aged 40 years since then … I definitely feel like I’ve aged more than five years,” he said.

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Five seasons after he was hired as the youngest coach in NFL history, the 36-year-old is the hottest coach in town, four playoff appearances, one Super Bowl appearance, one win away from advancing to another Super Bowl.

It’s hard to believe Sean McVay still has so much to prove.

“‘Spry’ is definitely not a word that I would use to articulate how I’m feeling right now,” McVay said.

He’s accomplished so much, yet there’s so much left unfinished. He’s an old soul, yet still needs to grow. He’s excelled, but is still evolving, and this Sunday will be an important indicator of how much he’s truly developed.

McVay needs to lead the Rams to victory over the San Francisco 49ers and his nemesis Kyle Shanahan in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium. He needs to guide the Rams to a Super Bowl being played on a $5-billion home field built by team owner Stan Kroenke just for this occasion. He needs to show he can succeed with hand-picked quarterback Matthew Stafford and a dizzying display of All-Pro talent collected by a win-at-all-costs front office.

Anything less and Sean McVay is still just an excitable kid doing canned soup commercials.

Anything less and he continues to fall short of being on the short list of Los Angeles’ great homegrown sports bosses.

By his fifth season, Tommy Lasorda had already won a championship. So had Mike Scioscia. And Pat Riley. And John McKay. And John Robinson.

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McVay has had a great run, but to be considered a truly great coach in this environment, it’s time for him to actually finish the race.

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Rams’ Cooper Kupp still learning his most valuable lessons with 49ers ahead

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NFL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Conference championships

Sunday

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Cincinnati at Kansas City, Noon, CBS, Chiefs favored by 7
San Francisco at Rams, 3:30 p.m., Fox, Rams by 3 1/2

Note: Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 13 at 3:30 p.m. on NBC.

SOCCER

Kevin Baxter on soccer: Antonee Robinson’s goal early in the second half Thursday lifted the U.S. to a 1-0 victory over El Salvador, moving the Americans a big step closer to returning to the World Cup this fall in Qatar.

With five games remaining in the eight-team CONCACAF tournament, the U.S. (5-1-3) is second, a point behind unbeaten Canada, which was leading Honduras at halftime of its game. The top three teams advance directly to the World Cup, a tournament the U.S. missed four years ago.

Playing before a sellout crowd of 20,000 at a chilly Lower.com Field, the U.S. got the only goal it would need in the 52nd minute. And it was set up by a stout save from Salvadoran keeper Marlo González, who made a sliding stop of Tim Weah’s hard right-footed shot from the right edge of the six-yard box.

The rebound caromed toward the edge of the penalty area for Jesús Ferreira, who headed it back toward the net. Weah, who was scrambling after the play, went airborne in an attempt to get a foot on it but missed, allowing the loose ball to bounce twice to an unmarked Robinson, who volleyed a low left-footed shot past González and in at the far side.

LAKERS

Dan Woike on the Lakers: Whether it’s Orlando, Miami, Brooklyn or Philadelphia, Lakers fans fill the crowd in purple and gold jerseys for the chance to cheer for LeBron James.

Thursday, they got it — it just took longer than usual.

The Lakers fans in the crowd roared and held up their phones when James finally emerged from the locker room in the third quarter just as Anthony Davis hit a jumper.

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Maybe if he were in uniform it would’ve mattered. But sidelined with a sore knee and bundled up in a hoodie and a flannel shirt, James was about as good to the Lakers on Thursday as anyone else on that bench.

Even with Davis outplaying MVP candidate Joel Embiid in a head-to-head matchup, the Lakers’ inconsistencies and lack of real production from its role players sunk them in a one-sided 105-87 loss to Philadelphia.

While Lakers coach Frank Vogel didn’t express serious concern about James’ injury — a sore left knee that flared up Thursday morning — it certainly had to be disappointing. One game after the Lakers got to play their three best players together for the first time in more than a month, any hope of building continuity out of that win was snatched away.

James is considered day to day, Vogel said.

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LeBron James, first-timers Ja Morant, Andrew Wiggins named NBA All-Star starters

UCLA BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on the Bruins: In case UCLA was tempted to linger in the giddy afterglow of its biggest victory of the season, another setback brought some unease before tipoff Thursday.

Leading scorer Johnny Juzang, one of only three players to avoid being placed in COVID-19 protocols last month, added his name to the tally. Further thinning the team’s depth, top defender Jaylen Clark was sidelined for a second consecutive game while stuck in concussion protocol.

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Playing shorthanded has become the norm for the Bruins. Their opening-night starting lineup has appeared only seven times because of injuries and illnesses.

Fortunately for UCLA, another pattern has emerged: it continues to persevere no matter who’s in or out.

UCLA coach Mick Cronin plugged David Singleton into his starting lineup for the first time this season and the seventh-ranked Bruins rolled along smoothly during an 81-57 victory over California at Pauley Pavilion for their fifth consecutive triumph.

Two nights after razing Arizona on national television before a nearly packed arena, UCLA put in far more unglamorous work in front of a smallish crowd. It counted just the same in the Pac-12 standings, where the Bruins (15-2 overall, 7-1 Pac-12) moved into sole possession of first place.

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UCLA gymnastics coach Chris Waller has faced setbacks while pushing for championships

USC BASKETBALL

Ryan Kartje on the Trojans: Two weeks back from its lengthy layoff, two losses after its undefeated start was spoiled by Stanford, it seemed USC had finally found its footing. The defense that ranked among the nation’s best before its COVID-19 pause was back on track. The last three teams to face USC had limped to the finish line, stunted by its suffocating defense and buried by a Trojan barrage from the perimeter.

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But on Thursday, in a return meeting with the Cardinal, that effort would only take USC so far, bringing Isaiah Mobley to the stripe with a chance to tie with two free throws. He hit the first, only to have to wait and think about the second during a Stanford timeout. When he finally stepped back up to the stripe, his shot clanked off the back rim, and for the second time in 16 days, Stanford dealt USC a defeat, 64-61.

After its defense held its last three opponents to 35% or less from the field, Stanford matched its shooting output from the two teams’ first meeting, when the Cardinal took advantage of a USC team out of sorts after a 19-day gap between games.

There was no such excuse on Thursday, as USC fell apart late, letting Stanford stick around. For three minutes in the final stretch, the Trojans weren’t able to manage a single bucket, giving Stanford all the chance it needed to cut them down again.

KINGS

Andreas Athanasiou scored and assisted on Quinton Byfield’s first NHL goal in his return from a long injury layoff, Cal Peterson made 23 saves and the Kings held off the New York Islanders 3-2.

Adrian Kempe had an empty-net goal for the Kings, who won for the second time in three games against New York-area teams to start a six-game trip.

Peterson, who improved to 10-6-1 on the season, also defeated the New Jersey Devils last Sunday. The Kings lost to the Rangers 3-2 in a shootout on Monday, so the Kings earned five of a possible six points in the three games.

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DUCKS

Anaheim scored three first-period goals, Trevor Zegras scored twice in the second period, and then the Ducks held off the Montreal Canadiens for a 5-4 win.

Sam Carrick, Troy Terry and Cam Fowler had first-period goals for Anaheim, and Anthony Stolarz stopped 35 shots.

Jake Evans scored twice for Montreal. Artturi Lehkonen and Laurent Dauphin, on a penalty shot, had the other goals. Cayden Primeau allowed three goals on eight shots and was pulled at the end of the first period. Samuel Montembeault turned aside 13 of the 15 shots he faced in relief.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FOOTBALL PLAYER?

Beginning Monday and ending Feb. 14, a special bonus edition of the Sports Report will be delivered to your inbox every morning at 6 a.m., focusing on the Super Bowl, which will be played at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 13. In the meantime, please send me in your favorite football player of all time, and why. Answers will be printed in the special Super Bowl newsletter each day right up until Super Bowl Sunday. Is your favorite player of all time a former Ram? Walter Payton? Jim Brown? Joe Namath? Whoever it is, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com and let me know. Include a couple of sentences explaining why that player is your favorite. It’s your chance to be read by the tens of thousands of people who subscribe.

Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com with your choice.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1901 — The American League is founded. The league plans for a 140-game schedule, set player rosters at 14 and recognizes the Players Protective Association, the players’ union.

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1943 — Max Bentley of the Chicago Blackhawks has four goals and three assists in a 10-1 rout of the New York Rangers. Bentley scored all four goals and an assist in the third period. Max’s brother, Doug, has four assists in the third period.

1949 — Monte Irvin and Ford Smith are signed by the New York Giants. They are the first black players to sign with the club.

1984 — Wayne Gretzky’s record 51-game scoring streak is halted as the Kings post a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Over the 51 games, Gretzky scored 61 goals and 92 assists.

1990 — The San Francisco 49ers beat the Denver Broncos 55-10 in the most lopsided Super Bowl. The 49ers are the first repeat NFL champion in a decade and tie the Pittsburgh Steelers with four Super Bowl wins.

1992 — Brett Hull becomes the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games more than once in a career when the St. Louis Blues tie the Los Angeles Kings 3-3.

2001 — Baltimore’s brazen defense backs up its bragging by beating the New York Giants 34-7 in the Super Bowl. The Ravens intercept Kerry Collins four times, the final pick returned 49 yards for a touchdown by Duane Starks.

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2006 — Amelie Mauresmo wins her first Grand Slam singles title when Justine Henin-Hardenne retires in the second set of their Australian Open final because of stomach pain. Mauresmo led 6-1, 2-0.

2007 — Roger Federer captures his 10th Grand Slam singles title without dropping a set at the Australian Open, beating Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4.

2012 — Towson ends its NCAA record 41-game losing streak with a 66-61 victory over North Carolina Wilmington. The victory is the first career win at Towson for coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers’ first win since a win at La Salle on Dec. 29, 2010.

2014 — Calling the NCAA a dictatorship, Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and the United Steelworkers announce plans to form the first labor union for college athletes. Colter details the College Athletes Players Association at a news conference in Chicago, flanked by leaders of Steelworkers union that agree to pay legal bills for the effort.

2017 — Serena Williams wins her record 23rd Grand Slam singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over her older sister Venus in the Australian Open final.

2017 — Arrogate beats California Chrome again, winning the $12 million Pegasus World Cup in his rival’s last race before retirement.

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Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

The 49ers defeat the Broncos to win Super Bowl XXIV. 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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