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The Sports Report: Lakers hear it from the fans in loss to Pelicans

Lakers coach Frank Vogel, right, receives a technical foul from referee Tom Washington.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel, right, receives a technical foul from referee Tom Washington during the second half of the Lakers 123-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Crypto.com Arena on Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s probably busy negotiating with MLB team owners to get Cool-A-Coos back in ballparks. Let’s get right to the news.

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: The Lakers were booed off the Crypto.com Arena court Sunday night, their 123-95 beatdown by the New Orleans Pelicans leaving their fans displeased and leaving the players from Los Angeles searching for answers for a season that has gone off the rails.

The Lakers have lost their first two games after the All-Star break, showing no sense of urgency against the Pelicans, falling six games below .500 (27-33).

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New Orleans Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas, left, is fouled by Lakers star LeBron James while putting up a shot Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Obviously, this wasn’t expected for a Lakers team many viewed as a championship contender when the season started.

“I think each play we get down on ourselves too much and just not playing as hard as we can,” said Russell Westbrook, who had 16 points, one assist and seven turnovers. “Teams are coming in and playing harder. And I believe that’s kind of the scouting report, just play harder than them and see what happens and it’s working. Until we determine and have a determination that we’re not going to allow it, especially on our home floor, it will continue to happen to us.”

As the ninth seed in the West, the Lakers now hold just a 2½-game lead over the 10th-seeded Pelicans.

The Lakers have 22 regular-season games remaining, two of them against this same New Orleans team that just steamrolled Los Angeles.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 32 points on 13-for-23 shooting, but his effort was meaningless in a game the Lakers trailed by as many as 32 points. James also had seven turnovers.

“Well, I don’t have an answer for tonight,” James said. “Obviously, you talk about the future, that’s for us to figure out. Who can know what can happen the next few weeks? But tonight, from the six-minute point of the second quarter through the third, no answers. That team has been playing well: They went into Phoenix, beat them, and obviously beat the doors off us today, mostly in that third quarter. So, don’t have too many answers.”

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SOCCER

Galaxy star Javier “Chicharito” Hernández celebrates after scoring in the 90th minute.
Galaxy star Javier “Chicharito” Hernández celebrates after scoring in the 90th minute of a 1-0 victory over New York City FC in the season opener for both teams Sunday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

From Dylan Hernandez: They are now indistinct faces in a crowded plaza, a couple of random teams in a 28-team league.

Which is inexcusable.

The Galaxy and LAFC have two of the highest-spending ownership groups in Major League Soccer.

They have two of the country’s most devoted fan bases.

They share the league’s most fertile homegrown territory.

Los Angeles should be the focal point of MLS, as it was just three years ago when LAFC was the best team in the league and the Galaxy was headlined by the colorful and dominant Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The process of reclaiming their designations as the league’s crown-jewel franchises started in an opening weekend that was punctuated by Chicharito Hernández’s 90th-minute strike in the Galaxy’s 1-0 victory over defending champion NYCFC on Sunday at Dignity Health Sports Park.

A day earlier, LAFC cruised to a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids behind a hat trick by Carlos Vela.

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———

From Kevin Baxter: The Galaxy went into the final minutes of the final game with a playoff berth in hand last season, only to see it slip through their fingers when a fluke goal deep in stoppage time allowed Real Salt Lake to advance on the narrowest of margins, a goal-differential tiebreaker.

Four months later, the pain of that moment hasn’t faded. Instead, it has motivated a team that is determined to not let its playoff hopes come down to the last game again this season.

The Galaxy got started on that mission Sunday, with Javier “Chicharito” Hernández’s goal in the 90th minute providing the difference in a 1-0 season-opening win over New York City FC before a sun-soaked crowd announced at 25,174 at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“We didn’t like the way last season ended,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “Obviously, you don’t want to come down to your last regular-season game being a must-win game or being a playoff game-type atmosphere.

AUTO RACING

Kyle Larson celebrates after winning Sunday's NASCAR Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
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From Luca Evans: Drivers knew that the Wise Power 400 on Sunday, the first two-mile speedway race of the NASCAR Cup Series season, would not be about sheer speed. It wouldn’t be about pushing the throttle for 200 miles, driving your car into the bumpy asphalt at Fontana as hard as it could go.

No, this would be about survival.

The first clues came Saturday in a practice session, smoke rising from unforced carnage. Coming around a turn all by himself, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 car snapped and spun out. Ross Chastain smashed into the wall.

The solo wreckage followed not 40 laps into the race Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, with Kyle Busch spinning out on Lap 16 and early leader Chase Elliott suddenly bumping the wall and tail-spinning on Lap 39.

Drivers weren’t just battling each other. They were battling themselves, battling for control of NASCAR’s Next Gen cars in their first real tests at a two-mile track, battling to keep them healthy and happy.

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“We’re going to be living on that fine line, and there are going to be a lot of guys that step over it,” Saturday’s Xfinity Series race winner Cole Custer predicted. “There’s going to be a lot of attrition, a lot of guys wrecking.”

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For much of the afternoon, Tyler Reddick jumped out to a commanding lead, earning victories in Stage 1 and Stage 2. But this was a race of survival, and Reddick’s No. 8 Chevrolet didn’t survive — opening a lane for reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Larson to swoop in for a victory.

CLIPPERS

Clippers center Ivica Zubac tries to block a layup by Rockets guard Jalen Green.
Clippers center Ivica Zubac tries to block a layup by Rockets guard Jalen Green during the first half Sunday night in Houston.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

From Andrew Greif: Two days after he’d watched the final seconds of a taut thriller from the bench, Clippers center Ivica Zubac no longer was a bystander but a barrier with 16 seconds to play Sunday at Houston, the only defender between the basket and a charging Christian Wood with the Clippers clinging to a two-point lead.

The 6-foot-9 Wood held the ball far over his head and leaped for a game-tying basket. Zubac leaped, shooting his right hand into the few inches of leather between Wood’s hands.

The ball was pushed out cleanly. Initially ruled a foul, the play was overturned and deemed Zubac’s career-high sixth block after a replay review.

The Clippers’ eventual 99-98 win in Toyota Center was not officially over until free throws by the Clippers and a missed, potential game-tying three-pointer by Jalen Green with four seconds remaining. But on a night when the Clippers, coach Tyronn Lue said, were “a step slow, didn’t have any pace, didn’t have any speed” in once trailing by 13 to a team they had beaten by 31 less than two weeks earlier, it was fitting that Zubac found a way to make the biggest play of the rally.

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His 14 points, season-high 15 rebounds and half-dozen blocks marked something of a personal comeback for the 7-foot center.

Amid the Clippers’ 105-102 victory Friday against the Lakers, their first after the All-Star break, Zubac’s self-acknowledged lack of energy led him to struggle containing Dwight Howard. He watched the final 18 minutes on the sideline.

RAMS

Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth holds up the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth holds up the Vince Lombardi trophy during the team’s Super Bowl victory parade on Feb. 16.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

From Luca Evans: One of Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth’s role models has been Wayne Gretzky, and the hockey legend continues to be one in the twilight of Whitworth’s career.

Last week, Whitworth spoke with Gretzky after the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI win, the four-time Stanley Cup champion telling the oldest tackle in NFL history “there’s only one thing better than winning one, and that’s winning two.”

Walking to a suite as a guest at NASCAR’s Wise Power 400 race in Fontana on Sunday, Whitworth said he’s now reflecting on an additional piece of wisdom from Gretzky — a conversation they had a few years ago, when Whitworth first was contemplating hanging up his cleats.

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“He told me a story about making sure that I make teams rip the jersey off and not take it off,” Whitworth said, “because it’s one of the best things I ever get to do.”

UCLA

From Ben Bolch: Winning big has its privileges.

UCLA’s 39-point blowout of Oregon State on Saturday allowed Bruins coach Mick Cronin to go deep into his bench while giving his starters a rare breather.

No starter played more than Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s 27 minutes, and Jaylen Clark logged just 20.

It was just what the No. 12 Bruins needed as they prepared to end a stretch of six games in 12 days Monday against Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Cronin has done everything he can to preserve his players’ bodies short of encasing them in bubble wrap. He has shortened or eliminated practices, focusing on mental preparation and film sessions over anything that would add to the existing burden on weary legs.

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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL

From Eric Sondheimer: Southern Section Open Division champions Corona Centennial (boys) and Etiwanda (girls) received the No. 1 seeds for the Southern California Open Division basketball regionals that begin this week, leading to the state championships March 1`1-12 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.

Centennial (30-1) was so dominant in the section playoffs that its four opponents lost by margins of 20, 45, 23 and 25 points. Etiwanda (28-0) is unbeaten after winning its first Open Division title. Both teams will have first-round byes.

Centennial opens at home on Saturday against the winner of Wednesday’s opener between No. 4 Torrance Bishop Montgomery and No. 5 Santa Ana Mater Dei. Other openers have No. 7 Santa Maria St. Joseph at No. 2 Studio City Harvard-Westlake and No. 6 San Diego St. Augustine at No. 3 Chatsworth Sierra Canyon.

Etiwanda will play the winner of No. 4 Corona Centennial and No. 5 San Diego Mission Hills on Saturday night at home. No. 3 Sierra Canyon hosts No. 6 San Diego Cathedral Catholic and No. 7 Mater Dei plays at No. 2 La Jolla Country Day. The big game Saturday could be La Jolla Country Day hosting Sierra Canyon.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1922 — In the first formal college conference basketball tournament, North Carolina beats Mercer 40-26 to win the Southern Intercollegiate Conference championship. The 13-team conference keeps standings in its’ second season.

1929 — The Chicago Black Hawks are shutout for an NHL-record eighth straight game. It’s not a total loss, as the Black Hawks hold the New York Rangers scoreless for a 0-0 tie.

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1940 — College basketball is televised for the first time. Station W2XBS transmits a basketball doubleheader from New York’s Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh plays Fordham and New York University competes against Georgetown.

1957 — Johnny Longden becomes the first jockey in history to reach 5,000 victories. Longden, who started his career in 1927, coaxes Bente to a head victory over Flying Finish II in the fourth race at Santa Anita Park.

1960 — The United States hockey team scores six goals in the third period to beat Czechoslovakia 9-4 and win the gold medal in the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, Calif. The U.S. is down 4-3 after two periods, but Roger Christian scores three times in the third. Roger’s brother, Bill Christian, assists on two of the three goals.

1971 — Jack Nicklaus wins the PGA Championship by beating Billy Casper by three strokes.

1981 — Houston’s Calvin Murphy makes the last of his 78 consecutive free throws, in a game against San Diego, setting what was then an NBA record.

1986 — Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth conditionally suspends Dave Parker of the Cincinnati Reds, Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets, Joaquin Andujar of the Oakland Athletics, Lonnie Smith of the Kansas City Royals, Enos Cabell of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jeff Leonard of the San Francisco Giants and Dale Berra of the New York Yankees for one year for drug abuse. After conditions are met the suspensions are reduced.

1987 — Chick Hearn, broadcaster for the Los Angeles Lakers, calls his 2,000th consecutive game for the club, a streak spanning 22 years.

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1993 — Winnipeg’s Teemu Selanne scores four goals and becomes the third rookie in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. Selanne scores his 51st goal in the third period to help the Jets defeat the Minnesota North Stars 7-6 at Winnipeg Arena.

1999 — Venus and Serena Williams become the first sisters to win WTA Tour events on the same day. Venus wins the IGA SuperThrift Tennis Classic in Oklahoma City after Serena takes her first title on the WTA Tour at the Gaz de France Open.

2003 — In Val Di Fiemme, Italy, Johnny Spillane wins the Nordic combined sprint to become the first American to win a gold medal at the Nordic world championships.

2010 — Sidney Crosby scores the winning goal in overtime to give Canada a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final event of the Vancouver Olympics. The American silver is the 37th medal won by the United States at these games and the U.S. wins the medals race for the first time since 1932.

And finally

LAFC star Carlos Vela looked like his 2019 self against Colorado on Saturday. Check out how he achieved his season-opening hat trick 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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