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The Sports Report: A Kawhi Leonard sighting before Clippers lose to Warriors

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson drives to the basket against Terance Mann.
(Jed Jacobsohn / AP)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

From Andrew Greif: Kawhi Leonard was back on an NBA court Tuesday, jogging between shots, flicking the ball with his right wrist with ease.

In pregame warmups.

Two hours before tipoff in San Francisco’s Chase Center, the all-star and former NBA Finals MVP who hasn’t played a game since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on June 14 caught passes from a team staffer and fired three-pointers as part of a workout that produced snippets of video that pinged around the internet, leading Clippers fans to again do the math. Leonard underwent surgery not quite eight months ago, about one month before athletes with his injury generally return to playing. The postseason begins in five weeks.

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Reticent all season discussing the prognosis or progress of his injured headliners Leonard, Paul George and Norman Powell, coach Tyronn Lue offered no update on what Leonard’s shooting meant for his probability to return, though he did say that Leonard has yet to be cleared to play against contact.

None of those three have been publicly ruled out for a return this season. But the cavalry also isn’t coming – not yet, anyway. And while the Clippers have gutted through most of the season without their stars, it was not the case in a 112-97 loss to the Warriors.

Since winning two emotionally charged games against the Lakers and three against the overmatched, youthful Houston Rockets the Clippers have lost two straight and looked flat for six of their last eight quarters.

Outside of Sunday’s third quarter that cut their deficit to the Knicks from 26-12, and Tuesday’s fourth, when reserves trimmed a once-29-point Warriors lead to 15 with 4:41 to play, they have been unable to match the desperate energy of New York, on Sunday, and Golden State, opponents that badly needed victories to interrupt their respective slides in the standings.

Along with the return of the often minutes-long scoring droughts that have plagued this offense since George’s December injury – three minutes remained in the first half when the Clippers broke 30 points – Tuesday was a reminder of just how much for the Clippers precariously rests on point guard Reggie Jackson igniting the offense. Jackson made two of his 14 shots for five points and didn’t reach the free throw line for the first time in six games.

Though the Clippers’ surge since the Feb. 10 trade deadline was spurred by contributions from up and down the roster, Jackson has always shouldered the heaviest scoring burden while shooting 39% for the season. The Clippers are now 13-21 when he has shot worse than his season average, a reflection of a short-handed roster’s struggle to compensate for yet another scoring loss.

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Nicolas Batum’s 17 points led the Clippers. He took five free throws, as many as he’d attempted in his previous 14 games combined.

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WHICH LOCAL TEAM WINS NEXT TITLE?

The Rams won the Super Bowl this season, the Lakers and Dodgers won titles in 2020. Which local team will win the next title?

From the list below, please rank 10 teams, with your first team being the one you think is most likely to win the next title, the second team the second most likely, and so on. Points will be assigned so that your first pick gets 12 points, second pick gets nine, and so on, with your 10th pick getting one point.

You have until March 18 to vote. Results will be announced in this newsletter soon after that. Please email your top 10 to houston.mitchell@latimes.com.

Angel City FC

Angels

Chargers

Clippers

Dodgers

Ducks

Galaxy

Kings

LAFC

Lakers

Rams

Sparks

UCLA men’s basketball

UCLA women’s basketball

UCLA football

USC men’s basketball

USC women’s basketball

USC football

If you are feeling extra sassy and want to vote for some other team, like the Cal State Dominguez Hills chess team, please feel free.

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CHARGERS

From Jeff Miller: General manager Tom Telesco said last week that his preference was to sign Mike Williams to a contract extension.

That possibility became reality Tuesday when the Chargers announced they had signed the wide receiver to a new deal.

The three-year package guarantees Williams $40 million and is worth up to $60 million, according to league sources who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Williams, 27, was a pending unrestricted free agent and eligible to be assigned a franchise tag. The deadline for tagging players was 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The extension means the Chargers retain one of quarterback Justin Herbert’s top weapons as they attempt to build off a season in which they were eliminated from playoff contention on the last play of overtime in their Week 18 finale.

Williams finished 2021 with 76 receptions for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns. His total of 129 targets was 39 more than his previous single-season best.

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DUCKS

Patrick Kane had a goal and five primary assists for a career-high six points, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the banged-up Ducks 8-3.

Playing on the same line as Kane, Dylan Strome had three goals and an assist and Alex DeBrincat finished with a goal and three assists. Jonathan Toews, Brandon Hagel and Ryan Carpenter also scored as the Blackhawks turned a fast start into their third win in nine games.

The Ducks opened a five-game trip with their sixth consecutive loss to Chicago. The Blackhawks also beat the Ducks 3-0 on Jan. 15, and the teams play again March 23 in Anaheim.

Trevor Zegras scored a power-play goal for Anaheim, which was coming off a 3-3 homestand. Jakob Silfverberg and Adam Henrique also scored, and Sam Steel had two assists.

NFL

From Gary Klein: The Seattle Seahawks agreed to trade veteran quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, ending the NFC West run of a nine-time Pro Bowl player who led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls and one title.

Here are three takeaways from how the trade affects the Rams:

So long, old friend: Wilson, a third-round draft pick in 2012, compiled an 8-12 record against the Rams, and was 0-1 against them in the playoffs.

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Wilson, 33, passed for 26 touchdowns. The Rams intercepted 13 passes by Wilson and sacked him 77 times — both marks the most by any opponent. Wilson made spectacular plays throughout his career — his pass to Tyler Lockett in the back corner of the end zone against the Rams in 2019 still reverberates — but the last few seasons he appeared far more willing to take a sack than to scramble.

Rams star lineman Aaron Donald is probably sad to see Wilson go: Donald amassed 15 sacks against the Seahawks, tied for his most against any opponent.

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Seahawks trade Russell Wilson to Broncos after Packers, Aaron Rodgers agree to deal

Russell Wilson, welcome to the AFC West, the new Mt. Rushmore of quarterbacks

SOCCER

From Kevin Baxter: The owners of a club in the central Mexican state of Querétaro have been banned from Mexican soccer for five years in the wake of a bloody riot that left more than two dozen people hospitalized.

Mikel Arriola, president of Mexico’s Liga MX, announced the ban at a news conference following an extraordinary meeting of league owners Tuesday, saying the club must be put up for sale before the end of the year. Arriola, who called the sanctions “historic decisions,” also banned Querétaro FC’s supporters’ group for three years and said the club’s affiliated teams, including its women’s teams, will play the rest of their seasons behind closed doors regardless of the venue.

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For home games, a 1.8-mile security perimeter around the stadium must be maintained.

The club was also fined about $70,000 (U.S.), and the club was forced to forfeit Saturday’s match to Atlas, which was leading 1-0 when play was halted early in the second half. Atlas’ supporters’ group, whose members were on the receiving end of much of Saturday’s violence, was also banned from home games for six months.

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Angel City FC will train at Cal Lutheran next two years

UCLA BASKETBALL

From Ben Bolch: The NCAA men’s tournament selection committee has its seeding principles.

Geography doesn’t always rank very high.

In what world would it make sense to send UCLA roughly 978 miles to Portland, Ore., for the first round while also making Texas Tech travel some 1,041 miles to San Diego even though the Bruins and Red Raiders both rank among the nation’s top teams?

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi can envision one.

In his latest bracket, the veteran prognosticator has slotted third-seeded Texas Tech (23-8) in San Diego and fourth-seeded UCLA (23-6) in Portland. Wasn’t the pod system, introduced in 2002, supposed to reduce travel for the best teams? Well, yes … and no.

It doesn’t always work out that way.

Each of the eight host sites for first- and second-round games gets two top-four seeds based on their seeding and proximity.

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Arizona, widely projected as a No. 1 seed regardless of what it does in the Pac-12 Conference tournament, is going to snag one of the San Diego spots, bringing along with it the accompanying Nos. 8, 9 and 16 seeds to Viejas Arena.

That leaves one more spot for a No. 1-4 seed. The next one on Lunardi’s list that fits the seeding principles is Texas Tech because he projects the Red Raiders as a higher seed than UCLA even though the Bruins are just a two-hour drive down the freeway. (Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin disagree, placing UCLA ahead of Texas Tech in their metrics.)

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UCLA’s Johnny Juzang, USC’s Isaiah Mobley among All-Pac-12 picks for Bruins, Trojans

LAKERS

From Bill Plaschke: He was shaking his head, looking down, looking lost.

Russell Westbrook was discussing a series of tweets from wife Nina about harassment and obscenities and even death wishes.

He was clearly in crisis over being the hometown hero turned heel, openly struggling with his role as villain in the Lakers’ lost season.

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He was pleading, enough is enough.

“Right now, she’s reached a point and my family has reached a point where it’s really weighing on them,” Westbrook told reporters Monday night in San Antonio, later adding, “When it comes to basketball, I don’t mind the criticism of missing and making shots. But the moment it becomes where my name is getting shamed, it becomes an issue.”

Occurring during a postgame news conference after another Lakers loss, it was a startling peek inside the seemingly tortured mind of their tough-guy guard, Westbrook showing a rare vulnerability in discussing the impact of the nightly scorn.

In particular, he focused on fans who have responded to his poor shooting by calling him “Westbrick.” He told the story of a parent-teacher conference in which he learned of his young son’s pride in the name Westbrook. He said he decided he no longer could accept that name being turned into an insult.

“’Westbrick’ for example, to me, is now shaming,” he said. “It’s shaming my name, my legacy for my kids … now it’s time to put a stop to that and put it on notice. … Every time I do hear it now, I will make sure that I address it and make sure I nip that in the bud.”

Almost immediately after Monday’s startling five minutes of soul baring ended, the public reaction poured in, with folks falling into one of two distinct camps.

1) Russell Westbrook is legitimately hurting from personal attacks and deserves to be treated with more decency and respect.

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2) Russell Westbrook is acting like a baby.

The complicated truth is, both notions are correct.

BASEBALL

From Bill Shaikin: Whether sports fans follow developments in the baseball lockout closely or pay no attention at all, a league with an already diminished fan base has jeopardized at least some of its remaining base because of the work stoppage, according to a Los Angeles Times/SurveyMonkey poll.

In the poll, 6 of 10 Americans said they were not baseball fans. Of those that described themselves as fans, 6 in 10 said the lockout has caused them to lose interest in the baseball season this year.

After baseball’s last labor dispute — a player strike that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and a delayed start to the 1995 season — the league’s average per-game attendance did not recover until 2006.

In 1994, the average attendance was what was then a record for MLB: 31,256. The average remained below that figure from 1995-2005, rebounded through the steroid era and peaked at 32,696 in 2007 — the final year for Barry Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record that season.

Even before the pandemic restrictions on attendance over the last two seasons, the average attendance had fallen in seven of the previous eight full seasons. The average attendance in 2019 was 28,203, the lowest such figure since 2002.

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‘Friday Night Baseball’ is coming to Apple TV+

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THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1943 — Eddie Dancker banks in a desperation 25-foot hook shot from the corner to give Sheboygan a 30-29 win over Fort Wayne and the National Basketball League crown. The defeat of the Pistons is regarded as one of the biggest upsets in pro basketball history.

1948 — NHL President Clarence Campbell expels Billy Taylor of the New York Rangers and Don Gallagher of the Boston Bruins because of gambling associations.

1958 — George Yardley of the Detroit Pistons becomes the first NBA player to score 2,000 points in a season. Yardley averages 27.8 points in the 72-game season.

1968 — Houston’s Elvin Hayes scores 49 points and pulls down 27 rebounds in a 94-76 win over Loyola of Chicago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

1977 — Anthony Roberts of Oral Roberts sets an NIT record with 65 points in a 90-89 loss to Oregon in the first round.

1979 — Detroit’s Kevin Porter hands out a franchise-record 25 assists as the Pistons defeat the Boston Celtics 160-117.

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1984 — Tim Witherspoon wins the vacant WBC heavyweight title with a 12-round majority decision over Greg Page.

1986 — Buffalo’s Gilbert Perreault scores his 500th goal in a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils.

1994 — Detroit’s Dino Ciccarelli scores his 1,000th career point with a goal in a 5-1 win over Calgary.

2001 — Ty Tryon, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, makes the cut in his first PGA Tour event. He’s 1 over after the second round of the Honda Classic, making him the second-youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

2011 — Kevin Love records his 52nd consecutive double-double to surpass Moses Malone for the longest such streak since the ABA and NBA merged in 1976 in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 101-75 over the Indiana Pacers. Love overcomes a bruised left knee to put up 16 points and 21 rebounds in just 27 minutes.

2013 — Liberty becomes the second 20-loss team to reach the NCAA tournament, beating Charleston Southern 87-76 to win the Big South Conference title. It joins Coppin State in 2008 as the only schools with 20 or more defeats in the field of 68.

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2013 — Bernard Hopkins at 48 becomes the oldest boxer to win a major title, scoring a 12-round unanimous decision over Tavoris Cloud to claim the IBF light heavyweight championship in New York.

2016 — Russell Westbrook has 25 points, a career-high 20 assists and 11 rebounds to help the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Clippers 120-108. It’s the first triple-double with at least 20 points and 20 assists since Rod Strickland did it for the Washington Wizards in 1998.

2017 — Villanova shoots 63% and commits just five turnovers in a record-setting 108-67 victory over St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. It’s the most points and largest margin of victory in the tournament for Villanova and the worst loss ever for the Red Storm

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Ross Porter conducts an interview recently with Eric Karros. 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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