The Sports Report: Clippers face their last chance to make the playoffs

Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Nicolas Batum.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

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

From Andrew Greif: Before they can even reach a seven-game series, the Clippers have to first survive a Game 7.

For the statistical record, Friday’s matchup at Arena against New Orleans will be the second game of the NBA’s play-in tournament for both the Clippers and Pelicans. But as an elimination game, where the winner earns a first-round series against top-seeded Phoenix and the loser’s season ends, “it is a Game 7” in feel and function, guard Terance Mann said.

“It is called win or go home,” wing Nicolas Batum said.

Basketball on the brink brought out the best in the Clippers one year ago when, after falling behind 2-0 to Dallas in the first round, they won a de facto elimination game in Game 3, on the road, and two straight win-or-else victories in Games 6 and 7. Falling behind Utah in the second round 2-0, the Clippers answered with another Game 3 win to spark a series comeback.

Unlike a playoff series, however, the Clippers don’t have multiple previous games to study and prepare adjustments and counters. Their best piece of prep material is watching their 19-point win against New Orleans on April 3, and the Pelicans’ victory Wednesday against San Antonio to stay alive in the play-in tournament, in which CJ McCollum scored 32 points and Brandon Ingram added 25.


The Clippers wouldn’t be here except for their failure to protect a 10-point lead with eight minutes to play in Tuesday’s fourth quarter in Minnesota. Coach Tyronn Lue didn’t even watch the film, saying he had to move on to studying New Orleans and San Antonio.

This much was clear without the aid of film: When Minnesota’s defense increased its physicality — particularly after Karl-Anthony Towns fouled out, leading to smaller lineups around Naz Reid that could afford to be more aggressive without worry about Towns’ fouls — it sped up the Clippers and hurt their offense, Lue said.

“We didn’t do a good job of executing down the stretch, not trusting a little bit, and so that kind of hurt us,” Lue said. “But it was one game. But as the leader and as the head coach, I can’t be down in the dumps about it.”

Enjoying this newsletter? Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.


We asked subscribers to our Sports Report newsletter, “Who would you hire as the next Lakers coach?” In a shock, a write-in candidate won for the first time we have been doing sports surveys. After 12,709 votes, here are the results:

Frank Vogel, 16.4%

Doc Rivers, 13.3%

Mark Jackson, 13%

Phil Jackson, 11.5%

Nick Nurse, 10.4%

Becky Hammon, 6.7%

Quin Snyder, 5.2%

Receiving less than 5% (in order): LeBron James, Mike Krzyzewski, Mike Brown, John Calipari, Sam Cassell, Stan Van Gundy, Jay Wright, Steve Clifford, Juwan Howard, Kenny Atkinson, Terry Stotts.


Lakers player-by-player report cards for 2021-22 season


All times Pacific
Play-in tournament
Western conference
Tonight’s schedule
No. 9 New Orleans at No. 8 Clippers, 7 p.m., TNT

Eastern conference
Today’s schedule
No. 9 Atlanta at No. 8 Cleveland, 4:30 p.m., ESPN


From Jack Harris: Before the game, the loudest ovation belonged to the Dodgers longest-tenured player.

At the height of Thursday night’s home-opener, however, a sold-out Dodger Stadium was chanting for the team’s newest star.

In his first regular-season game at Chavez Ravine since signing with the Dodgers last month, Freddie Freeman delivered the crushing blow in the team’s 9-3 win against the Cincinnati Reds, lacing a leadoff double in the eighth inning to spark the team’s game-winning six-run rally.

As Freeman pulled into second base, a hysteric crowd of 52,995 rose to its feet. Chanting along to the trumpeting beat of Dayvi’s “Baila Conmigo,” they shouted “Fred-die! Fred-die!” until the $162 million first baseman acknowledged them with a tap of his chest and left-handed wave.

Freeman scored the go-ahead run on a Trea Turner RBI single in the next at-bat. Will Smith blew the score open with a three-run home run later in the inning. Then the Dodgers tacked on a couple more to pull completely away.

In front of their first full capacity home-opening crowd since 2019, they made good on the excitement their manager was anticipating before the game.


“The thing that stands out is the energy,” Dave Roberts said when asked about his favorite part of home openers. “The newness for fans.”


Photos: Dodgers fans flock to Chavez Ravine for 2022 home opener

Baseball reveres Jackie Robinson, but Robinson didn’t revere baseball. Here’s why

First person: Carl Erskine remembers Jackie Robinson as a man who ‘stood his ground’

Book excerpt: The day Jackie Robinson came home to Dodger Stadium

On Jackie Robinson Day, Dave Roberts calls out MLB for reducing opportunities for Black players


Things are looking up for Reds rookie Hunter Greene, just as he envisioned

Clayton Kershaw feels bad you couldn’t see him pitch a perfect game


Jonah Heim hit a grand slam off Shohei Ohtani, Corey Seager crushed his first home run with the Rangers and Texas won 10-5 Thursday night.

Ohtani (0-2) struck out five over 3 2/3 innings, but the reigning AL MVP allowed six runs and six hits and threw only 70 pitches.

Heim’s first career grand slam put Texas up 4-2 in the second inning, which began with back-to-back singles by Nathaniel Lowe and Adolis Garcia. The switch-hitting catcher and No. 9 hitter, who later added an RBI single, pulled an 0-2 pitch into the right-field seats after Willie Calhoun walked.


From Thuc Nhi Nguyen: There was no better place for Norah Flatley to hang up her crown.


Flatley, UCLA’s “beam queen,” finished her last competition as a UCLA gymnast on her best event, capping her NCAA championships all-around performance with a 9.9375 on balance beam Thursday in Fort Worth. The senior placed fourth on her top event and seventh in the all-around with a total score of 39.6. Freshman Jordan Chiles wrapped up her first season with a 14th-place finish on floor.

Flatley wiped tears away after she dismounted the beam and hugged assistant coach Kristina Comforte. She said she felt a rush of relief. Flatley was surprised the emotions didn’t take over before the meet, but she said afterward that she was just having too much fun to cry during competition.

“It just felt really good to end on that note,” Flatley said.


From Ryan Kartje: During three seasons spent as the architect of USC’s offense, Graham Harrell went to great lengths to reassure fans his Air Raid could generate a capable run game. Despite that insistence, USC never got it going on the ground with Harrell at the helm. His tenure as offensive coordinator saw the Trojans collectively average fewer than four yards per carry, good for one of the worst rushing stretches in school history.

Lincoln Riley rose up through the same system, with deep roots in the same coaching tree. Like Harrell, who’s now at West Virginia, Riley learned under Mike Leach, one of the Air Raid’s earliest adopters, at Texas Tech.

But when the new USC coach was asked to explain his system earlier this spring, he wondered aloud if the label often ascribed to his offense even fit at all.

“The Air Raid stuff came from all of our background at Texas Tech,” Riley said. “Over the last seven years, we’ve had the highest yards per carry of any college football team in the country. We’ve [run] the ball at a high level for a long time, so I don’t know that Air Raid really fits anymore to be honest.”


If USC can successfully reinvigorate its rushing attack, it won’t matter what Riley calls his system. During the last four seasons, USC has ranked 82nd, 120th, 119th and 107th in rushing nationally. The Trojans have averaged 200 yards rushing or more per game just once (2016) since the heyday of Reggie Bush and LenDale White.


USC’s Korey Foreman says he has learned to adapt after frustrating freshman season


From Kevin Baxter: Shortly after SoFi Stadium was to open its doors for the first time in summer 2020, Real Madrid was scheduled to play Barcelona in a soccer game to help christen the $5-billion venue. But that match was canceled before it was ever announced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two years later MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX are stepping in to bring soccer to SoFi for the first time, with the Galaxy meeting Chivas of Guadalajara and LAFC playing Club América in August. The leagues were expected to formally announce the games jointly from New York and Mexico City on Thursday morning.

“There’s a great history of big soccer matches being played in the United States and in Los Angeles, dating back to the 1994 World Cup, the 1999 Women’s World Cup, and all of the big games that the Galaxy has been a part of,” Galaxy President Chris Klein said in a statement. “So having the opportunity to play against a storied franchise in Liga MX is an honor that we are looking forward to.”


Anthony Cirelli scored 1:58 into overtime and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Ducks 4-3 on Thursday night to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.


Ross Colton, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov also scored for the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 10 saves before being replaced by Brian Elliott, who stopped all 13 shots he faced.

The Lightning qualified for the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. The two-time defending NHL champions are trying to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup three times in a row since the Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

Adam Henrique scored twice, and Troy Terry added a goal for Anaheim. Anthony Stolarz, making his first career start against Tampa Bay, made 27 saves.


1937 — The Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 3-0 to take the Stanley Cup in the fifth and final game.

1952 — The Detroit Red Wings beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 to capture the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings holds the Canadiens to two goals in the four-game sweep.

1984 — Ben Crenshaw wins the Masters by two strokes over Tom Watson.

1985 — Marvin Hagler retains his world middleweight title by stopping Thomas Hearns in the third round at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Both slug it out with reckless abandon for eight minutes, which many consider the most electrifying three rounds in boxing history.


1991 — Magic Johnson sets an NBA record for career assists in a 112-106 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. Johnson, who needed nine assists to break Oscar Robertson’s record of 9,887, gets 19.

1993 — Sparky Anderson earns his 2,000th victory as a manager as the Detroit Tigers rally to beat the Oakland Athletics 3-2.

1993 — Andre Dawson becomes the 25th player to hit 400 home runs as the Boston Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 4-3.

1998 — The first-ever AL-NL doubleheader is held in New York’s Shea Stadium. The New York Yankees beat the Anaheim Angels 6-3 and the New York Mets edge the Chicago Cubs 2-1.

2000 — Cal Ripken becomes the 24th player to reach 3,000 hits when he lines a clean single to center off Twins reliever Hector Carrasco. He reaches the milestone with his third hit in a 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins and becomes the seventh player in major league history to get 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.

2005 — Top-ranked Roger Federer’s 25-match winning streak ends when French teenager Richard Gasquet saves three match points before capturing a third-set tiebreaker at the Monte Carlo Masters. Federer’s 35-1 record this year is the best start on the men’s tour since John McEnroe was 39-0 in 1984.


2005 — Two-time Olympic champion Steven Lopez of the United States wins his third world taekwondo title, capturing the welterweight gold medal with a 3-2 victory over Ali Tajik of Iran.

2018 — Victor Oladipo scores 32 points and the Indiana Pacers hold off Cleveland’s second-half rally for a stunning 98-80 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series, handing LeBron James and the Cavaliers’ their first loss in the opening round in eight years.

And finally

The most exciting three rounds in boxing history. 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, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.