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The Sports Report: Kings get two valuable points in march toward playoffs

Phillip Danault celebrates after scoring past Chicago goaltender Collin Delia during the first period.
Phillip Danault celebrates after scoring past Chicago goaltender Collin Delia during the first period.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

From Helene Elliott: Dustin Brown has been here before.

As the Kings’ first-round pick in the deep 2003 draft, the bruising forward was a foundational piece for a team that was rebuilding around young players. He grew up with their other prospects, learning how to win together and, too often, learning to salvage what they could from their many losses.

Their progress wasn’t linear. It sometimes didn’t feel like progress at all. They finally made the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2010 after an absence of six seasons, only to be eliminated in six games in the first round. They were eliminated in six games again in 2011. Were they really on the right path?

They were. Without those brief postseason journeys the Kings wouldn’t have reached the top of the mountain — and Brown wouldn’t have hoisted the Cup as their captain in 2012 and 2014. He’s 37 now and on the downside of a career distinguished by intense physicality and strong leadership, but he has made it through their post-Cup overhaul of their roster and coaching staff and is seeing history wind back on itself.

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The current Kings, with Brown playing a less prominent but vital role on the third line, are inching toward securing their first playoff spot since 2018. They’re third in the Pacific Division, five points ahead of Vegas after a 4-1 victory over Chicago on Thursday at Crypto.com Arena.

“I don’t really like comparing, but it’s very similar to our group,” he said of the pre-championship Kings. “We didn’t have a lot of experience — maybe a few guys that we traded for. We had to get to the playoffs and we got there twice before we really figured out what the hell was going on. People say, ‘Oh, this is what the playoffs are like,’ but you don’t really know what they are until you play in them.

“This is really good for the team and where they’re headed, the direction. It’s a good place to be. For myself, my career is winding down and I want to play meaningful hockey. This is all I could ask for as a player.”

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Column One: Hockey is making inroads in Mexico

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DODGERS

From Bill Shaikin: Major League Baseball on Thursday extended Trevor Bauer‘s leave from the Dodgers through April 29, according to a league source.

The leave had been set to expire Friday, although in the interim Bauer had explored whether that extension had been binding.

Bauer has missed 105 games since the league first put him on leave in July. He could ask for that time to be credited against any suspension as part of a negotiated agreement, but Bauer has maintained he has done nothing wrong and should not be suspended.

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Bauer was cleared in February of criminal charges stemming from sexual assault allegations that were brought against him by a woman in June, but he could still be suspended by Commissioner Rob Manfred if MLB finds he violated the league’s sexual assault policy. The league could also defer discipline to the Dodgers.

RAMS

From Gary Klein: It was a remarkable comeback with something of a storybook ending.

Less than six months after suffering an Achilles injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire season, Rams running back Cam Akers returned just before the playoffs and helped his team make a run to a Super Bowl title.

Akers was happy to win a championship — “It’s been cool; everything you can imagine,” he said Thursday — but he was not overly impressed with his performance.

“I don’t feel like I played the best games throughout that time span,” he said during a videoconference with reporters, “so there wasn’t really a lot of celebrating for me.

“It was more, ‘How can I get better?’ ”

Akers, 22, is aiming to play a full season in 2022, when the Rams will try to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots achieved the feat in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

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Akers and fourth-year pro Darrell Henderson are the projected top running backs for a team that has not moved to re-sign free agent Sony Michel. The Rams on Thursday completed their first week of offseason workouts.

USC FOOTBALL

From Ryan Kartje: Even after all of the regular trips to the transfer portal, Lincoln Riley had never started spring with such little depth. Just 60 healthy scholarship players were suited up for USC when camp began last month — so few that the coach briefly considered adapting his practices.

No position has felt that dearth of depth this spring more than the defensive back, where a mix of departures and injuries left cornerbacks coach Donte Williams working with just six healthy players at Thursday’s final practice. One was L Simpson, a walk-on. Another was injured five-star freshman Domani Jackson, who’s not likely to see the field Saturday as his knee continues to recover. The remaining four had just a single start among them.

Among that group, sophomore Prophet Brown, the owner of that single start, may as well be a seasoned vet. By this point in spring, he’s received more reps than he could count at cornerback. Others have bounced back and forth between positions in the secondary, cross-training to make up for a lack of depth on USC’s current defense.

“Sometimes one play [off] is a blessing,” Brown said of his place in USC’s thin rotation. “Sometimes you don’t get a play. Sometimes you have to wait until the next period and thug it out.”

There shouldn’t be much waiting around for Brown during the spring game. With USC’s defense facing off directly against its offense, there’s only so much room to rotate. Likely starter Mekhi Blackmon, who transferred from Colorado, has sat out the past week with an injury and isn’t expected to play. Neither is Domani Jackson or redshirt sophomore Josh Jackson.

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That leaves Brown, Ceyair Wright and a band of unproven outside corners to hold down the fort Saturday.

UCLA SPORTS

From Ben Bolch: Never let it be said that UCLA is doing nil about NIL.

School athletic officials will announce Thursday afternoon a new venture called Westwood Exchange that’s designed to enhance Bruins athletes’ ability to secure name, image and likeness deals.

Westwood Exchange will allow businesses, donors, fans and alumni to register with the school so that they can connect directly with athletes seeking NIL deals that could include autograph sessions, private lessons in their respective sports, public appearances, athletic camps and social media promotion, among other possibilities. The initiative is expected to be centered on small, local businesses that want to engage UCLA athletes and could be especially beneficial in landing deals for those who compete in lower-profile sports.

OBITUARY

Daryle Lamonica, the deep-throwing quarterback who won an American Football League player of the year award and led the Oakland Raiders to their first Super Bowl appearance, has died. He was 80.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said Lamonica died at his Fresno home on Thursday morning. The death is considered to be from natural causes.

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The Raiders acquired Lamonica in a trade from Buffalo in 1967, and he was immediately the perfect fit for the vertical offense that owner Al Davis coveted for his franchise.

Nicknamed the “Mad Bomber,” Lamonica made an immediate impact in Oakland after starting only four games in four seasons with the Bills.

Lamonica’s strong arm complemented deep-threat receivers such as Warren Wells and Fred Biletnikoff and turned the Raiders into a powerhouse. They went 13-1 his first season as Lamonica was a first-team All-Pro and AP AFL player of the year when he led the league with 30 touchdown passes.

Lamonica then threw two TD passes in a win over Houston in the AFL title game to send the Raiders to their first Super Bowl, where they lost 33-14 to the National Football League champion Green Bay Packers.

In his six seasons as a starter for the Raiders, Lamonica was one of the most prolific passers in the game, leading pro football with 145 TD passes — 24 more than second-place Fran Tarkenton. His 16,006 yards passing ranked third in the span of 1967 to 1972.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1876 — The first official National League baseball game is played with Boston beating Philadelphia 6-5.

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1945 — The Toronto Maple Leafs edge the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 to win the Stanley Cup in seven games.

1947 — The Philadelphia Warriors, behind Joe Fulks’ 34 points, beat the Chicago Staggs 83-80 in Game 5 to win the first Basketball Assn. of America title.

1962 — The Toronto Maple Leafs capture the Stanley Cup in six games with a 2-1 triumph over the Chicago Black Hawks.

1969 — Joe Frazier knocked out Dave Zyglewicz in 96 seconds to retain the heavyweight boxing title. Zyglewicz, 28-1 against journeymen, was fighting as the hometown hero at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston.

1987 — The NBA grants expansion franchises to Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando. Charlotte and Miami join the league in the 1988-89 season, while Minnesota and Orlando join in 1989-90.

1988 — New Jersey’s Patrik Sundstrom sets an NHL playoff record scoring eight points — three goals and five assists — in a 10-4 rout of Washington in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals.

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1993 — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils extends their NHL playoff record to 14 straight wins.

1994 — Shannon Miller wins the women’s all-around title for the second straight year at the World Gymnastics Championships in Brisbane, Australia.

1994 — Michael Moorer outpoints Evander Holyfield to win the IBF and WBA titles and become the first left-handed heavyweight champion.

2003 — Minnesota and Vancouver become the first teams since 2000 to come back from 3-1 series deficits and win. The Wild take Game 7 in Colorado on Andrew Brunette’s overtime goal for a 3-2 win. The Canucks oust St. Louis with a 4-1 win.

2006 — New Jersey scores a playoff-record five power-play goals in its 6-1 win over New York.

2006 — In Berlin, Germany, Wladimir Klitschko stops Chris Byrd in the seventh round of a one-sided fight to gain the IBF heavyweight title.

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2007 — The Boston Red Sox tie a major league record by hitting four straight home runs in a 7-6 win over the New York Yankees. Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek connect in a span of 10 pitches during the third inning against Chase Wright.

2008 — John Smoltz of Atlanta becomes the 16th pitcher in major league history to reach the 3,000-strikeout plateau in the Braves’ 6-0 loss to Washington.

2014 — Albert Pujols becomes the first major leaguer to hit his 499th and 500th homers in the same game, driving in five runs to help the Los Angeles Angels beat the Washington Nationals 7-2.

Compiled by the Associated Press

And finally

Albert Pujols hits his 500th home run. 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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