The Sports Report: Lakers begin their push toward a playoff spot

D'Angelo Russell
(Steve Dykes / Associated Press)

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

From Broderick Turner: The Lakers’ goal is to finish in the top six in the Western Conference and earn an automatic spot in the playoffs.

Now, if the Lakers finish in the top 10 and are forced to compete in the NBA’s play-in tournament, they would accept that too.

But after they had their first practice Wednesday following the All-Star break, Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the team has higher aspirations.


“Yeah, the goal is for us to come out and try to be the best version of ourselves each game, but definitely, if we can go and secure a spot, that is our goal right there,” Ham said. “If we fall into a play-in situation, so be it. But our No. 1 goal is to go secure a spot [and] not just throw games off here or there [and] just wish for a play-in. We want to go secure a spot.”

The Lakers are 13th in the West, 3½ games behind the Dallas Mavericks, who reside in the sixth position. The Lakers are two games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, who hold the 10th spot and would be the last team in if the playoffs began today.

Yes, the Lakers have work to do.

“I mean, we got to win,” Anthony Davis said. “Obviously, we got to hope that teams lose too as well. But we got to control what we can control and that’s winning basketball games by going out and competing every night.”

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From Andrew Greif: Russell Westbrook entered his career’s latest chapter Wednesday through a side door of the Clippers’ practice facility, taking a seat on a podium surrounded by more cameras and microphones than have shown up at the Playa Vista headquarters in five months.

For the next 10 minutes, when Westbrook wasn’t smiling, he was reiterating a promise.

“Whatever they need me to do,” Westbrook said, “I’ll do it and do it to the best of my ability.”

Westbrook is a Clipper because coach Tyronn Lue, stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and top basketball executive Lawrence Frank still are believers in the 34-year-old former most valuable player’s abilities. They believe those abilities will fill in gaps and provide things the team lacked, from attacking defenses with drives into the paint to rebounding and athleticism.

“We want Russ to be Russ,” Lue said, “and so if he’s doing too much, or not enough, I’ll let him know. But we wanted him to be the player that he is, you know, the MVP, the Hall of Famer, everything he brings every single night.”

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As offensive lineman Atonio Mafi transitions from UCLA to the NFL, he is sharing his journey with Times staff writer Ben Bolch through a weekly diary leading up to the draft April 27. This week, Mafi discusses picking an agent.


Signing with an agent was a surreal experience.

For one thing, I did it on a bus.

We were rolling along on our way to the El Paso airport after the Sun Bowl when I downloaded the forms on my phone, signed them electronically and sent them back to Priority Sports. Kenny Zuckerman was now officially my agent.

What a relief.

I needed to get it done pretty much as soon as my UCLA career ended because I was flying out the next day to start training in Florida for the NFL draft.

Picking an agent was more stressful than I expected. I knew it was going to take a while and that I’d have to meet with a bunch of people. I ended up checking out seven or eight agents before going with Kenny, who’s based out of Thousand Oaks.

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UCLA expected to hire Ravens safeties coach D’Anton Lynn as new defensive coordinator


From Ben Bolch: Amari Bailey always lets his teammates hear it.


A high-pitched scream at a random moment. Yodeling as they’re about to step into the shower.

It often pierces the silence. It always makes everyone on UCLA’s basketball team laugh.

“He’s a whole different person off the court,” teammate Jaylen Clark said, cracking a smile at the memory of the auditory assault. “That kid you see off the court, he acts like he’s 12, if you know what I mean.”

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From Sarah Valenzuela: Albert Pujols found himself in a familiar setting Tuesday, back at Angels spring training. Now happily retired from playing, Pujols, 43, is a special assistant to the club under his 10-year personal services contract.

“It’s good just to be around, put the uniform back on and helping the young kids in the [batting] cage,” Pujols said Wednesday of his first day at camp. “So it’s a great time.”

It was always his plan to rejoin the Angels in this capacity after his playing career. He also said that the St. Louis Cardinals, with whom he started and finished his career, did not make him a similar offer, likely because they knew he had a personal services contract with the Angels.


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He’s only 19, but catching prospect Edgar Quero already has the Angels excited


From Kevin Baxter: Tyler Boyd wouldn’t say how many clubs he talked to after he decided to leave Turkey for MLS last year. But he knew how many clubs he wanted to play for.

“This was the destination for sure,” the former national team midfielder said Tuesday, a day after agreeing to a one-year contract with the Galaxy. “My favorite club growing up.

“It’s a dream come true. I’m over the moon to be here.”

It’s unclear how much the moon had to do with it, but certainly the stars had to align to make the signing possible. Boyd still had six months left on a four-year contract with Besiktas of the Turkish Super Lig — a team he has played for only once in the last 28 months — when the two sides agreed to part company ahead of the January trade window.

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From Kevin Baxter: Dale Earnhardt Jr. proved he could drive fast in the front seat of his daddy’s stock car on short tracks throughout the Carolinas. Jeff Gordon was trading paint in quarter midgets in Northern California 11 years before he was old enough to have a driver’s license.

Most NASCAR drivers got started in similar ways.

Not Rajah Caruth. He learned how to handle a race car by playing video games and he says there are a lot of Generation Z drivers getting ready to follow him.

“I feel like it’s just the wave of the future,” said Caruth, 20, who is scheduled to race in the second-tier Xfinity Series on Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. “It’s big, right? Because that’s the only way I was able to get my start.”

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From Thuc Nhi Nguyen: Forward Chiney Ogwumike re-signed with the Sparks on Wednesday, the team announced, reuniting the former No. 1 overall pick with the coach who guided her most recent All-Star appearance.

After injuries slowed her career, Ogwumike, the 2014 rookie of the year, was named an All-Star in 2018 under coach Curt Miller during Ogwumike’s final year with the Connecticut Sun.


With Miller now overseeing the Sparks’ rebuild, Ogwumike will return for her fourth season with the franchise after averaging seven points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 26 appearances in 2022. It was the first time since 2019 that Ogwumike had played in a majority of the games after she opted out of the 2020 pandemic-affected season and injuries hampered her comeback in 2021.

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1935 — George “The Iceman” Woolf makes history, riding Azucar to victory in the inaugural Santa Anita Handicap. Azucar beatS such greats as Equipoise and Twenty Grand in the first $100,000 horse race.

1938 — Joe Louis knocks out Nathan Mann in the third round to defend his world heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in New York.

1960 — Carol Heiss captures the first gold medal for the United States in the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, Calif., winning the figure skating event.

1968 — Wilt Chamberlain becomes first player to score 25,000 points in the NBA.

1980 — Eric Heiden wins his fifth gold medal and shatters the world record by six seconds in 10,000-meter speed skating at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. His time is 14:28.13.


1985 — Indiana coach Bob Knight is ejected five minutes into the Hoosiers’ 72-63 loss to Purdue when he throws a chair across the court. Knight, after two fouls called on his team, is hit with his first technical. While Purdue was shooting the technical, Knight picks up a chair from the bench area and throws it across the court, earning his second technical.

1987 — Seattle’s Nate McMillan sets an NBA rookie record with 25 assists to lead the SuperSonics over the Los Angeles Clippers 124-112.

1991 — North Carolina becomes the first team in NCAA basketball history to win 1,500 games with a 73-57 victory over Clemson.

2002 — The Americans end nearly a half-century of Olympic frustration for the U.S. men’s bobsled team, driving to the silver and bronze medals in the four-man race at the Salt Lake Olympic Games.

2007 — Tiger Woods’ winning streak on the PGA Tour, which began in July, comes to a shocking end. Woods fails to notice a ball mark in the line of his 4-foot birdie putt that would have won his third-round match against Nick O’Hern. Woods misses, then loses in 20 holes when O’Hern saves par with a 12-foot putt at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

2013 — Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche makes history just by stepping into the UFC cage. Rousey wins the UFC’s first women’s bout, beating Carmouche on an armbar, her signature move, with 11 seconds left in the first round of their bantamweight title fight at UFC 157.


2014 — Canada defends its Olympic men’s hockey title with a 3-0 victory over Sweden. Canada becomes the only repeat Olympic champ in the NHL era and the first team to go unbeaten through the Olympic tournament since the Soviet Union in Sarajevo in 1984.

2014 — Russia, the host country of the Winter Olympics, finishes with 33 medals overall and 13 gold. It’s the first time Russia topped both medals tables since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The U.S. wins 28 total, including nine gold.

2014 — Jason Collins becomes the first openly gay athlete in the United States four major pro leagues, playing 10 scoreless minutes with two rebounds and five fouls in the New Jersey’s 108-102 victory of the Los Angeles Lakers.

2014 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a rain-delayed Daytona 500, a decade after his first victory in the “Great American Race.” Earnhardt snaps a 55-race winless stretch that dated to 2012. It also ends a frustrating sequence at Daytona International Speedway that had seen him finish second in three of the previous four 500s.

2021 — Tiger Woods crashes his car driving south of Los Angeles, injuring both his legs

Compiled by the Associated Press

And finally

Bobby Knight throws a chair. Watch and listen here.


Until next time...

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