The Sports Report: LeBron James and Lakers pull off biggest comeback of NBA season
Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell, who’s probably trying to find a buyer for his Cody Bellinger bobbleheads. Let’s get right to the news.
From Dan Woike: The Mavericks went right to work Sunday afternoon building the mountain the Lakers would spend the rest of the day climbing.
Luka Doncic, smothered by Anthony Davis, coolly stepped back and flicked his wrist, splashing home a three. And then another and another.
Dallas couldn’t miss; the Lakers couldn’t make. The Mavericks would make seven three-pointers in the first 12 minutes and 10 to lead by 27 before the Lakers could get just one to go through the hoop.
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But slowly, the Lakers began to climb, slowly at first before steadily gaining pace.
And from there, Jarred Vanderbilt decided he and his teammates were going to sprint.
While Davis and LeBron James hit the big shots that delivered the Lakers a stunning 111-108 win Sunday, none of it would’ve been possible without Vanderbilt.
“A lot of the times, I would say, ‘Don’t look at the stat sheet,’ because he does all the things that don’t really go into the stat sheet,” Austin Reaves said before listing the numbers.
Vanderbilt had 15 points. He grabbed 17 rebounds. He had four steals. Vanderbilt shut Doncic down faster than the failed scoreboard marriage proposal that happened in the first half.
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Davis had 30 points and 15 rebounds, James gritted his way to 26 points and Dennis Schroder, starting for the injured D’Angelo Russell, finished with 16 points and eight assists.
Vanderbilt had eight points, eight rebounds and three steals in the third quarter, dragging the Lakers right back into the game.
“I really was just trying to up the intensity, be a little bit more physical. I knew we needed it at that point,” Vanderbilt said of the second half. “Just trying to bring the energy, bring the effort and just try to change the game momentum-wise.”
From Ben Bolch: It was a natural high at 5,346 feet above sea level.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. hurled the ball off the bottom of the scoreboard. Tyger Campbell and Dylan Andrews exchanged a flying body bump and a tight embrace. Adem Bona raised a clenched fist to acknowledge cheering fans as he walked into a tunnel.
For the first time in a decade, UCLA is the outright Pac-12 champion.
The fourth-ranked Bruins got there after shaking off a brutal first half and owning every highlight in the final minutes of an unexpectedly taut 60-56 victory over Colorado on Sunday afternoon at the CU Events Center.
“Great resiliency,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said after his team overcame an early 10-point deficit to prevail despite making only one of 14 three-pointers.
UCLA’s eighth consecutive win gave the Bruins (25-4 overall, 16-2 Pac-12) a three-game lead over second-place Arizona and USC with two games to play before the conference tournament.
A brief on-court celebration served as a prelude to some pulsating music and booming banter in the locker room that could be heard in an adjacent hallway. Cronin instructed his players not to douse him with any beverages given they still need to win more games to seize the No. 1 seed in the West for the NCAA tournament.
“We were just excited,” Jaquez, who led the Bruins with 17 points, said of the festivities, “but we’ve got to understand, we’re playing for something a lot bigger than this.”
From Andrew Greif: The wounds from Friday’s double-overtime loss were still fresh when the Clippers climbed aboard their jet in Los Angeles around noon Saturday.
Only about 13 hours earlier, their leads of 14 in the fourth quarter’s final minutes, six in overtime and six again in double overtime had all dissolved into a bitter loss to a Sacramento team they needed to keep pace with in the Western Conference standings.
Top-seeded Denver awaited. But within a minute of the team’s plane taking off, a bolt of lightning struck it, as Clippers staff and airline crew members felt the engines momentarily quiet before revving up for a steep climb into the clouds. When everyone got off in Denver, a noticeable splotch along the tail, the site of the strike, had been stripped of its paint.
What followed Sunday night in Ball Arena was another jarring takeoff and bumpy ride, a 134-124 overtime loss to the Nuggets capping a bitter 48 hours whose events no one saw coming.
From Jorge Castillo: The next chapter in Cody Bellinger’s professional baseball career began Saturday with a mistake as he walked to the plate for his first at-bat as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
“Number 35,” the public address announcer bellowed at Sloan Park, “Cody Bellinger!”
The problem: Bellinger isn’t No. 35 anymore. That was his number with the Dodgers. Those days are over. He’s No. 24 now. The blue is a little different. There’s a little more red. He’s playing for a team without World Series expectations for the first time in his career, but the pressure to recapture his All-Star form remains.
Bellinger’s time with the Dodgers abruptly ended before anyone could have expected in the not-so-distant past. He was non-tendered in November with one year of club control remaining. His drop-off over the previous three seasons was steep, but the move was still jarring. The wound evidently hasn’t healed.
For four days, Bellinger did not appear in the clubhouse when it was open for the media after being informed of an interview request from a Los Angeles reporter. On the third day, he took the long way off a backfield to avoid the reporter and a Los Angeles television crew.
He formally declined to speak through a Cubs spokesperson on the fourth day, Saturday, after going 0 for two with a strikeout in his Cubs spring training debut. Bellinger did not make the trip to Camelback Ranch on Sunday for the game against the Dodgers.
“The truth of it is until he was non-tendered, I really did not really have a lot of conversations with the Dodgers because I felt it was rather a matter of fact that he would continue with them because they had rights over him,” Scott Boras, Bellinger’s agent, said last week. “I had no idea that they would non-tender him.”
From Sarah Valenzuela: Shohei Ohtani took his usual stance in the batter’s box, bat perked up, face solemn. The ball came his way and he swung, launching it toward the sky, the arc of the ball’s path planting it on top of the minor league clubhouse.
“Man, how far do you think that was?” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said lightly.
This is a regular scene at batting practice when Ohtani is up: Towering hits that the 2021 most valuable player shows off just about every spring.
It’s quite the spectacle early in spring training. When on the lower practice fields, Ohtani usually hits on Field 3, which is hard for fans to see, but his batting practices at Diablo Stadium are equally as incredible.
From that lower field, there are the balls that fly into the top of the palm trees and behind some bushes to the left. The ones that found a spot on top of the clubhouse (and the ones that may or may not have cleared the building entirely to the right). And the ones that bounced into the top of the batter’s eye and the players’ parking lot (and the one that definitely hit a parked car) in the center.
“I don’t know if he can pay for all of those cars,” Brett Phillips joked after Ohtani’s batting practice session on Friday.
Actually, that day, the Orange Lutheran High baseball team was visiting Angels camp as special guests of manager Phil Nevin, whose nephew plays on the team.
So a number of high schoolers watched in awe from behind the protective cage, cellphones recording. As the ball bounced on top of the car, Ohtani’s hands went up in excitement, and the young players yelled in delight.
“Did you see that?” they exclaimed to one another.
USC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
From Thuc Nhi Nguyen: A three-month-old baby sleeps peacefully in an almost silent room in the tunnels of CU Events Center. While music thumps on the court, where USC and Colorado are warming up for a critical game in the Pac-12 conference race, the only sound in a room normally intended for film study is the rhythmic suction of a breast pump.
Lindsay Gottlieb scrolls through her phone while her breast milk drips into small clear bottles.
“It would be nice to get this one on the road,” the USC head coach says, the anxiety creeping into her voice.
While putting USC in position for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2014, the 45-year-old Gottlieb is also adjusting to life as a mother of two. The second-year head coach gave birth to daughter Reese on Oct. 15, was back on the sideline for USC’s season opener 24 days later on Nov. 8 and lifted the Trojans into the Associated Press top 25 for the first time since 2016 on Feb. 13.
It’s been, Gottlieb said, a once-in-a-lifetime season.
The family adventure will continue in Las Vegas, where Gottlieb will take Reese for the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament. With its best conference record in more than a decade, USC (21-8, 11-7 Pac-12) is the No. 6 seed facing No. 11 Oregon State at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Michelob Ultra Arena.
Five years after having her first child, Gottlieb has noticed the increased conversation and understanding surrounding working mothers in sports.
Arizona head coach Adia Barnes was the subject of a viral ESPN sideline report after she pumped breast milk during halftime of the national championship game in 2021. In the WNBA’s 2020 collective bargaining agreement that increased salaries to an all-time high, it was the expanded maternity and family planning benefits that had many in and out of the league most impressed.
It’s a sign that blending family and coaching is “more normalized,” Gottlieb said, but when she spoke to other mothers last summer, quietly voicing her plan to return in time for the beginning of her second season with the Trojans, she received cautious encouragement. There will be plenty of seasons, she was reminded. She had only one chance to raise Reese.
But to her, this season, when USC welcomed seven new transfers, also deserved ample focus. To strike the balance, Gottlieb’s top goal is to simply be present, whether on the baseline at practice or while getting her kids ready for bed at home.
From Steve Henson: As farewells go, it was chilly. And weepy.
The Fontana air had a pronounced bite Sunday for the last NASCAR race on the venerable two-mile Auto Club Speedway oval, less than 24 hours after snow improbably blanketed much of the Inland Empire.
The track wept, and that isn’t an attempt at personification. Trapped rainwater from the last few days seeped from under cracks and seams in the porous, 26-year-old asphalt, forming what drivers call “weepers” — slick, wet spots that can cause a driver to lose control, especially when tire treads become worn.
But the track was drivable, and competitors can read it and weep: Kyle Busch ended a mini slump, winning going away.
Who could be surprised that Busch took the last Auto Club 400 even though he is coming off a down season in which he won only one Cup Series race? It was his fifth Auto Club victory, including his first Cup Series win in 2005 and his 200th overall win in 2019.
It also was his first win in just his third race with Richard Childress Racing after 15 years with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“That all makes it memorable,” Busch said. “I love California and this speedway has always great to me. The fans here have been great.”
The win enabled him to reach other milestones. It marked the 19th season in a row that he has won a Cup Series race, one year longer than that of previous record-holder Richard Petty. It also was the 95th Cup Series victory for brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, breaking the record held by Bobby and Donnie Allison.
Kurt Busch greeted Kyle with a hug in victory lane.
From Thuc Nhi Nguyen: With a subtle shrug, Kelly Inouye-Perez summed it up the best she could.
“Well,” the UCLA softball coach said after the top-ranked Bruins lost 14-0 to Oklahoma, “that sucked.”
There wasn’t much else to add after the marquee matchup at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic turned into a laugher.
The Bruins (17-1) mustered only three hits Sunday while the No. 2 Sooners (13-1) racked up six homers among 20 hits to hand UCLA its second consecutive mercy rule shutout loss in the head-to-head series. Last June, Oklahoma defeated the Bruins 15-0 in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series to end their season. UCLA has lost four of its last five games against the two-time defending national champion Sooners.
The teams were ranked first and second in the preseason, and UCLA, which racked up three wins against ranked teams during the Clearwater Invitational two weeks ago, jumped into the top spot when Oklahoma lost to Baylor on Feb. 19.
UCLA tallied three more ranked wins during the Mary Nutter Classic, highlighted by Megan Faraimo’s five-inning no-hitter against No. 3 Florida on Thursday, which built the anticipation for Sunday’s tournament finale. MLB Network planned to broadcast the game on tape delay, making it the first college softball game on the network. It drew a packed crowd that stood a dozen rows deep on both foul lines and around the outfield.
From the Associated Press: Mika Zibanejad briefly left Sunday’s game with an injury and the New York Rangers’ roster issues became even more problematic.
However, Zibanejad returned later and scored a goal to help the Rangers end a four-game skid with a 5-2 win over the Kings.
The team’s No. 1 center left late in the second period after blocking Drew Doughty’s shot on a power play. Zibanejad returned for the start of the third period.
Vincent Trocheck had two goals and an assist, Artemi Panarin had a goal and an assist, Alexis Lafreniere also scored and Adam Fox had two assists for New York. Igor Shesterkin made 26 saves.
THIS DATE IN SPORTS
1918 — The first neutral site game in NHL history is held in Quebec City. Frank Nighbor scores twice in the first period to lead the Ottawa Senators to a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
1955 — Boston beats Milwaukee 62-57 at Providence, R.I. in a game which set records for fewest points scored by one team, and by both teams, since the introduction of the 24-second clock.
1959 — The Boston Celtics beat the Minneapolis Lakers 173-139 as seven NBA records fall. The Celtics set records for most points (179), most points in a half (90), most points in a quarter (52) and most field goals (72). Boston’s Tom Heinsohn leads all scorers with 43 points and Bob Cousy adds 31 while setting an NBA record with 28 assists.
1966 — Richard Petty wins the rain-shortened Daytona 500 by more than a lap at a speed of 160.927 mph. Petty holds the lead for the last 212 miles of the scheduled 500-mile event, which is called five miles from the finish. Cale Yarborough finishes second.
1977 — Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks scores his 500th goal in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
1982 — Florida apprentice Mary Russ becomes the first female jockey to win a Grade I stakes in North America when she captures the Widener Handicap aboard Lord Darnley at Hialeah (Fla.) Park.
1992 — Prairie View sets an NCAA Division I record for most defeats in a season with a 112-79 loss to Mississippi Valley State in the first round of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament. Prairie View’s 0-28 mark breaks the record of 27 losses shared by four teams.
1994 — Sweden wins its first hockey gold medal, defeating Canada 3-2 in the first shootout for a championship at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Canada is 1:49 away from its first championship in 42 years when Magnus Svensson’s power-play goal ties it at 2. Paul Kariya’s shot is stopped by Sweden’s Tommy Salo after Peter Forsberg puts Sweden ahead on his team’s seventh shot.
1998 — Indiana’s 124-59 victory over Portland marks the first time in the NBA’s 51-year history that one team scores more than twice as many points as the other.
2005 — David Toms delivers the most dominant performance in the seven-year history of the Match Play Championship, winning eight out of nine holes to put away Chris DiMarco with the largest margin of victory in the 36-hole final. The score 6 and 5, could have been much worse as Toms was 9 up at one point.
2006 — Effa Manley is the first woman elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. The former Newark Eagles co-owner is among 17 people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues chosen by a special committee.
2010 — Steven Holcomb drives USA-1 to the Olympic gold medal in four-man bobsledding, ending a 62-year drought for the Americans in the event. Holcomb’s four-run time was 3:24.46, with Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz pushing for him.
2015 — Travis Kvapil’s NASCAR Sprint Cup car is stolen early in the day from a hotel parking lot, forcing him to withdraw from a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The team didn’t have a backup car in Atlanta, so it’s forced to drop out when the stolen machine couldn’t be located in time for NASCAR’s mandatory inspection.
Compiled by the Associated Press
Paul George nearly won it for the Clippers on Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets, but his impressive shot from beyond half-court was a fraction of a second too late. Check it out here.
Until next time...
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