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The Sports Report: Lakers fall to the lowly Rockets

Austin Reaves attempts to drive around Tari Eason during the second half.
Austin Reaves attempts to drive around Tari Eason during the second half.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

From Broderick Turner: At the end of the Lakers’ bench sat Anthony Davis and LeBron James, both of them dressed in their gear, both unable to help their teammates because of injuries.

Davis didn’t play because the Lakers held him out of the back-to-back game to keep his right foot stress injury from flaring up and James was out with right foot soreness.

So, it was left up to D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Austin Reaves and the rest of the group to carry on for the Lakers against a Houston Rockets team with the second-worst record in the NBA.

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Still, the Rockets posed a threat for the Lakers because they had just defeated the Boston Celtics in their previous game and this young Houston team has a bunch of athletic and skilled players looking to make things difficult for teams either in the playoffs or fighting for play-in seeding.

The Lakers found this to be true after losing to the Rockets 114-110 Wednesday night at Toyota Center.

Without Davis’ defensive presence inside, the Rockets feasted in the paint.

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NBA PLAYOFF STANDINGS
Western Conference

First six qualify for playoffs. Nos. 7-10 compete in play-in tournament to determine final two spots.

1. Denver Nuggets, 46-23, —

2. Sacramento Kings, 41-27, 4.5 GB

3. Memphis Grizzlies, 41-27, 4.5 GB

4. Phoenix Suns, 37-32, 9 GB

5. Clippers, 37-33, 9.5 GB

6. Golden State Warriors, 36-34, 10.5 GB

7. Minnesota Timberwolves, 35-35, 11.5 GB

8. Dallas Mavericks, 35-35, 11.5 GB

9. Oklahoma City Thunder, 34-35, 12 GB

10. Lakers, 34-36, 12.5 GB

11. Utah Jazz, 33-36, 13 GB

12. New Orleans Pelicans, 33-36, 13 GB

13. Portland Trail Blazers, 31-38, 15 GB

14. e-San Antonio Spurs, 18-51, 28 GB

15. e-Houston Rockets, 17-52, 29 GB

e-eliminated from playoff contention

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CLIPPERS

From Andrew Greif: Nine years ago, headlined by Chris Paul at point guard, the Lob City-era Clippers were ascendant. Even fallout from former owner Donald Sterling’s suspension on the eve of the postseason not enough to stop them from winning a first-round series against Curry and Golden State.

But while the Clippers never get over the postseason hump, Golden State has summited the NBA’s mountaintop four times since. The 2014 series between Paul and the Clippers and Curry’s Warriors remains the last seven-game series lost by the Warriors to a Western Conference opponent. Even amid a Jekyll and Hyde 2023 season in which the Warriors are 29-7 at home and entered Wednesday 7-26 on the road, and even with Andrew Wiggins away from the team for nearly two months for undisclosed private matters, the Warriors remain the standard against which all West challengers are measured, a video game’s final boss lurking behind Curry’s ever-present potential for an offensive eruption.

And so the franchises’ meeting Wednesday at Crypto.com Arena represented a psychic test. It was also, more importantly, a pragmatic one.

With the teams entering with identical records and the Clippers needing a win to keep hopes alive of claiming a tiebreaker, Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole arrived as the perfect stress test to gauge whether the Clippers, and the improved defense that underpinned their three-game winning streak, were for real.

They answered with a 134-126 victory, a fourth-straight win in which they remained calm amid Curry’s one-man offensive show. He finished with 50 points while making 20 of his 28 shots, including eight three-pointers in vain. The win separated the Clippers (37-33) and Warriors (36-34) in the standings and displayed yet again the positive returns from a closing lineup pairing Eric Gordon (16 points) and Terance Mann (17 points) alongside starters Ivica Zubac (19 points, 16 rebounds), Kawhi Leonard (30 points) and Paul George (24 points, seven assists).

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UCLA BASKETBALL

From Ben Bolch: To sit or not to sit, that remains the question facing Adem Bona.

Should UCLA’s freshman center fight through left-shoulder soreness to play in the Bruins’ NCAA tournament opener against massive underdog North Carolina Asheville on Thursday at the Golden 1 Center or rest in hopes of being closer to full strength in a tougher matchup?

Bona’s level of soreness and ability to contribute are the factors that will determine whether he plays against the Bulldogs, UCLA coach Mick Cronin said Wednesday.

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NCAA tournament bracket picks: J. Brady McCollough’s prediction for every game

USC BASKETBALL

From Ryan Kartje: Four months ago, long before his Trojans would secure a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament, Andy Enfield walked off the court following USC’s home opener, worried about what he’d just seen.

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You couldn’t have drawn up a more disastrous start for USC. A 13-point defeat at the hands of Florida Gulf Coast, Enfield’s former team, called everything about the upcoming season, his 10th as coach, into question. The new, four-guard approach fell flat. A new, youthful rotation looked lost. The two senior captains struggled. In his postgame media session, Enfield lamented their lack of preparation.

“We were not a very good team,” the coach admitted this week, looking back on the season’s start. “We could’ve played anyone that night and lost. So we were a little nervous.”

To think, by March, those same Trojans barely resemble the group that was trounced on opening night by Florida Gulf Coast, a team that ultimately finished ninth in the Atlantic Sun Conference. USC lost just one game at Galen Center the rest of the season. The Trojans won 22 total, a mark reached for the sixth time in seven years. And it sneaked into the NCAA tournament for the fifth time under Enfield, the most trips ever by a Trojans coach.

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Men’s tournament schedule
All times Pacific
(First Four in Dayton, Ohio.)
Wednesday’s results
No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 84, No. 16 Texas Southern 61

No. 11 Arizona State 98, No. 11 Nevada 73

Today (Round of 64)
South Regional
No. 8 Maryland vs. No. 9 West Virginia, 9 a.m., CBS

No. 4 Virginia vs. No. 13 Furman, 9:30 a.m., truTV

No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Utah St., 10:20 a.m., TNT

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Texas A&M CC, 11:30 a.m., CBS

No. 5 San Diego State vs. No. 12 Charleston, noon, truTV

No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Princeton, 12:50 p.m., TNT

West Regional
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Howard, 10:50 a.m., TBS

No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 9 Illinois, 1:20 p.m., TBS

No. 7 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Boise St., 4:25 p.m., truTV

No. 2 UCLA vs. No. 15 UNC Asheville, 6:55 p.m., truTV

Midwest Regional
No. 8 Iowa vs. No. 9 Auburn, 3:45 p.m., TNT

No. 2 Texas vs. No. 15 Colgate, 4:15 p.m., TBS

No. 1 Houston vs. No. 16 Northern Kentucky, 6:15 p.m., TNT

No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Penn State, 6:45 p.m., TBS

East Regional
No. 5 Duke vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts, 4 p.m., CBS

No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Louisiana, 6:30 p.m., CBS

Friday (Round of 64)

East Regional
No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 USC, 9 a.m., CBS

No. 2 Marquette vs. No. 15 Vermont, 11:30 a.m., CBS

No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson, 3:45 p.m., TNT

No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Providence, 4 p.m., CBS

No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic, 6:15 p.m., TNT

No. 3 Kansas St. vs. No. 14 Montana St., 6:30 p.m., CBS

Midwest Regional
No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Kennesaw St., 9:30 a.m., truTV

No. 6 Iowa State vs. No. 11 Pitt, noon, truTV

No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 Drake, 4:15 p.m , TBS

No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State, 6:45 p.m., TBS

South Regional
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 14 UC Santa Barbara, 10:20 a.m., TNT

No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 N.C. State, 12:50 p.m., TNT

West Regional
No. 5 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 12 VCU, 10:50 a.m., TBS

No. 4 UConn vs. No. 13 Iona, 1:20 p.m., TBS

No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 14 Grand Canyon, 4:25 p.m., truTV

No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Arizona St., 6:55 p.m., truTV

Women’s tournament
Schedule
All times Pacific
First Four
Wednesday’s results

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No. 11 Mississippi State 70, No. 11 Illinois 56

No. 16 Sacred Heart 57, No. 16 Southern 47

Today
No. 11 St. John’s vs. No. 11 Purdue, 4 p.m., ESPN2

No. 16 Monmouth vs. No. 16 Tennessee Tech, 6 p.m., ESPN2

First round
Friday
Regional (Greenville 1)

No. 8 South Florida vs. No. 9 Marquette, 8:30 a.m., ESPN2

No. 7 Arizona vs. No. 10 West Virginia, 9 a.m., ESPN

No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 16 Norfolk State, 11 a.m., ESPN

No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 15 Holy Cross, 11:30 a.m., ESPNEWS

No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 Southern Utah, 12:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Miss. St., 3 p.m., ESPNEWS

Regional (Greenville 2)
No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 UNLV, noon, ESPNU

No. 3 LSU vs. No. 14 Hawaii, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 2 Utah vs. No. 15 Gardner-Webb, 4:30 p.m., ESPNU

No. 7 N.C. State vs. No. 10 Princeton, 7 p.m., ESPN2

Regional (Seattle 1)
No. 1 Virginia Tech vs. No. 16 Chattanooga, 2:30 p.m., ESPNU

No. 8 USC vs. No. 9 South Dakota St., 5 p.m., ESPNEWS

Regional (Seattle 2)
No. 7 Florida State vs. No. 10 Georgia, 10:30 a.m., ESPN2

No. 2 Iowa vs. No. 15 SE Louisiana, 1 p.m., ESPN

No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 Sacred Heart, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 8 Ole Miss vs. No. 9 Gonzaga, 7 p.m., ESPNU

Saturday
Regional (Greenville 1)
No. 5 Oklahoma vs. No. 12 Portland, 6 p.m., ESPNU

No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Sacramento State, 8:30 p.m., ESPN2

Regional (Greenville 2)
No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 16 Tennessee Tech/Monmouth, 8:30 a.m., ESPN2

No. 8 Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 Miami, 11 a.m. ESPN

No. 5 Washington State vs. No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, 11:30 a.m., ESPNU

No. 4 Villanova vs. No. 13 Cleveland State, 2 p.m., ESPNU

Regional (Seattle 1)
No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Saint Louis, 10 a.m., ABC

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 14 James Madison, 10:30 a.m., ESPN2

No. 2 UConn vs. No. 15 Vermont, noon, ABC

No. 5 Iowa State vs. No. 12 Toledo, 12:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 6 North Carolina vs. No. 11 Purdue/St. John’s, 1 p.m., ESPN

No. 7 Baylor vs. No. 10 Alabama, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

Regional (Seattle 2)
No. 6 Colorado vs. No. 11 Middle Tennessee, 4 p.m., ESPNEWS

No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 12 Drake, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 14 Iona, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 4 Texas vs. No. 13 East Carolina, 7 p.m., ESPN

DODGERS

From Mike DiGiovanna: Freddie Freeman chose club over country Tuesday, the Dodgers first baseman pulling himself from Team Canada’s World Baseball Classic game against Colombia because of a mild right hamstring injury rather than playing through the pain, a decision that wasn’t as easy as it might have seemed.

“It was really tough,” Freeman said Wednesday after receiving three hours of treatment at Camelback Ranch. “I apologized to [Canada coach] Greg Hamilton. I feel like I let them down. He obviously reassured me that I didn’t, but that’s just the way I feel.”

Freeman, 33, chose to play for Canada, as he did in the 2017 WBC, to honor his late mother, Rosemary, who died of skin cancer when Freeman was 10. She was born and raised in Canada; he was raised in Southern California and starred at Orange El Modena High.

UCLA FOOTBALL

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 April 27 draft. This week, Mafi discusses the importance of a good showing at the Bruins’ pro day.

It was a bummer not getting invited to the NFL combine, but that’s OK.

I’m going to make UCLA’s pro day on Wednesday my own combine. I feel like I’m ready to show the scouts what I can do.

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Since the season ended in late December, I’ve been training for this moment. I spent a few months in Florida before recently coming back to Westwood in preparation to display all the ways I’ve improved.

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Hernández: Switch positions? Why scouts prefer to watch UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson throw

CHARGERS

From Jeff Miller: The Chargers retained a key piece of their defensive front Wednesday when they agreed to terms with Morgan Fox.

The deal was announced on social media by Fox’s representatives.

A six-year veteran, Fox started 12 times and appeared in all 17 games last season, helping the team cope with injuries, most notably to starting defensive tackle Austin Johnson.

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SOCCER

From Kevin Baxter: Gio Reyna may be the future of U.S. Soccer. So even though the present hasn’t been particularly kind to the talented winger, coach Anthony Hudson said he had no problems including Reyna on the 24-man roster he called up Wednesday for this month’s Nations League matches with Grenada and El Salvador.

“I never felt any sort of resistance to him coming back,” Hudson said. “He’s a young guy who has been through a lot. But he seems to be in a good place in the sense that I see that he is firmly focused on soccer. He’s determined to come in and do well.”

Reyna has been at the center of a three-month soap opera that has engulfed and embarrassed U.S. Soccer, one that began when Reyna was nearly sent home from last fall’s World Cup in Qatar because a lack of effort during training. Reyna’s parents were so upset with their son’s treatment, they complained to U.S. Soccer officials and threatened to leak personal information about then-coach Gregg Berhalter in an effort to “take him down,” according to a report the federation commissioned.

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————

From Kevin Baxter: It’s better to be lucky than good. But what if you can be both?

There’s no question LAFC is good. The team won everything there was to win in MLS last season, then opened this season with three straight victories in which it scored 10 times.

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Now good fortune appears to be smiling on the team as well, with LAFC advancing to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League despite Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Costa Rican club Alajuelense at BMO Stadium.

The CCL is played in two-leg home-and-away series with the combined score determining the winner. LAFC won the first leg 3-0 last week in Costa Rica, so Wednesday’s loss wasn’t enough to keep it from moving on since it won 4-2 in the aggregate.

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DUCKS

Kyle Palmieri had a career-high four points with a goal and three assists, Brock Nelson scored two goals and linemate Pierre Engvall also scored in the New York Islanders’ 6-3 victory over the Ducks. Nelson scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period and added another in the third to secure his second straight 30-goal season for the Islanders, who snapped a two-game skid. Engvall matched his career high with his 15th goal by scoring in his third consecutive game. The 32-year-old Palmieri scored four points for the first time in his 724-game NHL career, which began in Anaheim.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1938 — Temple defeats Colorado 60-36 in the first National Invitation Tournament and the first major postseason basketball tournament.

1947 — Billy Taylor of the Detroit Red Wings sets an NHL record with seven assists in a 10-6 triumph over the Chicago Black Hawks.

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1955 — NHL President Clarence Campbell suspends Maurice “Rocket” Richard for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs after striking linesman Cliff Thompson during a melee in a game against the Boston Bruins.

1961 — Montreal’s Bernie Geoffrion becomes the second player to score 50 goals in a season in a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maurice Richard was the first to do it, in 1945.

1971 — Goaltender Glenn Hall gets his 407th and final NHL victory as the St. Louis Blues post a 6-2 win against the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

1990 — Philip Hutcheson of David Lipscomb University hits a running 5-foot hook shot in the NAIA Tournament to become the all-time scoring champion of college basketball. The 6-foot-8 Hutcheson, who scored in double figures in every college game he played, breaks the record of 4,045 set in 1969-72 by Travis Grant of Kentucky State.

2005 — Norway’s Robert Sorlie wins his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in one of the closest races in years. Sorlie completes the 1,100-mile race across Alaska in nine days, 18 hours, 39 minutes and 31 seconds. He’s still in the winner’s circle when Ed Iten of Kotzebue crossed the line 34 minutes later.

2007 — Kobe Bryant scores 33 of his 65 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Lakers to a 116-111 win over Portland.

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2008 — Denver sets NBA season highs for points in a half with 84 and points in a game with a 168-116 rout of the Seattle SuperSonics.

2010 — Lance Mackey wins the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to become the first musher in the event’s 38-year history to win four consecutive races.

2012 — Kyle O’Quinn has 26 points and 14 rebounds to help No. 15 seed Norfolk State stun second-seeded Missouri 86-84 in the West Regional of the men’s NCAA tournament. C.J. McCollum scores 30 points and Lehigh upsets Duke 75-70 in the South Regional to become the second No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 during a wild day in the NCAA tournament.

2013 — Mikaela Shiffrin delivers an astonishing second run to overtake Tina Maze and clinch the World Cup slalom title with an improbable come-from behind victory at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The American teenager trailing Maze by a massive 1.17 seconds after the first leg, finishes ahead of the Slovenian in the second run to win the slalom title in her first full season on the circuit.

2013 — Ted Ligety caps his dominant season in giant slalom with a sixth World Cup win at Lenzerheide, Switzerland. The American skier joins Ingemar Stenmark as the only men in the 47-year World Cup history to get six GS victories in a season. Stenmark’s 10-race sweep in 1978-79 is the record.

2018 — Senior guard Jairus Lyles scores 28 points and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County pulls off the most shocking upset in NCAA Tournament history, defeating Virginia 75-54 to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in men’s basketball. Virginia enters the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after going 31-2 this season, including 20-1 in ACC competition.

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2020 — Major League Baseball suspends remainder of Spring Training and delays start of regular season in response to COVID-19 pandemic; return dependent on recommendations by Centers for Disease Control

—Compiled by the Associated Press

And finally

Kobe Bryant scores 65 points (35 in the fourth quarter) against Portland. 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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