Howdy everyone, and welcome to the new and, hopefully, improved Los Angeles Times daily sports newsletter. We’ll still be coming to you seven days a week, but instead of letting a computer pick the stories and write soulless, drab, boring copy to go with those stories, we instead will have an actual human being pick the stories and write soulless, drab, boring copy. My name is Houston Mitchell, writer of the award-winning Dodgers Dugout newsletter (note: award was given to me by my mom for finally accomplishing something with my life). I’ll be your host for the newsletter (please stop booing), and I hope to make it a bit more reader interactive as the days go by.
Let’s get to it.
The Chargers must have had transportation problems getting to the stadium on Sunday, because they failed to show up in the first half of a 41-28 loss to New England that wasn’t as close as the final score. The Patriots led 35-7 at halftime, turning the second half into an extended version of garbage time. Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, a master of understatement, said, “I was in shock. I didn’t know what was going on. It just felt like, I don’t know, we couldn’t do anything right. Bad day.”
He continued: “Once it got to 35-7, I was like, ‘We’re playing the Patriots now,’ ” Allen said. “You gotta get real at some point. We’re playing the Patriots. This ain’t nobody else.”
It took until 35-7 to realize you were playing the Patriots? That explains a lot.
The Chargers had adopted “Any Squad, Any Place” as their motto of fearlessness for the season. The new motto is “Any Squad, Any Place. Unless it’s the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Then we give up.”
Other Chargers stories
The New Orleans Saints defeated the defending Super Bowl champ Philadelphia Eagles, 20-14, to advance to the NFC title game, where they will host the Rams next Sunday at noon on Fox.
That means the conference championship will be a rematch of teams that met in Week 9, with the Saints beating the Rams, 45-35, also in New Orleans.
“I think that we match up really well,” Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said of the Saints. “The last time we played them, it came down to a game of just running out of time.
“At the end of the day, I think we’ll have a better plan against them the second go-round, and you’ve got to be excited to be able to go back there and get another chance at those guys again.”
You can take a first look at the Rams-Saints matchup by clicking here.
So, it will be Rams-Saints for the NFC title and Patriots-Chiefs for the AFC title. Who do you think will win those games? Vote in our polls and the results will be revealed at the end of the week.
For the Rams-Saints poll, click here.
For the Patriots-Chiefs poll, click here.
Brady the underdog
The betting odds for the game against the Chiefs are out, and the Patriots are three-point underdogs. This ends at 67 a streak of consecutive starts (regular season and playoffs) by Tom Brady where his team was favored. The last time Brady wasn't the favorite was Sept. 20, 2015, at Buffalo, when the Patriots were two-point underdogs. New England won 40-32.
Speaking of slumping local teams, the Lakers played the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. The same Cavaliers who were 8-35 coming into the game. The Lakers lost, 101-95. Or as a friend of mine put it on Twitter: “The worst team in the NBA played Sunday night at Staples Center. So did the Cleveland Cavaliers.”
Things aren’t quite that bad, but the Lakers are 3-7 since LeBron James was injured and are tied with Utah for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Fans took to social media after the game to criticize coach Luke Walton. But you can’t put everything at his feet. The Lakers are without James and Rajon Rondo, two key pieces of the team.
But we are still a long way from the days when the Lakers were considered one of the favorites to win the NBA title every year.As recently as Christmas Day, the Lakers routed the Golden State Warriors and people were beginning to wonder if they could surprise some people in the playoffs. Turns out it wasn’t gold in their stockings, it was a lump of coal painted gold.
Also check out:
High school basketball
One thing that often gets overlooked in the discussion of the impending strike by the LAUSD teachers’ strike set to begin today is how the strike will impact high school sports.
High school sports reporter and columnist Eric Sondheimer takes a look at that by using the upcoming Fairfax-Westchester game as an example.
The strike will halt the sports seasons for thousands of City Section athletes, boys and girls. No practices or games will be allowed. Playoffs and championship competitions in basketball, soccer and wrestling are in jeopardy, and an extended strike would also affect spring sports. The City Section would likely have to revise its playoff schedule, since the regular season ends Feb. 1 and league games will be missed this week. Athletes will be on their own trying to stay in shape at parks and fitness centers.
As Sondheimer writes, “There are more important issues involved with the strike than sports, but this strike could be very unpredictable. The last one 30 years ago lasted nine days. This one, in the era of social media, could have students capturing scenes on their cellphones that affect the PR war both sides will be waging.”
After winning the first three games of the Murry Bartow era, the Bruins got a dose of reality Sunday when they lost to Oregon State, 79-66. Bartow seemed pretty unhappy with the team in the second half, becoming very animated in timeout huddles more than once.
Kris Wilkes had 21 points and Prince Ali had 13 points for the Bruins, who lost their first Pac-12 game and are now 3-1 under Bartow.
USC basketball (Kevin Porter Jr. suspended indefinitely)
What seemed so promising turned out to be a disastrous time in Oregon for the USC men’s basketball team. On Thursday, Kevin Porter Jr. made his return from injury, but USC lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Oregon State. On Sunday, the Trojans played Oregon, only without Porter, who has been suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed “conduct issue.” The Ducks defeated the Trojans, 81-60, and afterward USC coach Andy Enfield has some bad news about Porter.
“We’ll reevaluate his future with the program this week,” Enfield said, which sounds ominous. “It’s very disappointing. We need all our players to be healthy and available. We have a short roster as it is. The last thing you want to do as a head coach is suspend any of your players, but when there’s conduct issues, we have no choice.”
It’s just more bad news in an increasingly lost season for USC. You can read more about it in J. Brady McCollough’s excellent story here.
The Ducks, who are collapsing faster than a souffle at a rock concert, lost their 11th-consecutive game Sunday. They went to overtime in this one before losing to Winnipeg, 4-3. And the downward spiral appears to be getting to Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, who was in a bad mood after the Ducks had lost their 10th straight game, according to our own Mike Coppinger:
Sounds like somebody needs a hug.
Ask a Times sportswriter
A new feature of this newsletter will be you, the loyal subscriber, being able to ask any Times sports reporter a question. Just click here to send me an email. Include in the email who you want to ask a question of and what your question is. I’ll pass it on and it will be answered in a future newsletter. Ever wanted to ask Bill Plaschke a question? Want to ask Tania Ganguli a question about the Lakers? Have a question for Sam Farmer about the NFL? Click here and ask away.