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The Sports Report: Revamped starting lineup lifts Lakers to victory

Howdy everyone, and welcome to the Wednesday edition of the Los Angeles Times daily sports newsletter. My name is Houston Mitchell and I’m your host for the festivities.

Let’s get to it.

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Lakers

The struggling Lakers unveiled their new starting lineup Tuesday night, and it paid off in a 107-100 victory over the Chicago Bulls. Tyson Chandler and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were in the starting lineup, with JaVale McGee and Josh Hart hitting the bench.

The worst part was the Bulls making two free throws with 1.3 seconds left to rob the Staples Center crowd of free tacos.

Lonzo Ball has 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Brandon Ingram had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Perhaps this will stop Lakers fans for calling for coach Luke Walton to be fired.

If you do think Walton should be fired, Bill Plaschke vehemently disagrees with you.

As Plaschke writes: “When looking at the reason for this awful group that would be in the lottery without [LeBron] James, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka need to look no further than themselves.

“This is their creation. These are their guys. Some, they drafted high. Others, they have protected in potential trades. Still others, they signed last summer knowing full well they were eccentric veterans whose personalities would not change.

“This is their group, and if this group continues to be a bust, then Johnson and Pelinka must absorb the brunt of that failure.

“This was their idea of how to build a playoff team for Year One of The LeBron James Era, and if this team can’t survive any sort of James absence, that’s on Johnson and Pelinka.

So, be sure and go read Bill’s column.

Meanwhile, the Lakers got some good news Tuesday when LeBron James participated with his teammates at a shootaround Tuesday morning.

“He didn’t do the up-and-down stuff,” Walton said. “He did the half-court shooting and passing.”

The next update on James’ return from his groin injury will be today. Lakers fans will keep their fingers crossed.

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By the way, at the shootaround, James defeated the rest of the Lakers 102-16. OK, that may not be true.

Rams-Saints

Saints receiver Michael Thomas led the league with 125 catches this season, something that should make Rams fans nervous.

Making it hard to root against Thomas: He played at Taft High in Woodland Hills and is the nephew of former USC and NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Making it easier to root against him: Thomas caught 12 passes for a club-record 211 yards in the Saints’ 45-35 against the Rams during the season.

But don’t get overconfident Saints fans. When Thomas did that, the Rams didn’t have standout cornerback Aqib Talib.

“Talib is going to challenge him,” former All-Pro receiver Steve Smith told Sam Farmer. “I believe that Michael’s not going to back down, but it’s also a first for Mike. He’s a young kid. Talib is a savvy vet, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what impression he wants to make. He’s not out there to make friends. Mike isn’t out there to make friends, either.”

To read more on this matchup, click here for Farmer’s entire story.

Chargers

Are you worried that the Chargers will rest on their laurels after reaching the divisional playoff round this season? That perhaps, knowing they will be moving to a new stadium in two seasons, that the Chargers may not go all out next season? Rest easy.

“We won’t be complacent, I can tell you that,” coach Anthony Lynn said Tuesday. “We had a good year … but after that butt kicking Sunday, no one will be complacent. Everyone will be looking for ways to get better.”

Among the questions for the team: Will they be able to retain all their assistant coaches? Will they be able to retain free-agent receiver Tyrell Williams, who finished the season with 41 catches for 653 yards and five touchdowns?

And what about free agent Adrian Phillips, who was a key man on defense?

Jeff Miller looks at all this and more right here.

Vote in our poll!

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. A random voter will win a free subscription to the newsletter!

For the Rams-Saints poll, click here.

For the Patriots-Chiefs poll, click here.

Soccer newsletter

The latest edition of our soccer newsletter, written by Kevin Baxter, was emailed to subscribers on Tuesday and features an interview with Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget, who will miss the opening of his club’s first training camp next week under its new coach, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, because Lletget will be training with the U.S. men’s team.

But Lletget is still excited about the hire, even though he has never met the new coach.

“A fellow Argentine,” said Lletget, who was born in San Francisco to Argentine parents. “That’s another thing I’m obviously excited about. I’ve only heard good things.”

Baxter tells you why that last part isn’t exactly true.

To subscribe to our soccer newsletter, click here.

Boxing/MMA newsletter

Also emailed to subscribers Tuesday was the Boxing/MMA newsletter, written by Lance Pugmire.

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This week, Pugmire talks to T.J. Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo and explains why their UFC flyweight title match on Saturday is so important.

Dillashaw sees his move down in weight to pursue Cejudo’s flyweight belt as a legacy-sealing event.

Cejudo is also piling pressure upon his first defense, contending that he needs to win to preserve the 125-pound division from elimination.

“The flyweight division will remain, and this is why I like the fight with T.J. Dillashaw, because he’s going to be my example — my example to them after they’ve been thinking the flyweight division is boring,” Cejudo said in reference to UFC leadership and fans who yawned at the dominant reign of former champion Demetrious Johnson.

To read Dillashaw’s response, click here.

To sign up for our weekly boxing/MMA newsletter, click here.

Eli Grba dies

Eli Grba, the first player in Angels history, died Monday night in Florence, Ala. He was 84.

Grba was the first player drafted by the Angels in the expansion draft on Dec. 14, 1960. He had been with the Yankees.

“I’m a trivia question until I die,” Grba said in a 2011 television interview. “I’m the first guy that’s ever been drafted — and the first Angel. You know, that’s kind of nice.”

Grba went 20-24 with a 4.40 ERA in his three seasons with the Angels.

Kings

The Kings continued their rapid descent into oblivion with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Jonathan Quick made 40 saves and helped the Kings kill a penalty in overtime before the Wild got the only goal in the shootout.

Ducks

Anaheim, which is making the Kings look like the best team in hockey lately, lost its 12th straight game with a 3-1 loss to Detroit.

Up next for the Ducks: the Washington Generals, losers of a million in a row to the Harlem Globetrotters. Someone must win!

UCLA football

Fans of the Bruins football team got some good news when running back Joshua Kelley said that he will return to the team next season instead of entering his name into the NFL draft.

OK, Kelley didn’t actually say it, his mom, Jacqueline, did. But if you can’t believe a mom, who can you believe? I mean, just because my mom kept telling me she got me out of a Sears catalog doesn’t mean every mom lies.

Kelley ran for 1,243 yards last season. His 113 yards rushing per game ranked fourth in the Pac-12 Conference and eighth in major college football.

Bad news

Former Dodgers pitcher John Wetteland, who gained greater fame as a World Series MVP and closer with the New York Yankees before Mariano Rivera, has been charged in Texas with continuous sex abuse of a child under age 14.

Denton County jail records show the 52-year-old Wetteland was arrested Monday and freed on $25,000 bond.

According to a consolidated complaint and probable cause affidavit, Wetteland is accused of having a child perform a sex act on him, beginning in 2004 when the child was 4, and that it happened twice more during a two-year period.

Wetteland was the MVP of the 1996 World Series and is also a member of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

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. But make sure you let me know which sportswriter you want answering the question.

And finally

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email me here. If you want to subscribe, click here.

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