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The Sports Report: L.A.’s overlooked NBA team clinches the playoffs

Lou Williams
Lou Williams
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Howdy everyone, my name is Houston Mitchell, proprietor of this here newsletter. Let’s get right to the news.

Clippers

The Clippers, overlooked by many (including this newsletter) caught in the LeBron James hoopla this season, clinched a playoff spot with a 122-111 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

“Cause Doc [Rivers] gave me a bottle of champagne,” Danilo Gallinari, who 25 points and 10 rebounds, said when asked why he smelled like champagne. “And being from Italy, I’m very good on how to handle those bottles. So he knew I was going to be good at handling those bottles and I just poured champagne all over the locker room all over my teammates. It feels amazing, especially the last sip I was able to chug it down a little bit.”

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Most people didn’t expect the Clippers to make the playoffs this season, while most thought the Lakers would. Most were wrong. When the Clippers traded two of their best players, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, at the trade deadline, most thought the Clippers would sink after that and the Lakers would rise. Most were wrong again.

“We’ve got chips on our shoulders,” Patrick Beverley said. “Everybody counted us out. Whoa! We’re going to the playoffs. That’s wild.”

“We should be proud of ourselves. We put the work in,” Lou Williams said. “We shouldn’t shy away from that. We put the work in, put together a hell of a February, a hell of a March and we did what we were supposed to. We clinched tonight so we should be proud of that…Yeah, I’m going to get me some Tequila.”

With seven games left in the season, the Clippers can still get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

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Here are the Western Conference standing through Tuesday’s games. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

1. Golden State, 50-23, ---

2. Denver, 50-23, ---

3. Portland, 46-27, 4 GB

4. Houston, 47-28, 4 GB

5. Clippers, 45-30, 6 GB

6. Utah, 44-30, 6.5 GB

7. Oklahoma City, 43-31, 7.5 GB

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8. San Antonio, 43-32, 8 GB

9. Sacramento, 37-37, 13.5 GB

10. Minnesota, 33-41, 17.5 GB

11. Lakers, 33-41, 17.5 GB

12. New Orleans, 31-45, 20.5 GB

13. Memphis, 30-44, 20.5 GB

14. Dallas, 29-45, 21.5 GB

15. Phoenix, 17-58, 34 GB

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NFL

The NFL made a big rules change on Tuesday. We’ll let our NFL reporter, Sam Farmer, tell you all about it:

“The NFL took a big step forward with instant replay Tuesday, making pass interference reviewable even on plays in which a flag is not thrown.

“The rule change, in place for one season on a trial basis, evolved out of an officiating mistake in January’s NFC championship game between the Rams and New Orleans Saints. The play in question was a blatant pass interference by the Rams that wasn’t called, leaving the Saints feeling robbed of a chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Despite that play aiding his Rams, coach Sean McVay had said earlier in the day that he would be OK with such a rule change.

“Yeah, I think whatever we can do to continue to clean up the integrity of the game as far as not missing clear-cut things,” he said. “And I think the big thing that’s been about it, obviously we all know we’re talking about Nickell Robey[-Coleman’s] play against the Saints. That was a play that worked in our favor, but we’re not going to sit here and say when you go back and watch it that it wasn’t defensive pass interference.”

The competition committee also discussed a play in the Super Bowl, where the Rams’ Brandin Cooks was unable to hold on to a potential touchdown pass with 4:17 to go. The committee said the play should have been ruled pass interference, according to a person in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and the Rams would have been given a first down on the one-yard line.

The New England Patriots, who were leading 10-3, intercepted a Jared Goff pass on the next play.

“Anything that’s progressive in terms of just making sure that we officiate the game the way that it’s worded in the rule book and can stay within those frameworks is exactly what we all want as coaches,” McVay said.

Coaches still will get two challenges per game — one is restored if the first two are successful — and can contest a call at any time except after the two-minute warning of each half or in overtime, when the replay official takes control.

“Everybody wanted to get it right,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “There are just different ways of approaching that. Some people had to remove themselves from long-held views in understanding that the big picture was to get it right.”

Read more here.

Chargers

The Chargers shook off a slow start last season to advance to the playoffs where they lost in the second round to the New England Patriots. But coach Anthony Lynn says he could see some troubling signs at the end of the season, and has learned from that.

“When I looked at the last quarter of our season, do I think we were playing our best football?” Lynn said Tuesday. “No, I do not.”

So Lynn said he planned to manage the workload of the Chargers veterans more in 2019 in an attempt to keep everyone fresher.

“I think when veteran players are starting to show a little wear, it’s too late,” Lynn said. “I think we have to start resting guys a little sooner. We’ll see how it goes.”

Lynn said that quarterback Philip Rivers and center Mike Pouncey — as veterans and first-year teammates — talked him into practicing at times against his better judgment so they could continue working on their communication.

“That won’t be so easy this year,” Lynn promised.

March Madness

Blake Richardson takes a look at the UCLA women’s team:

“A day after beating Maryland, UCLA arrived in Albany, N.Y., where the team will spend the week preparing to face No. 2 Connecticut on Friday in a regional semifinal.

“I wonder where are all those people that thought UCLA wasn’t gonna be as good this year went,” Jordin Canada, a former UCLA point guard, wrote Monday in a tweet.

“The Bruins lost their top two scorers from last season when Canada and Monique Billings graduated and joined the WNBA. This season started with an identity crisis, coach Cori Close said, as the Bruins learned how to play to each other’s strengths.

“Our word for the year is expectant,” Close said Monday. “But sometimes I needed to look in their eyes to be expectant.”

“As the season stretched on, the Bruins grew more comfortable, and upsets against ranked teams like Oregon and Arizona State followed. Connecticut poses an even greater challenge. The Huskies (33-2) are making their 26th consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. But the Bruins (22-12) have overcome tough teams before.

“We had to look each other in the eye and say ‘We’ve got this. We’ve been in situations like this,’ ” senior Kennedy Burke said of their comeback win Monday over the host Terrapins. “And it showed.”

Read more here.

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A look at the Sweet 16 schedule for the men’s tournament:

Thursday’s Sweet 16 TV schedule

All Times Pacific

West Regional

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4 Florida State, 4 p.m., CBS

No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m., CBS

South Regional

No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 3 Purdue, 4:30 p.m., TBS

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 12 Oregon, 7 p.m., TBS

Friday’s Sweet 16 TV schedule

All Times Pacific

East Regional

No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 3 LSU, 4 p.m., CBS

No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech, 6:30 p.m., CBS

Midwest Regional

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 5 Auburn, 4:30 p.m., TBS

No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 3 Houston, 7 p.m., TBS

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Odds and Ends

Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura‘s confidence in a new language and a new game is growing…. Dodgers’ last roster spot earmarked for reliever who can go multiple innings…. Conor McGregor retires amid report of sexual assault accusation in Ireland…. Ballparks hoping Donut Burgers, 2-pound chicken tenders and Peanut Butter & Bacon sandwiches are hits…. Breakdancing competition comes to Hollywood this spring as Olympics push continues…. Angels acquire pitcher Chris Stratton from Giants, insert him into starting rotation…. Michael Avenatti not backing off accusations that Nike paid associates of prep players…. Mike Trout‘s contract doesn’t mean the end of cheap beer at Angels games…. Mexico tops Paraguay 4-2 before 50,317 in Santa Clara…. The Lakers defeat Washington, 124-106…. The Kings lose to Edmonton, 8-4…. The Ducks beat the Canucks, 5-4.

Today’s local major sports schedule (all times Pacific)

Lakers at Utah, 7:30 p.m., Spectrum Sportsnet, ESPN, 710 ESPN

Born on this date

1940: Race car driver Cale Yarborough

1958: Gymnast Bart Conner

1963: NBA player Ed Pinckney

1963: NFL player Randall Cunningham

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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