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The Sports Report: Meet the new and improved LeBron James

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day
LeBron James
(Getty Images)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

LAKERS

Bill Plaschke, on LeBron James: The man who once seemed blithely detached now sounds deeply engaged.

“I’m very motivated, but I’m right now not in the talking-about-it mode,” LeBron James said with a steely stare. “I’ve been very quiet this summer for a reason. My mother always told me, don’t talk about it, be about it, so that’s where I’m at.”

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The man who once scoffed at a question about proving himself to Lakers fans answered a similar query with a pledge.

“I think as a team and myself, we need to get the Lakers back to where they’re accustomed to over the years, so I’m excited about that,” he said.

Five months after quietly fleeing the Lakers’ locker room at the end of a tattered season, his commitment questioned, his durability in doubt, James appeared at Lakers media day Friday as a changed man.

He looked different, his giant body toned, his once-wandering expression filled with focus.

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“You can see in his demeanor a seriousness and a focus, you definitely can,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “Just in his presence … physically he looks like he really leaned up and locked in even more if that’s possible. … He just really seems locked in and serious, that’s the aura we’ve gotten so far.”

James also sounded different, not as defensive, not as disengaged, even openly embracing an organization that last season he treated like a stranger.

“I’m happy to be a Laker,” he said at the end of his 14-minute media session, and think about that.

He didn’t say he was happy to be in Los Angeles. He didn’t say he was happy to be part of Hollywood. He dropped the mic by saying he was happy to be a Laker, and when is the last time he ever said exactly that?

Maybe the early buzz is right. Maybe, at age 34 and faced with his last best chance at a championship, James really is approaching this season on a mission.

Read the rest of his column by clicking here.

Read more Lakers

Lakers will have one thing working in their favor early on — and applying pressure

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Lakers media day: What they told reporters

USC FOOTBALL

The shorthanded secondary’s surprise showing helped propel USC to an important 2-0 start in the Pac-12. But with an even taller task looming against Washington today, can an inexperienced group down two of its best defensive backs find a way ... again?

Over its first four games, USC’s defense has focused most of its attention on containing dual-threat quarterbacks. It hasn’t yet faced a passer with the level of arm talent it’ll see against No. 17 Washington and Jacob Eason.

“It’ll be our biggest test so far,” freshman cornerback Chris Steele said.

One made more difficult by the absence of Talanoa Hufanga, the Trojans’ standout sophomore safety. After recording double-digit tackles in five of his last six games, Hufanga will miss the game Saturday as he remains in concussion protocol.

Olaijah Griffin, who was carted off with back spasms last Friday against Utah, will also miss the game, leaving Steele in place for another start. USC will get back Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who sat out against Utah because he was in the concussion protocol.

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“[Eason] can make all the throws, if he doesn’t have that pressure in his face,” linebacker John Houston said. “We just have to give him tighter windows.”

Read more USC

USC vs. Washington: A look at how the teams match up

USC FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

All times Pacific. Radio: 790 KABC

USC 31, Fresno State 23

USC 45, Stanford 20

at BYU 30, USC 27 (OT)

at USC 30, Utah 23

Today at Washington, 12:30 p.m., Fox

Oct. 12 at Notre Dame, 4:30 p.m. NBC

Oct. 19 vs. Arizona, TBD

Oct. 25 at Colorado, 6 p.m., ESPN2

Nov. 2 vs. Oregon, TBD

Nov. 9 at Arizona State, TBD

Nov. 16 at California, TBD

Nov. 23 vs. UCLA, TBD

UCLA FOOTBALL

Did UCLA alter the trajectory of its season amid a gritty comeback last weekend or was it just a matter of everything aligning for one memorable night?

Some answers will be forthcoming Saturday night when the Bruins face Arizona while seeking their first 2-0 start in conference play since 2013.

Beat the Wildcats, and the Bruins can claim progress under coach Chip Kelly and entertain hopes of a winning season with games against hopeless Oregon State and struggling Stanford on the immediate horizon.

Lose, and the Bruins are essentially right back where they started.

“The mentality now is you don’t want to go back to that feeling of losing and stuff like that,” quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said, “and now we know what winning feels like and that joy, we definitely don’t want to go backward.”

Read more UCLA

UCLA-Arizona: A look at how the teams match up

UCLA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

All times Pacific. Radio: AM 1150

at Cincinnati 24, UCLA 14

San Diego State 23, at UCLA 14

Oklahoma 48, at UCLA 14

UCLA 67, at Washington State 63

Tonight at Arizona, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Oct. 5 vs. Oregon State, 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network

Oct. 17 at Stanford, 6 p.m., ESPN

Oct. 26 vs. Arizona State, TBD

Nov. 2 vs. Colorado, TBD

Nov. 16 at Utah, TBD

Nov. 23 at USC, TBD

Nov. 30 vs. California, TBD

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Sean Clifford threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns, ran for a score and carried No. 12 Penn State to yet another lopsided victory over Maryland, a 59-0 blowout Friday night that typified the one-sided nature of this regional series.

Penn State scored on its first four possessions, led 38-0 at halftime and finished with 619 yards in its Big Ten opener. After Jan Johnson got things started by ending Maryland’s first possession with an interception, Clifford cruised into the end zone from the 8 and the rout was on.

RAMS

Aaron Donald‘s kids made a request he is looking to fill, so watch out Buccaneers.

“They said they want five sacks,” Donald said, “so I got to get myself going.”

Donald recorded his first sack of the season in a victory over the Cleveland Browns last week. He intends to build on that Sunday when the unbeaten Rams play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Coliseum.

“When plays present themselves, I can’t miss ’em. I got to make ’em,” Donald said. “So it’s good to have one, but I’ve got to get myself going.

“I’m trying to produce a little bit more.”

Donald had 20 ½ sacks last season, the most by an interior lineman in NFL history.

The two-time NFL defensive player of the year faced double teams through most of the 2018 season, but opponents have taken that strategy to greater lengths this season.

“It’s going to eventually open me back up,” he said. “As long as somebody’s making the plays, and making ’em pay for it, we’re going to be fine.”

CHARGERS

Why did Melvin Gordon end his holdout? For the record, “One and two,” Gordon said Friday, referring to the team’s record.

“You don’t want to get into a big hole. You work the whole offseason to be in a good position to make the playoffs. I had to come back at some point. If I come back and our record is not what you expect, then all the work in the offseason would be for nothing.”

Gordon was happy the Chargers beat the Colts. He was more upset than he thought he’d be when the Chargers scored a total of three second-half points in losses to the Lions and Texans.

“It messed up my mood a bit,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘I wasn’t feeling this at all.’ These guys are my brothers. To see them sad, slamming their helmets, you kind of feel that.”

So, what does Gordon have to show for his holdout?

“Well, nothing came out of it, so I try not to think about it,” said Gordon, who is in line to become an unrestricted free agent after this season unless the Chargers put a franchise tag on him.

“Obviously, there is no contract, so it’s something I don’t want to speak on. All I can do is come out here and play ball and kind of let my skill … determine my future.”

DODGERS

Pitcher Dustin May is not guaranteed to make the postseason roster. At least that has been manager Dave Roberts’ stance. According to Roberts, competition for the final spots in the bullpen remains open.

But back-to-back appearances earlier this week against San Diego boosted the 21-year-old rookie’s resume and were a significant checkpoint beyond the results: It was the first time May, a starter his whole life until last month, pitched on back-to-back days in his career.

“It was important,” Roberts said. “Because … you’re going to have to, at some point, potentially go back to back.”

May’s success in San Diego was a 180 from his first two experiences as a reliever. In his first relief outing, he allowed a grand slam. In his second, he got one out and left the game after taking a line drive off his head.

In seven appearances since the scare, all as a reliever, May has tossed nine scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts to one walk. He said the difference stems from simply learning how to operate as a reliever with help from his peers and trial-and-error adjustments.

“Just coming in with your A-plus stuff out from the get-go,” May said. “I got to come in guns blazing.”

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Dodgers at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Houston at Angels, 6 p.m., FSW, AM 830

USC at Washington, 12:30 p.m., Fox, 790 KABC

UCLA at Arizona, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, AM 1150

BORN ON THIS DATE

1905: Boxer Max Schmeling (d. 2005)

1911: Tennis player Ellsworth Vines (d. 1994)

1913: Tennis player Alice Marble (d. 1990)

1919: NFL player/announcer Tom Harmon (d. 1990)

1954: NFL player Steve Largent

1959: Former Dodger Todd Worrell

1962: NFL player Irving Fryar

1967: NFL player Jake Reed

1977: Golfer Se-Ri Pak

1979: Skateboarder Bam Margera

1982: NBA player Emeka Okafor

1982: Former Kings and Ducks player Dustin Penner

1988: Tennis player Marin Cilic

DIED ON THIS DATE

2003: Tennis player Althea Gibson, 76

AND FINALLY

Top 10 hands of all time, No. 3: Steve Largent. Watch it here.

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


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