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The Sports Report: Kawhi Leonard leads Clippers past Magic

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Montrezl Harrell celebrates after scoring.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

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

If the Clippers are to indeed enjoy the moment and the process as Kawhi Leonard has suggested, the 6-7 forward is who they should follow while on this journey.

Leonard showed them the way again, dropping 32 points on Orlando to pull the Clippers along to a 122-95 victory over the Magic on Thursday night at Staples Center.

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It was the fourth consecutive game Leonard has scored at least 30 points in a game, the longest streak for a Clippers player since Elton Brand, who also produced four straight games with 30 or more points from Jan. 30, 2006 to Feb. 5, 2006.

In those last four games, Leonard, who was third in All-Star voting (2,973,076) for Western Conference frontcourt players after the NBA announced the results earlier Thursday afternoon, has 141 total points, for an average of 35.2 points per game.

”We look at ourselves as a work in progress,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But we don’t accept that like it’s status-quo. We accept that as we’re a work in progress and the work word is very important.”

Patrick Beverley played another tremendous all-around game. He didn’t miss any of his four shots and finished with 10 points. Beverley had six assists in the first quarter, tying his career-high for assists in a quarter.

His defense on Markelle Fultz was telling, because the Magic point guard was coming off a triple-double against the Lakers on Wednesday night when he had 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Beverley did his part to keep Fultz in check with 11 points on five-for-17 shooting.

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KINGS

Sam Montembeault came off the bench to help the Florida Panthers hang on for a win.

Brian Boyle scored the eventual winning goal and the Panthers held off a late surge to beat the Kings 4-3 on Thursday night to win their third straight game.

Montembeault made 23 saves for the Panthers after entering the game with 9:55 left in the first. Chris Driedger started in goal for the Panthers and made four saves before he injured his right leg.

Montembeault was recalled from Springfield of the AHL last Sunday, loaned back on Monday, and then recalled Wednesday.

Anze Kopitar had a goal and two assists. Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo also scored goals for the Kings. Jack Campbell stopped 22 shots in his third start in four games. The Kings have lost six of their last seven games, including a 4-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

“They swarmed. They held on to pucks in our zone. They made us make mistakes,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re professionals. We should be able to show up, but let’s get out of the sunshine, let’s get back to the cold weather.”

DUCKS

The Ducks have just two wins in 2020, both against the Nashville Predators.

Rickard Rakell had a goal and an assist, John Gibson made 33 saves and the Ducks beat Nashville 4-2 Thursday night.

Josh Manson, Adam Henrique and Derek Grant also scored for Anaheim, which snapped a four-game losing streak. Cam Fowler and Ryan Getzlaf each had two assists.

“It felt like we were all pulling in the same direction,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “There was no big mistake or lapse of reason or going into a hole for five or six minutes. We were steady and settled into what I thought was a really good road game.”

NFL

One Sunday. Two championship games. Four teams vying for a spot on the NFL’s biggest stage.

It’s Tennessee at Kansas City in the AFC, and Green Bay at San Francisco in the NFC.

And the league’s 100th season could end with a rematch of its first Super Bowl.

Fifty-three years after Green Bay played Kansas City at the Los Angeles Coliseum in the original Super Bowl, that could be the matchup again for Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

This matchup would be rich with history. The Super Bowl trophy is named after legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, and late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt coined the term “Super Bowl,” as a twist on the Super Ball toy. What’s more, the Hunt Trophy is awarded to the AFC champion.

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Joe Barry, the Rams’ linebackers coach for the last three seasons, turned down the opportunity to become USC’s defensive coordinator and signed a new contract to remain with the Rams.

Barry took himself out of consideration for the USC job after discussing the parameters of a contract with a school official.

NFL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

All times Pacific

Conference Championship

Sunday

Tennessee at Kansas City, Noon, CBS

Green Bay at San Francisco, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Super Bowl

Sunday Feb. 2

TBD vs. TBD, 3:30 p.m., FOX

USC FOOTBALL

The Trojans’ schedule in 2020, announced Thursday, will be a tough one.

USC will open the season in Arlington, Texas, against Alabama, arguably its most daunting challenge of the season. After that, the Trojans will face three other teams that finished last season ranked inside the top 15 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. Two of those games — against Oregon and Utah — will be away from the Coliseum.

USC will play six games at the Coliseum, beginning with New Mexico on Sept. 12 and wrapping the Saturday after Thanksgiving against Notre Dame. The Trojans will face Arizona State (Sept. 26), California (Oct. 10), Colorado (Oct. 31), and Washington (Nov. 14) in between.

But none of those Saturdays at the Coliseum will be consecutive. For the first time since 1969, USC will alternate between road and home games every week of the regular season.

2020 USC FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 5: vs. Alabama (at Arlington, Texas)

Sept. 12: New Mexico

Sept. 19: at Stanford

Sept. 26: Arizona State

Oct. 2: at Utah

Oct. 10: California

Oct. 17: at Arizona

Oct. 31: Colorado

Nov. 7: at Oregon

Nov. 14: Washington

Nov. 21: at UCLA

Nov. 28: Notre Dame

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Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns and defensive lineman Jay Tufele announced Thursday that they would return to USC for another season.

Vaughns, a junior who was third on the team in receptions (74) and yardage (912) during the Trojans’ 8-5 season in 2019, and Tufele, a redshirt sophomore, considered leaving school early to declare for the NFL draft.

UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA released a 2020 football schedule on Thursday that included one of its easiest nonconference schedules in years and three of its toughest Pac-12 Conference games at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA will open the season with an Aug. 29 game against New Mexico State at the Rose Bowl, marking the earliest start in program history and providing the Bruins with a chance to win their first nonconference game under coach Chip Kelly after an 0-6 mark in his first two seasons. The Aggies are coming off a 2-10 season and have posted one winning record in the last 17 years.

The Bruins then travel to face Hawaii on Sept. 5 and San Diego State on Sept. 19, hoping to capitalize on teams in transition with new coaches.

2020 UCLA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Aug. 29: New Mexico State

Sept. 5: at Hawaii

Sept. 19: at San Diego State

Sept. 26: Stanford

Oct. 3: Arizona

Oct. 10: at Arizona State

Oct. 17: at Colorado

Oct. 29: Utah

Nov. 7: at Oregon State

Nov. 14: Washington State

Nov. 21: USC

Nov. 27: at California

USC BASKETBALL

Jonah Mathews scored 19 points, Daniel Utomi added 17 and USC defeated California 88-56 on Thursday night for its eighth win in its last nine games.

Onyeka Okongwu had 12 points and eight rebounds for the Trojans (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12), who led for all but the first 101 seconds. USC made 14 three-pointers, with Utomi sinking four and Mathews three.

Matt Bradley led Cal with 13 points and Kareem South scored 12. The Golden Bears (8-9, 2-2 Pac-12) shot just 33.9% from the field as they had a two-game winning streak end.

GOLF

Phil Mickelson had no problem launching his tee shots into orbit Thursday in the opening round of the American Express golf tournament. Calculating where they were going to land was a bit more problematic.

Mickelson saved par or made birdie by getting up and down 10 times, including three times from bunkers at La Quinta Country Club, to stay alive in a tournament he won in 2002 and 2004. Despite managing to hit barely a third of the fairways, he fashioned a two-under-par 70 that, if not prominent on the leaderboard, at least hasn’t put him out of contention.

He is six shots off the lead, but in a tournament where birdies and even eagles are bought in bulk at bargain prices, that’s not an insurmountable deficit.

“I didn’t play great today but still had a decent score,” Mickelson, 49, said. “I feel like I’m ready to go on a tear.”

As is always the case in this tournament spread over the Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses at PGA West and nearby La Quinta Country Club, there was a robust roster of players who went on a tear in Round 1.

Zac Blair, looking for his first victory in his 130th PGA Tour event, and Grayson Murray, who has made the cut in only one of five events this season, each shot eight-under 64, Blair at La Quinta and Murray at the Stadium Course, which will be used for Sunday’s final round.

Rickie Fowler, making only his third start in this tournament and playing at La Quinta, is at seven under, along with Hank Lebioda (Nicklaus) and Scottie Scheffler (La Quinta), both of whom played bogey-free golf.

DAKAR RALLY

As the Dakar Rally enters its final stage in Saudi Arabia, two Southern Californians have a chance to make history in a grueling race that no American has ever won.

Casey Currie of Corona holds a 45-minute lead in the side-by-side vehicle class and Ricky Brabec of Hesperia has a 14-minute edge in the motorcycle category.

Both men have given themselves a shot at victory by taking a conservative approach on Thursday’s penultimate segment, which stretched through hundreds of miles of sand dunes.

“We didn’t push hard but enough to keep our lead where it was at,” Currie said. “One more day of racing and let’s get this wrapped up.”

More than 350 vehicles in various categories — including cars, trucks and quads — entered the Dakar this year, embarking on a 4,881-mile route divided into 12 daily stages.

TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

Ducks at Carolina, 4:30 p.m., PRIME, AM 830

UCLA (women’s basketball) at USC, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks,

BORN ON THIS DATE

1908: Boxing manager Cus d’Amato (d. 1985)

1929: Hockey player Jacques Plante (d. 1986)

1931: Baseball player/manager Don Zimmer (d. 2014)

1940: Runner Kip Keino

1942: Boxer Muhammad Ali (d. 2016)

1952: Baseball player Darrell Porter (d. 2002)

1960: Former Angel Chili Davis

1970: Hockey player Jeremy Roenick

1982: Basketball player Dwyane Wade

DIED ON THIS DATE

1970: Tennis player Robert Murray, 77

1994: Sprinter Helen Stephens, 75

2008: Chess champion Bobby Fischer, 64

2008: Football player Ernie Holmes, 59

AND FINALLY

Muhammad Ali‘s 10 greatest knockouts. Watch them 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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Go beyond the scoreboard

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