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The Sports Report: Vanessa Bryant eulogizes her husband and daughter at memorial

 Vanessa Bryant speaks at the Kobe & Gianna Bryant Celebration of Life on Monday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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

Bill Plaschke wrote about the memorial for Kobe and Gianna Bryant on Monday at Staples Center. Here’s an excerpt:

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For two decades, Kobe Bryant owned the Staples Center court with courage under pressure.

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For seven minutes Monday morning, Vanessa Bryant did the same.

Where he once amazingly flew, she stood strongly still. Where he once pumped a fist in triumph, she clutched a tissue in survival.

“I’d like to talk about both Kobe and Gigi,” she said after stepping up as a surprise first speaker at the Kobe and Gianna Bryant Celebration of Life.

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What ensued was as compelling as five NBA titles, as inspiring as an 81-point game, as impressive as any last-second shot.

“I’ll start with my baby girl first,” she began. “My baby girl Gianna Bryant is an amazingly sweet, gentle soul. … she would always kiss me good night, kiss me good morning.”

Few people thought Vanessa Bryant would talk. She has barely spoken publicly during her 20-marriage to Bryant. She is extremely private. She was always in the background. She was his silent partner.

“OK, now for my soul mate,” she continued after a few minutes talking about GiGi. “To me, he was Kobe-Kobe, my boo-boo, my bay-boo, my papi chulo.”

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It was stunning, such composure coming less than a month since she lost her husband and 13-year-old daughter in a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of seven others. How exactly does one speak to a crowd of 19,000 about that? What does one say?

Read the rest of the column by clicking here.

Read more about the memorial

Read Vanessa Bryant’s words about Kobe Bryant at his memorial

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L.A. says goodbye with tearful tributes from Vanessa, Michael Jordan

Here’s what Michael Jordan said about his ‘little brother’

Read Shaquille O’Neal’s speech at Kobe Bryant’s memorial

Read Jimmy Kimmel’s speech from Kobe Bryant memorial

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Sabrina Ionescu talks about what he meant to her

Read Geno Auriemma’s speech from the Kobe Bryant memorial

Read WNBA star Diana Taurasi’s words

Beyoncé kicks off Kobe Bryant memorial with one of his favorite songs

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CLIPPERS

The Clippers make quick work of the Memphis Grizzlies in a 124-97 blowout.

Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points to lead all scorers, end a three-game Clippers losing streak and display the full might of his team’s new-look roster.

The forward was among the Clippers who bemoaned the team’s lack of urgency two days earlier in a home loss to Sacramento. There were no such issues against the Grizzlies.

Three seconds into the first quarter Patrick Beverley, the point guard who provides much of his team’s edge but hadn’t played since Feb. 5 because of an injured groin, was haggling with officials about possession after a Memphis inbounds pass. And Paul George, who has hurt his hamstring three times since January’s start, scored the first five points.

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Leonard brought fans out of their seats twice in the opening seven minutes by flushing a left-handed dunk over Grizzlies forward Jonas Valanciunas and making a juggling layup in transition.

The Clippers (38-19) held the Grizzlies (28-29) to a season-low 37 points before halftime and 41% shooting overall.

“I thought we set the tone with our defense,” Rivers said.”

George finished with seven points in 21 minutes and Beverley added six points in 19.

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DODGERS

Joe Maddon chuckled as he described his former boss.

“What people don’t realize,” the first-year Angels manager said of Andrew Friedman, “is he’s a lot older than I am.”

Not by actual age, of course. Maddon is 66. Friedman is 43. They’re from different generations, Maddon having begun his minor league playing career the same year (1976) Friedman, now entering his sixth season at the helm of the Dodgers’ front office, was born.

When Friedman was a rookie general manager with the Tampa Bay Rays ahead of the 2006 season, he gave Maddon his first managerial job. At the time, he was almost half his new manager’s age.

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But as Maddon explained, Friedman didn’t act like it. Quite the opposite, actually.

“He was the adult in the room, a lot more subtle than I was,” Maddon said. “It was interesting. Even though there’s a 20-year [age] difference, he was always the older brother and I was the younger brother.”

Friedman’s current manager, Dave Roberts, echoed similar sentiments.

“We have a great relationship,” Roberts said. “We have a mutual respect.... I think he trusts what I do on the field with players. It’s mutual with him.”

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Few were more impressed — and certainly no one was more relieved — than Roberts at Friedman’s handling of the Betts-Price trade. It has put the Dodgers back in pole position for another run at the World Series. Those who have seen Friedman work up close are hardly surprised.

“He’s doing the same thing [as in Tampa Bay],” Maddon said, chuckling again, “with more money.”

Read more baseball

Starting pitcher Alex Wood’s return to the Dodgers was unexpected but welcomed

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Angels are walked off in spring training loss to Brewers

UCLA BASKETBALL

Mick Cronin’s streak of consecutive NCAA tournaments could become a real double-digit doozy.

The UCLA coach who made it nine straight times at Cincinnati before his arrival in Westwood may be on the verge of stretching it to 10 thanks to the Bruins’ improbable late-season surge.

UCLA (17-11, 10-5 Pac-12) has won five games in a row and nine of 11, going from an afterthought to a strong contender.

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“Still a lot of work to do and their margin for error is really small,” CBS analyst Jerry Palm said Monday, “but this run of play, especially with the quality wins they’ve gotten, gives them an opportunity, if they continue to play well, to possibly end up in the tournament.”

NHL

Monday was trade deadline day for the NHL. Helene Elliott takes a look. Here’s an excerpt:

The Ducks won the distinction of making the most deals in the final hours before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, if exchanging a dust catcher for a possibly slightly faster dust catcher six times is a victory. The Kings, who cut away chunks of their Stanley Cup core in recent weeks to accumulate more prospects and draft picks, made one trade on Monday, sending expendable defenseman Derek Forbort to Calgary for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2021.

Ducks general manager Bob Murray wanted to make small fixes and evaluate his young players before he resorts to major roster surgery this summer. With that in mind, he got center Danton Heinen from Boston for rugged left wing Nick Ritchie, acquired left wing Sonny Milano — who was a 2014 first-round pick — from Columbus for center Devin Shore, and swapped right wing Daniel Sprong to Washington for defenseman Christian Djoos.

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Having added a first-round pick last week when he dealt Ondrej Kase to Boston, Murray was willing to take a fourth-round pick this year and career minor-leaguer Kyle Criscuolo from Philadelphia for impending free-agent center Derek Grant. He also picked up a sixth-round pick in 2022 from Nashville and defenseman Matt Irwin for defenseman Korbinian Holzer. The Ducks also sent Edmonton a conditional 2022 draft pick and goaltending prospect Angus Redmond for defenseman Joel Persson. Djoos and Persson might get power-play time as the season winds down....

The 32 transactions completed on Monday were the most on a deadline day since the league began counting in 1980. Carolina made the splashiest moves; others addressed urgent needs, such as the Vegas Golden Knights’ acquisition of goalie Robin Lehner to provide quality relief for Marc-Andre Fleury, and Calgary adding Erik Gustafsson from Chicago for a third-round pick and grabbing Forbort to help an injury-thinned defense. A sentimentally favorite move was 40-year-old Patrick Marleau going from San Jose to Pittsburgh for a conditional third-round draft pick. It’s likely his last chance to shed the label of the active player who has played the most regular-season games (now 1,715) without winning the Cup.

Read the rest of the column by clicking here.

RAMS

Without a first-round pick, the top prospects at this week’s NFL scouting combine will warrant only middling interest from the Rams who, barring a trade back into the first round, again will not select a player until well after the first 32 are off the board.

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The Rams have not picked in the first round since 2016, when they traded up 14 spots to take quarterback Jared Goff at No. 1.

Goff helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018. He subsequently signed a $134-million extension, joining Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, running back Todd Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks as recipients of a megacontracts. Heading into the start of free agency next month, those deals leave the Rams with about $15 million in salary-cap space, according to overthecap.com.

Snead and coach Sean McVay are expected to be asked about the cap situation, their draft strategy and more when they hold news conferences Tuesday.

Snead and McVay are part of a smaller-than-usual Rams combine contingent. New offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and several assistants remained in Southern California, where they will analyze tape of combine workouts while continuing to prepare for the Rams offseason program.

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The absence of some coaches and scouts, according to Rams officials, is related more to cost efficiency than the team’s draft position.

The Rams have six picks in the April 23-25 draft, one each in the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. They could add two more if they are awarded compensatory picks for the departures of free-agent offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and safety Lamarcus Joyner.

CHARGERS

In an offseason already significant for its transition, the Chargers will move forward this week at the NFL scouting combine, where their research relating to the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft will intensify.

They are coming off a season in which they were winless in the AFC West and dropped five of seven games at home.

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They also lost nine of 11 one-score decisions, with one of the victories coming only because Chicago’s kicker missed a field goal as time expired.

Yes, the Chargers are standing on shifting ground as they prepare to move into SoFi Stadium, the franchise’s first newly built home since the unveiling of what was then called San Diego Stadium in 1967.

“I’m not really big on rebuilding,” general manager Tom Telesco said immediately after the Chargers’ most recent last-place finish. “If you want to get technical, maybe retool.

“In the end, you can build it on the run. It may not be exactly the way you like it, but you can build it on the run. That’s what we did in 2013 [when the Chargers finished 9-7 and reached the AFC divisional playoff round], kind of built it on the run.”

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TODAY’S LOCAL MAJOR SPORTS SCHEDULE

All times Pacific.

New Orleans at Lakers, 7:30 p.m., TNT, 710 ESPN

Edmonton at Ducks, 7 p.m., PRIME, AM 830

Dodgers at Arizona (exhibition game), Noon, Spectrum Sportsnet, AM 570

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Cincinnati at Angels (exhibition game), Noon, Sportsnet LA, AM 830

BORN ON THIS DATE

1918: Tennis player Bobby Riggs (d. 1995)

1919: Baseball player Monte Irvin (d. 2016)

1934: Golfer Tony Lema (d. 1966)

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1940: Sportscaster Billy Packer

1940: Baseball player Ron Santo (d. 2010)

1947: Runner Lee Evans

1958: Former Laker Kurt Rambis

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1961: Race car driver Davey Allison (d. 1993)

1982: Tennis player Flavia Pennetta

1985: Basketball player Joakim Noah

DIED ON THIS DATE

1934: Baseball player/manager John McGraw, 60

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1994: Boxer Jersey Joe Walcott, 80

AND FINALLY

Kevin McHale clotheslines Kurt Rambis in the NBA Finals. Watch it 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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