The Sports Report: Rams look far from Super Bowl worthy – Los Angeles Times

Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Jack Harris on the Angels: Shohei Ohtani was surrounded on all sides.

Commissioner Rob Manfred flanked one shoulder. Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara followed close to the other. And all around them, a horde of other Major League Baseball personnel lurked in an oversized circle, whisking the Angels two-way star through a crowded corridor at Minute Maid Park in Houston minutes before the opening game of last month’s World Series.

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There aren’t many occasions where baseball players look so much like movie stars, their simple presence pulling attention into the gravity of their orbit.

But there aren’t many baseball players like Ohtani, whose 2021 season with the Angels didn’t just capture the sport’s imagination but redefined the limits of what once seemed possible for a single player to accomplish.

It’s why he became one of the league’s biggest attractions this year, hitting 46 home runs with 100 RBIs while also striking out 156 batters with a 3.18 earned-run average in 23 pitching starts.

It’s why Manfred summoned Ohtani in front of dozens of media members ahead of the Fall Classic, using the national stage to announce the 27-year-old as the 16th recipient of the special Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award.

Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after striking out Oakland's Matt Chapman on Sept. 19.

Angels starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani reacts after striking out Oakland’s Matt Chapman on Sept. 19.

(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

And it’s why, on Thursday night, Ohtani not only won the American League MVP as expected, but did so unanimously by earning all 30 first-place votes.

His performance was that unprecedented. That historic. That unique.

“Getting it unanimously makes it that much more special,” Ohtani said, through Mizuhara, “and helps me stay motivated to put up great numbers for myself and the team.”

After Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies was named as the National League MVP, beating out the Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto and San Diego Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., Ohtani smiled as his landmark selection was announced by Hall of Famer Frank Thomas.

More on Ohtani from columnist Dylan Hernández: Shohei Ohtani achieves dream to be the best. Will the Angels help him sustain it?

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SOCCER

LAFC coach Bob Bradley stands on the sideline during a CONCACAF Champions League match on Dec. 16, 2020.

LAFC coach Bob Bradley stands on the sideline during a CONCACAF Champions League match on Dec. 16, 2020.

(Associated Press)

Kevin Baxter on LAFC: The shortest season in LAFC’s brief history ended shy of the playoffs last week. So on Thursday what is shaping up to be the club’s busiest offseason officially got started when the team parted ways with Bob Bradley, the only manager it has ever known.

“As our season came to a conclusion, which was premature by our standards, we had conversations with Bob and his agent. And following those talks, we mutually agreed this was the right next step for both of us,” John Thorringon, the club’s co-president and general manager, said.

Bradley, the third-winningest coach in MLS history, led LAFC to a 58-34-32 record, three playoff appearances and a Supporter’s Shield in four seasons. His team broke the season-single points record and tied the all-time goal-scoring mark in 2019, then made it to the final of the CONCACAF Champions League final last season, when it became the first MLS team to defeat three Liga MX Clubs in a single tournament.

But LAFC, hampered by injuries to key players, went 12-13-9 and finished ninth in the Western Conference this year, two spots out of a playoff berth. Just seven players remain from that record-setting 2019 team and some of those won’t be returning, something that factored into Thorrington’s decision to make a coaching change.

“After the four years, I think this will be a busier offseason in terms of turnover,” Thorrington said. “The worst problem is if our players weren’t good enough and didn’t play well, and we did need to have a fully new team. I don’t think that’s what we’re facing.

“What I think is we’re ready to move into this next phase of our history. And immediately that begins with the process of identifying the next coach who’s going to help lead us forward.”

UCLA-USC RIVALRY

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is threatened by USC linebacker Drake Jackson.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is threatened by USC linebacker Drake Jackson on Dec 12, 2020 at the Rose Bowl.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Ryan Kartje on UCLA vs. USC on Saturday: As their seasons slipped away and their tenures grew tenuous, each of the last three UCLA football coaches marched into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at a crossroads … never to make the 11-mile trip back across town.

A narrow loss at USC in 2017 served as the final dagger in the Jim Mora era. For Rick Neuheisel, a 50-0 embarrassment in 2011 at the hands of the Bruins’ bitter rival brought about a swift end to a four-year run that had yielded just one winning season. Before that, Karl Dorrell left the crosstown rivalry with his walking papers in 2007, a day after being trampled by the Trojans for the fourth time in five seasons.

But each of those three brought better records into the rivalry defeats than the Bruins’ current coach will Saturday. Chip Kelly is a meager 16-25 since arriving at UCLA, with only two victories against teams that finished with winning records. Two more games remain for Kelly to save his job, but as another unsatisfying season under the Bruins coach comes to a close, the precedent set by his predecessors begs a big question:

Could a loss to an unraveling rival be his last straw at UCLA?

For USC, there are no such questions. Its own embattled coach, Clay Helton, was cut loose so long ago he’s already found another landing spot. USC has been spiraling since September, losing three of its last four. Any chance of preserving bowl eligibility and salvaging what’s left of its season hangs on the hopes that the slumping Trojans suddenly find a spark.

Those hopes likely face their last stand this week against UCLA. But players and coaches have insisted all week that the rivalry has provided the jolt they needed to defibrillate a lifeless season.

“It’s a perfect position,” USC cornerback Chris Steele said. “We win these next three games, we’re 7-5, and we’re bowl eligible. Obviously it’s a really big game. Not really having to emphasize the fact that it is definitely helps the team.”

———

USC Song Girls captain Hannah Shaw poses with her cousin, UCLA dance team member Lauren Shaw.

USC Song Girls captain Hannah Shaw, left, poses with her cousin, UCLA dance team member Lauren Shaw, on the USC campus.

(Courtesy of Becky Lew)

Ben Bolch on the UCLA-USC rivalry: USC is going to win. Hannah Shaw is sure of it. The Song Girls captain is so confident that she intends to go up to a counterpart on the UCLA dance team before the rivalry game and issue a challenge.

“I’ll say, ‘Get ready, game on,’ ” Hannah said. “ ‘May the best Shaw win.’ ”

UCLA is going to win. Lauren Shaw is sure of it. The Bruins dance team member is so confident that she won’t back down when approached by that familiar face in the pleated skirt, white sweater and red shoes.

“I’ll probably just be like, ‘See you on the field,’ ” Lauren said. “ ‘Good luck, you’re going to need it.’ ”

If fans notice the exchange Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum, they need not worry about a crosstown kerfuffle between the Trojan and the Bruin.

They’re first cousins.

Any verbal jabs will have an undercurrent of affection between the lifelong friends who danced together long before one started waving blue-and-gold pompoms and the other slipped on that instantly recognizable cardinal-and-gold outfit.

A year younger than her cousin, Lauren once choreographed one of Hannah’s middle school dance routines inside a garage. They performed together while attending the same Orange County dance studio and put on impromptu showcases in the living room during family holiday gatherings, complete with tutus and tiaras.

“We’d do little partner dances,” recalled Hannah, whose father is Lauren’s father’s brother, “or one person would flip over the other person’s back.”

LAKERS

Lakers forward LeBron James directs teammates during a game against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 2.

Lakers forward LeBron James directs teammates during a game against the Houston Rockets on Nov. 2.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: The Lakers have upgraded LeBron James’ injury status to “questionable” ahead of Friday’s game against the Boston Celtics.

James has missed the last eight games with an abdominal strain, but all indications are that James will play with the Lakers at TD Garden on Friday.

James was seen working out before the Lakers played at Milwaukee on Wednesday night and the Lakers have scheduled a full team shoot-around Friday morning, which would give the All-Star forward time to work with his teammates.

CLIPPERS

Clippers guard Reggie Jackson defends against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.

Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, left, defends against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant during the first half of the Clippers’ 120-108 loss Thursday.

(Nikki Boertman / Associated Press)

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Again and again, the Clippers’ coaching staff yelled toward FedEx Forum’s court to tell their defenders what the scouting report, Thursday’s first two quarters and even last season’s trip to Memphis had told them was coming.

Ja Morant was coming. And again and again, the star Memphis point guard with the slight frame and braids tied in a knot scythed into a short-handed version of the NBA’s second-best halfcourt defense, turning a game of punches and counterpunches into a 120-108 Grizzlies win lopsided enough that the Clippers pulled most of their starters with eight minutes to play.

Morant refused a screen from Steven Adams and instead drove into the chest of 7-foot Clippers center Ivica Zubac, levitated at the peak of his jump for what seemed like a full second, and scored off the glass even while his defender closed in from behind to nearly block the shot. Then he used an Adams screen and, seeing Zubac waiting, lofted a graceful floater. When the Clippers sent a defender underneath an Adams screen, Morant stepped back and coolly made a three-pointer. Off of a made Clippers free throw, he caught an outlet pass and zipped through Reggie Jackson, Isaiah Hartenstein and Luke Kennard at the rim for a layup with a sidestep and pure speed.

Seventeen of Morant’s 28 points came in the third quarter.

“He’s just shifty, really shifty,” Clippers star Paul George said. “He’s a little guy, he’s not that big, not that tall. So it’s hard to play and get as low as him. He just comes off and he’s explosive.

“We had a game plan to kind of keep him one way or keep him going this direction, but with a guy like him it’s tough to do. He’s got a lot of gifts on his side, a lot of just God-given natural talent on his side that just makes him a nightmare as a defender to kind of contain him. We’ve done it, but tonight wasn’t the night that we did it.”

OLYMPICS

A flag bearing the Olympic Rings on display at the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.

A flag bearing the Olympic Rings on display at the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.

(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

David Wharton on the Olympics: The 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles are still seven years away, but a proposed contract between city officials and the private LA28 organizing committee signals the beginning of critical negotiations over how the Games will be conducted. Here are a few of the most pressing issues for L.A. residents and the answers we have so far.

Will the Olympics affect my taxes?

LA28 has vowed to pay for its estimated $7-billion event with a combination of hefty contributions from the International Olympic Committee and revenue from sources such as domestic sponsorships, merchandising and ticket sales. Organizers have already signed lucrative deals with corporations such as Delta Air Lines, Nike and Deloitte. But if things go wrong, city and state legislators have agreed to serve as a backstop, which means tax dollars will be used to cover any cost overruns.

Will traffic get ugly during the Games?

City officials and organizers have yet to devise a transportation plan. For now, they point to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, when many residents left town, employers switched to flexible work hours and truck deliveries were shifted to nighttime. Local freeways have never been so uncongested.

CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: A year ago at this time, he was coordinating a defense that would finish the season leading the NFL in fewest points and yards allowed.

The 2020 Rams were the third-toughest team against which to convert a third down.

Now as head coach of the Chargers — a job he landed in part because of his defense’s performance last year — Brandon Staley’s latest version remains very much under construction.

The 2021 Chargers are fourth against the pass but rank last in rushing yards permitted. Only two teams have surrendered a higher conversion rate on third down.

Among the 10 worst defenses in average points allowed per game, the Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders are the only teams with winning records.

Still, Staley said he’s encouraged given the schedule the Chargers have played and how the defense is trending nine games into the season.

“I’m proud of our guys because I think that we’re improving,” he said. “As a coach, you know what you see on a daily basis and you know the way it should look. It’s getting closer to being that way.”

DUCKS

Ducks center Sam Steel, left, controls the puck against Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei.

Ducks center Sam Steel, left, controls the puck against Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei during the second period Thursday.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

From the Associated Press: Seth Jarvis scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period, and the Carolina Hurricanes snapped the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory Thursday night.

Ethan Bear scored his first goal of the season and Frederik Andersen made 31 saves against his former team for the Hurricanes, who improved to 13-2-0 after hanging on to win a well-played game between surging clubs. Carolina has won three straight, including the first two on its six-game West Coast road trip.

Troy Terry extended his scoring streak to 16 games with a first-period goal for the Ducks, who hadn’t lost since Oct. 29 and hadn’t scored fewer than three goals in a franchise-record 12 straight games.

John Gibson’s career-best winning streak ended at seven games despite 29 saves, including a stop of a third-period penalty shot by Jarvis with 18:40 to play. The Carolina forward atoned eight minutes later by banking the puck off Gibson’s back from behind the net for his third goal of the season.

UCLA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

From the Associated Press: IImar’I Thomas scored 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting and No. 20 UCLA pulled away from Cal State Northridge for a 73-46 win on Thursday night.

Charisma Osborne added 19 points before being helped off the court in the closing minutes with an apparent ankle injury.

The Bruins (2-0) shot 51% and had a 40-23 rebounding advantage with Osborne and Jaelynn Penn, who had nine points and seven assists, each grabbing eight.

HORSE RACING

Horse trainer Peter Miller looks on from the stables at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

Horse trainer Peter Miller looks on from the stables at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., in May 2019.

(Gregory Payan / Associated Press)

John Cherwa on horse racing: Trainer Peter Miller, who has won the Del Mar training title nine times, announced on Thursday that he is stepping back from racing “to spend more time with his family, focus on overall health and wellness, and pursue other interests.”

The move comes as Miller has been at the center of the conversation on horse safety after six of his horses have died since Dec. 27. The next highest California trainer has three fatalities.

“I know that there may be some speculation related to this decision, however, I want to make it very clear that it is not a result of any regulatory action, secret agreement or hidden agenda of any kind,” Miller said. “This is strictly a personal decision.”

Miller’s name was brought up at Wednesday’s California Horse Racing Board meeting by animal rights’ activists as someone who should be scrutinized for his high number of deaths. On Oct. 26, PETA wrote a letter to CHRB members asking that Miller’s license be suspended.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1961 — George Blanda of the Houston Oilers passes for 505 yards and seven touchdowns in a 49-13 rout of the New York Titans.

1961 — Cleveland’s Jim Brown rushes for 237 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Browns to a 45-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

1966 — No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State play to a 10-10 tie. The Irish rally from a 10-0 deficit against a Spartans team that features Bubba Smith and three teammates who were among the top eight picks of the next NFL draft.

1978 — Philadelphia’s Herman Edwards returns a fumble for a touchdown with 31 seconds left to give Philadelphia a 19-17 victory over the New York Giants. Instead of taking a knee to preserve a 17-12 victory, quarterback Joe Pisarcik botches the hand off to fullback Larry Csonka. Edwards picks up the dropped ball and runs 26 yards for the winning touchdown.

1983 — Jari Kurri of the Edmonton Oilers scores five goals and Wayne Gretzky adds three goals and five assists in a 13-4 rout of the New Jersey Devils.

1983 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of Los Angeles becomes the second player in NBA history to score 30,000 points, joining Wilt Chamberlain, as the Lakers win 117-110 at Portland.

1992 — Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley is selected the American League’s MVP. Eckersley, who led the majors with 51 saves in 54 chances, becomes the ninth player to win both the Cy Young Award and MVP honors in the same season.

1993 — Oregon and Oregon State play to a 0-0 tie in Eugene. It’s the last scoreless tie in FBS history. Overtime for NCAA games starts in 1994.

1994 — Rashaan Salaam becomes the fourth 2,000-yard rusher in major-college history, running for 259 yards and two touchdowns in Colorado’s 41-20 victory over Iowa State.

1995 — The Baltimore Stallions defeat the Calgary Stampeders 37-20 to become the first U.S. team to win the Grey Cup in the CFL’s 83-year history.

2004 — Indiana’s Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson charge into the stands to fight with Auburn Hills fans in the final minute of their game against the Detroit Pistons. The brawl forces an early end to the Pacers’ 97-82 win.

2006 — Jaromir Jagr becomes the 16th NHL player with 600 goals when he scores in the first period of the New York Rangers’ 4-1 win over Tampa Bay.

2009 — South African runner Caster Semenya will keep her 800-meter gold medal from the world championships, and the results of her gender tests will be kept confidential.

2011 — Robert Griffin III of Baylor passes for 479 yards and four TDs, including a 34-yarder to Terrance Williams with 8 seconds left, and the 25th-ranked Bears beat No. 5 Oklahoma for the first time, 45-38. The Bears were 0-20 against the Sooners.

2018— Jared Goff throws a 40-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Everett for the go-ahead score with 1:49 to play, and the Los Angeles Rams outlast the Kansas City Chiefs for a 54-51 victory. Patrick Mahomes has a career-high 478 yards with six touchdown passes for the Chiefs. This is third highest-scoring game ever played.

2018 — Rutgers holds Eastern Michigan to an NCAA-record low four first-half points in a 63-36 rout. The Scarlet Knights tied a men’s NCAA Division I basketball record for points allowed in a half. The halftime score is 31-4.

And finally

Angels center fielder and three-time AL MVP Mike Trout posted a video congratulating Shohei Ohtani on his AL MVP award. Check it out 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.