College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: At 6-1, Lakers own best record in the NBA

There is much to write about this week, so I will start with the local team that is hotter than a Southern California wildfire: the Los Angeles Lakers.

After losing their season opener to the Clippers, the Lakers have won six games in a row and own the best record in the NBA at 6-1.

LeBron James looks five years younger than he looked last season and also appears to be engaged with his teammates this year, something that rarely happened last year.

Anthony Davis has been brilliant at times, but always steady. He plays at both ends of the floor and if you leave him alone outside he can hit a three-pointer or he co soar to the basket to catch a high lob from James or one of his other teammates.

Kyle Kuzma made his season debut Nov. 5 in a 118-112 come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bulls that completed a 3-0 road trip. Kuzma scored 15 points in 21 minutes.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the year is the play of back-up center Dwight Howard. In win over the San Antonio Spurs Nov. 3, Howard showed some of the skills he possessed back when he was the best big man in the game. In 21 minutes, Howard scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Howard averaged 18.4 points and 13 rebounds a game during the first eight years of his career, which he spent in Orlando, but he has become a basketball nomad since those days, bouncing to the Lakers, the Houston Rockets, the Atlanta Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets and the Washington Wizards, where he played only nine games last year because of injuries.

Like James, he seems to be rejuvenated this year, and that bodes well for the Lakers. New head coach Frank Vogel is still getting acclimated to his team and hasn’t settled on a starting lineup yet, but there’s plenty of time for that.

If the Lakers have a problem, it’s not enough scoring from their starters after James and Davis.

That could change with Kuzma being inserted into the starting lineup or if Avery Bradley or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope establish themselves as the starting shooting guard.

Against the Bulls, the starters scored 60 points and the bench scored 58. That looks more like the Clippers than the Lakers

There are still 75 games left to play and a lot can change. After missing the playoffs for six straight years, the Lakers are happy to be winning again. And it’s starting to get contagious.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: It could have been the best USC football game since the 2005 national championship game when the Trojans defeated Oklahoma, 55-19.

The Trojans led Oregon 10-0 late in the first quarter and were inside the Ducks 10-yard line, about to extend that lead. Then the sky collapsed.

When it was over, the Ducks had demolished the Trojans, 56-24, establishing themselves as the top team in the Pac 12 Conference and exposing the Trojans as a mediocre, undisciplined team that will never rise to the occasion under head coach Clay Helton.

Freshmen quarterback Kedon Slovis fumbled while being sacked, Oregon recovered the fumble and put together a 92-yard scoring drive that put the Ducks back in the game. Instead of trailing 13-0 or 17-0, the Ducks were down 10-7.

Two plays later, the Ducks led after Slovis threw the first of his three interceptions and the errant pass was returned for a touchdown.

After the Ducks extended the lead to 21-10, the Trojans put together a drive that that made it 21-17 with only 20 seconds left before halftime, but Mykael Wright returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for another touchdown.

The Ducks came out and scored four unanswered touchdowns to start the second half as the Trojans continued to commit senseless penalties. Instead of capitalizing on their early momentum and riding that to a huge win, the Trojans got blown out, just like they did at Notre Dame last month.

That is why Helton has finally convinced me he can’t coach the Trojans. By most accounts, Helton is a decent man who knows his football. But he can’t get the Trojans to play disciplined football and he can’t convince his team it can beat good football teams.

I’m not jumping on the Urban Meyer bandwagon. USC has enough institutional problems right now without adding Meyer to the mix. But whoever the Trojans hire as athletic director (Cincinnati’s Mike Bohn was practically anointed by the media last week but USC hasn’t hinted at an announcement yet), should find a young-up-and-coming coach, surround him with good assistants and see what happens.

No one knew who John McKay was in 1960 when he was hired at USC. John Robinson was McKay’s anonymous offensive back coach when he was hired to replace McKay.

Pete Carroll was Mike Garrett’s fourth choice in 2000.

It doesn’t have to be a big name. The name can be developed by winning a national championship or two.

POOR CHARGERS: The Los Angeles Chargers (I still have trouble not typing San Diego) can’t catch a break. They don’t even play their first game in their new stadium in Inglewood until next September and already some sportswriter has them relocating to London.

I can understand Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos’ colorful, profane response to the report, but the Chargers have a problem that was on display again Nov. 3 as they defeated the Green Bay Packers, 26-11.

It was the biggest win of the season so far for the Chargers, who are now 4-5 heading into their Nov. 7 game against the Oakland Raiders. But the Chargers have the problem of playing a 16-game road schedule.

Week after week, it seems their opponents at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson have more fans in the stadium than the Chargers have.

And next year, the Chargers will have 50,000 more seats to sell at each game. UCLA has more fans that the Chargers do in Los Angeles. So do the Raiders, the Rams and the Trojans.

This week’s game is in Oakland, but the Raiders come to town Dec. 22. That game will really feel like a road game for the home team. There is one solution to the Chargers problem, but it is a solution that the Spanos family hasn’t been able to figure out: how to put a team that wins consistently on the football field week after week.

The Chargers were supposed to be one of the top teams in the AFC this year, but have been hit hard by injuries.

A sports team in Los Angeles had better win. There are too many other things to do here than support a bad team, especially at the prices they will be charging for tickets in the new stadium.

CHIP AHOY: Maybe that Chip Kelly can still coach a football team. The Bruins have won three games in a row after defeating Colorado, 31-14, Nov. 2. It’s amazing how the Bruins got good about the time running back Joshua Kelley got healthy.

Kelley is back to gaining 100 yards or more per game on the ground, taking the load off quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins defense is playing better as well.

If the Bruins win two of their last three games, they could go to a bowl game. And one of those games is the annual battle with USC.

FREE AGENCY: The Dodgers have won seven consecutive division titles, so they don’t need to do a whole lot of tinkering in the off-season.

If they can’t resign Hyun-Jin Ryu, they will need to replace him with a top-of-the-rotation kind of pitcher. Otherwise, I’m happy with a rotation that has Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May and Ross Stripling or Tony Gonsolin.

The bullpen needs helps, but every team’s bullpen needs help because no one knows what they are going to get from their relief pitching from night to night, let alone year to year.

If the Dodgers are going to make a trade, I would like to see them package Joc Pederson for a good arm, a backup catcher or some other valuable piece. Pederson is a great home run hitter who does little else.

The next time he tries to beat the shift by hitting the ball to left field will be the first time. Getting rid of Pederson will allow Alex Verdugo to play just about every day.

Verdugo provides a spark of energy that was lacking when he sat out the last two months with injuries.

Under current ownership and management, the Dodgers have not been willing to invest in lengthy, high-dollar contracts. I don’t anticipate that changing this year.

The Dodgers have a good blend of veterans and young players. They have been knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual World Series champion in each of the last four years.

They will probably win the National League West easily again next year. That’s all they need to do, because everybody knows by now that anything can happen in baseball’s postseason.