College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Clippers defeat Lakers in Kawhi Leonard debut

Exhibit A on why Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer wants his own arena in Inglewood was there for all to see at Staples Center Oct. 22.

The Clippers opened the 2019-20 NBA season against the Los Angeles Lakers with a 112-102 victory. It was a home game for the Clippers but there were more Lakers fans in the arena. When offseason free agent acquisition Kawhi Leonard was handed a microphone to welcome Clippers fans before the opening tip, he was drowned out by booing from Lakers fans.

Only at the end of the game, when the Clippers’ victory song, “California Gold” played instead of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” could you tell that this was a Clippers home game.

This despite the fact that the Clippers have owned this rivalry for the last seven years. Their win over the Lakers was their 24th in the last 29 games between the two teams.

And the Clippers did it with only one superstar compared to the Lakers’ two. Forward Paul George missed the first of what figure to be at least 10 or 12 as he continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery.

He wasn’t needed. Leonard scored 30 points with six rebounds and five assists in his Clippers debut, four bench players joined him in double figures and the Clippers overcame an early deficit to win comfortably.

The Lakers took a three-point lead late in the third quarter with guard Danny Green leading a 15-0 run that put the Lakers ahead 85-82 in the closing minute of the quarter.

But JaMychal Green hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer to tie the score and the Clippers went on an 11-2 run to start the fourth quarter and put the game away with LeBron James on the bench for the Lakers.

James played 36 minutes for the Lakers, but he scored only 18 points on 7-of-19 shooting. He also added nine rebounds and eight assists.

Anthony Davis had a strong Lakers debut with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but Green was the only other player scoring in double figures for the Lakers, leading the way with 28.

Javale McGee and Dwight Howard split time at center for the Lakers. McGee started but played only 17 minutes, scoring four points and taking down two rebounds. Howard played 19 minutes with three points and six rebounds.

The main difference between the Lakers and the Clippers at the start of the season is off the bench.

The Clippers brought four players off the bench. They all scored in double figures with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell leading the way just like they did last year. Williams scored 21 and Harrell added 17 as the Clippers bench outscored the Lakers, 60-19.

The Lakers played without forward Kyle Kuzma who has a leg injury and figures to provide additional scoring, when healthy. Guard Rajon Rondo also sat out.

It was a ragged season opener. We will know much more about these two teams when they play again on Christmas night.

That game will be a Lakers home game so the Clippers can expect to be booed again. But all those boos just make Ballmer want his own home arena more.

A REAL FIND: Players for the USC Trojans continue to drop like flies due to injuries. On Oct. 19, defensive end Drake Jackson, linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV, safety Talanoa Hufnaga and running backs Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp all limped off the field at one time or another.

It was a bugaboo that has bothered the Trojans all season, but they were able to overcome all the injuries to score a 41-14 victory over Arizona and take command of the Pac 12 South. The Trojans and Utah both have one loss this year but USC holds the tie-breaker by virtue of its 30-23 win over Utah, Sept. 20.

The Trojans had an unlikely hero against Arizona. Freshman running back Kenan Christon, the Trojans fifth string running back, came off the bench to dazzle in his USC debut.

He gained 103 yards on only eight carries (a 12.9 yard average), and scored on runs of 55 and 30 yards to put the game out of reach of the Wildcats.

Christon was the state high school sprint champion in track and field last year, but had been kept off the field by Vavae Malepeai, Carr and, lately, Stepp. But after Carr tweaked a hamstring, Stepp turned an ankle and fourth-string back Quincy Jountti fumbled the ball away, Christon got the call.

With the speed he displayed hitting a hole and running away from tacklers, he figures to get more calls the remainder of the season, especially with Malepeai out four to six weeks with knee surgery.

Kedon Slovis continued to mature at quarterback, completing 19 of 29 passes for 282 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Trojans led 27-0 after three quarters after bottling up standout Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who starred at Serra High in Gardena. Tate completed just 6 of 10 passes for 47 yards and was sacked several times, giving him minus 27 yards on the ground for 20 yards of total offense.

That’s not the Khalil Tate that I remember.

The Trojans have a big game at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Colorado on ESPN. The Trojans can’t be caught looking ahead to Oregon Nov. 2.

BIG RIVALRY GAME: The rivalry between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Los Angeles Football Club will intensify tremendously Oct. 24 when the two teams meet in the Major Soccer League playoffs at Banc of California Stadium.

So far, it’s been a one-sided rivalry. LAFC has never beaten the Galaxy.

LAFC has the highest scoring offense in the league, led by MVP candidate Carlos Vela.

But the Galaxy counters with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, perhaps the most unstoppable play. Ibrahimovic plays best when the spotlights are the brightest and he will be hard to contain.

The Galaxy has already won a playoff game. LAFC hasn’t played in 19 days.

The game kicks off on ESPN at 8 p.m. Tune in after the NFL Thursday Night game.

FINDING THEMSELVES: After a three-game losing streak, the Los Angeles Rams righted the ship Oct. 20 with a 37-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta.

The Rams defense sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan five times on the way to a dominant win. The Rams needed the win just to keep pace with the rest of the NFC West. Teams in the NFC West have won 17 games already this season. The NFC North is second with 16. With the win, the Rams remain 2 1/2 games behind the San Francisco 49ers, who are one of two undefeated teams left in the league.

The Rams play the Bengals in London, England, this week.

They spent the first half of the week practicing in Atlanta rather than flying home after the win over the Falcons.

Meanwhile, the Chargers continue to teeter on the edge of irrelevancy after losing to the Tennessee Titans, 23-20, Oct. 20.

The teams battled to a 10-10 stalemate over the first three quarters and the Titans pulled out the win behind backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Philip Rivers threw for more than 300 yards but could only put 20 points on the scoreboard.

The 2-5 Chargers face the Chicago Bears Oct. 27 with quarterback Michael Trubisky back in the lineup for the Bears.

The Chargers need to right the ship now or the last two months of the season could really turn ugly.