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SPORTS DIGEST: Clippers hit hot streak just in time for the playoffs

The NBA playoffs begin this weekend and the Los Angeles Clippers appear to be peaking at the right time.

The Clippers had won six straight games going into the season finale against the Sacramento Kings April 12. A win against the Kings or a loss by the Utah Jazz in their last game against San Antonio would put the Clippers into fourth place in the Western Conference playoffs, meaning they would host the Jazz for the all-important game seven in their opening playoff series, if it goes that far.

The Clippers need to get past Utah in the first round, even though that most likely means a second-round matchup with the Golden State Warriors.

If the Clippers lose to Utah in the first round of the playoffs, after losing in the first round last year to Portland, it would probably force owner Steve Ballmer to make some changes.

An early exit from the playoffs could make stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin decide to go for free agency a year earlier than planned. It also might make Ballmer reconsider his decision to put coach Doc Rivers in charge of all basketball operations.

With Paul and Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers have three of the top 25 players in the league. Throw in a top shooting guard like J.J. Reddick and one of the best sixth man in the league, Jamal Crawford, and the Clippers have the talent that should be playing in the second round of the playoffs every year, if not the third and fourth rounds.

Granted, getting past the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs will not be a picnic in the park. But the Clippers need to eliminate Utah and at least make it to the second round this year.

The Jazz, though, are no slouches.

Coach Quin Snyder has made progress with the Jazz in his three seasons. He won 38 games his first year, 40 games last year and improved that by 10 games this year.

And the Jazz do it without much flash and without a superstar. Gordon Hayward is an all star at small forward and center Rudy Gobert is starting to come into his own as one of the league’s top big men.

The Jazz have some solid, if not spectacular, players surrounding those two and they play good, hard-nosed defense, something that is extremely important in the playoffs.

The Clippers defeated the Jazz three out of four times this season. With Paul, Griffin, Jordan, Reddick and Crawford, they have too much firepower to lose a seven-game series against the Jazz. Anything less will be a major disappointment and will probably lead to big changes in the offseason.

Lakers veteran Metta World Peace scored 18 points April 11, including 11 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Lakers to a in over the New Orleans Pelicans and extend their winning streak to five games. That is the longest Lakers winning streak since 2013. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers)

THAT OTHER TEAM: Then there are the Lakers. Back on Nov 30, the Lakers were 10-10 and surprising just about everyone in the league. Over the next 56 games they went 11-45, quickly dropping to the bottom of the league where they have existed for three seasons now.

With nothing left to play for except what could be the third overall pick in the draft, the Lakers decided to end their season on a high note, rolling off five wins in a row leading into the season finale against Golden State April 12. The Lakers hadn’t won five games in a row since 2013.

The Lakers will finish 28th in the league standings, meaning they have a 47 percent chance of retaining their first round pick. If the pick doesn’t stay with the Lakers in the top three, Philadelphia gets it as part of the Steve Nash trade.

The Lakers also possess Houston’s first round pick and there is increased speculation that Magic Johnson could trade the two picks and one of the Lakers young potential stars for Paul George of Indiana or Jimmy Butler of Chicago.

Of course, if the Lakers pick in the top three, they could add local college favorite Lonzo Ball, who might already be an improvement over D’Angelo Russell (I know LeVar Ball thinks so). Then again, I’m not sure Johnson and coach Luke Walton want the package of Lonzo and LeVar.

Anyway, the Lakers season is over and the rebuilding continues. Maybe they will get to 30 wins next season.

Yasiel Puig connects on one of two home runs he hit April 6 against the San Diego Padres in a 10-2 win. Puig hit three home runs in the opening home stand for the Dodgers. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers)

CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT: Eight games into their season and the Dodgers remain consistently inconsistent. They are 4-4 on the season, trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies in the National League West.

The Dodgers are 1-3 when facing left-handed starting pitching and teams are starting to alter their rotations to make sure the Dodgers see more lefties. The only way to change that is by defeating lefthanders, which, with the Dodgers, is easier said than done.

It is still way too early in the season to panic. The Dodgers have better overall roster talent than the Diamondbacks and the Rockies and over the long season that talent will prevail.

This week, the Dodgers got to watch what happens when a team wins it all. The Cubs celebrated last year’s World Series championship with a banner-raising ceremony April 10 and then handed out World Series rings before the game April 12.

The Dodgers want to hold those ceremonies next April at Dodger Stadium, after a parade downtown in November.

NEW STATUE: Speaking of the Dodgers, they will unveil the first statue ever at Dodger Stadium in special ceremonies April 15.

The statue is of Jackie Robinson and the ceremony comes on the 70th anniversary of his first game in the major leagues.

The ceremony at 3 p.m. is invitation only. Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, and his son and daughter, David and Sharon, will be in attendance, along with baseball Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Sandy Koufax, Robinson’s former teammate Don Newcombe and Magic Johnson.

Oh, Vin Scully also will be in attendance. I think the second statue should honor him.

That night’s game starts at 6:10 p.m. and the first 40,000 fans in attendance will receive replicas of the statue.

BITS AND PIECES: Major League Baseball is sponsoring a girls baseball tournament April 13-15 at the MLB Youth Academy in Compton. The special event, a first-of-its-kind tournament, will feature approximately 100 girls from throughout the United States and Canada.

Players will be divided into two age divisions, 16 and under and 12 and under and have been placed on teams by random selection. They will be coached by some of the nation’s top female baseball coaches and players, including those from USA Baseball’s Women’s National Team.

All of the players will attend the Dodgers game April 15.

The Mt. SAC Relays, the best track and field meet in Southern California year in and year out, is being held at El Camino College in Torrance April 13-15.

The meet is normally held at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, but the school’s stadium is undergoing renovations so the meet has moved to Torrance.

Both high school and collegiate competitions will be held as well as open events. More than 3,000 athletes are expected to participate.

Los Angeles’ two professional football teams will face each other in a preseason game that will be nationally televised.

The Rams host the Chargers at the Coliseum at 5 p.m. Aug. 26. CBS will broadcast the game, which means Tony Romo could be in the broadcast booth with Jim Nance. CBS has not announced who the announcing team will be.

The Rams other home exhibition game is against the Dallas Cowboys the second weekend in August. The date hasn’t been determined.

The Chargers preseason schedule will include home games against the Seattle Seahawks the second weekend of August and the New Orleans Saints the third weekend of August.

The Chargers don’t leave the state during the preseason. Their final exhibition game is against the 49ers in Santa Clara.

 

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