College Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Lakers, Clippers open season with different expectations

While fans of the Dodgers continue to mourn the demise of their team, fans of the Lakers and Clippers are full of the optimism that the start of a new season can bring.

Well maybe Clippers fans.

Yes, the 2016-17 National Basketball Association season begins this week. The Lakers opened at Staples Center Oct. 26 against Houston while the Clippers open a night later in Portland.

The Clippers are still the best team in Los Angeles but their window for becoming an elite NBA team is starting to close.

The trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is the best nucleus of an NBA team that isn’t named the Golden State Warriors. With expert sixth man Jamal Crawford and shooting guard J.J. Reddick, the Clippers have some powerful offensive weapons, but the Clippers continue to have a hole at the small forward position.

Blake Griffin goes to the hole against the Sacramento Kings in a preseason contest. Griffin, point guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan continue to be the Clippers big three as the team hopes to make a dent in the playoffs this season. (Courtesy photo)
Blake Griffin goes to the hole against the Sacramento Kings in a preseason contest. Griffin, point guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan continue to be the Clippers big three as the team hopes to make a dent in the playoffs this season. (Courtesy photo)

They have never been able to make it to the finals of the Western Conference and Paul and Griffin are getting older and approaching the end of their contracts.

If the Clippers can’t advance any further in the playoffs than the second round, it could be time to blow this team up and start over again.

The Lakers are at the bottom of a pit and looking up. Fortunately, there is more light at the top than there was last season.

They won a franchise record low of 17 games last year. The good news is they should be able to surpass that this year. The bad news is they still won’t even sniff a playoff berth.

The Lakers could double last season’s win total and still miss the playoffs by 10 or more games. In fact, that’s my prediction. The Lakers will win 34 or 35 games.

Second-year point guard D’Angelo Russell is another year older and no longer has to please Byron Scott, which will make him much better.

Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. also have survived their initiation into the NBA and also should be much improved, Randle as the returning power forward and Nance off the bench at both forward posts.

Jordan Clarkson has accepted his role as the first guard off the bench, which will provide some stability offensively for the second unit. And rookie forward Brandon Ingram has shown flashes of brilliance along with bursts of inexperience.

Blake Griffin goes to the hole against the Sacramento Kings in a preseason contest. Griffin, point guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan continue to be the Clippers big three as the team hopes to make a dent in the playoffs this season. (Courtesy photo)
Blake Griffin goes to the hole against the Sacramento Kings in a preseason contest. Griffin, point guard Chris Paul and center DeAndre Jordan continue to be the Clippers big three as the team hopes to make a dent in the playoffs this season.
(Courtesy photo)

Like Russell, Nick Young seems to be a different player without Scott on the scene, which gives the Lakers firepower off the bench. Free agent acquisition Timofey Mosgov also provides a boost at center, which has been a weak point since Pau Gasol left.

The Lakers will be better this year, but they are at least a year, if not more, away from contending for the playoffs. New coach Luke Walton will be a major improvement over Scott, who was too old school for today’s players.

Walton isn’t that much older than his players and he has credibility from winning titles with the Lakers during his playing career and one as an assistant coach with the Warriors.

He has the players’ attention. Anything more than 30 wins will be a good season, and I expect a few more than that.

ONE TITLE: I’ll get to the Dodgers in a minute. First let me congratulate the Los Angeles Sparks for winning the WNBA championship.

The Sparks defeated the Minnesota Lynx 77-76 Oct. 20, a game that was ignored by most of Los Angeles because the Dodgers were losing to the Cubs in game 5 of the National League Championship Series at the same time.

Nneka Ogwumike hit a short jump shot with three seconds left to provide the winning points as the Sparks rebounded from a six-point halftime deficit.

Candace Parker scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to win the finals MVP award. Ogwumike scored 12 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds for the Sparks.

The Sparks celebrated their championship — their third overall and first in 14 years — in a party at L.A. Live Oct. 24 that was attended by several hundred fans.

Parker carried the championship trophy onto the stage and kissed it before placing it between the other two championship trophies.

It wasn’t the size of a Lakers championship celebration, but it will have to do for Los Angeles celebrations for the immediate future.

STOPPED SHORT AGAIN: Which brings us to the Dodgers, who disappointed their fans for a fourth straight season by not advancing to the World Series after winning the National League Western Division.

The Dodgers were riding high after winning game three of the series against the Cubs Oct. 18, but the Cubs remembered how to hit the ball and won three straight games, scoring 23 runs in the process, to send the Dodgers home early again.

The Dodgers have some key off-season questions to answer. They have to decide if they want to resign crucial free agents like third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen.

Turner was the team’s best hitter this year and is a clubhouse leader. Jansen is one of the elite closers in baseball and, next to Clayton Kershaw, the second most valuable member of the pitching staff.

He earned himself a lot of money with his multi-innings performances in the playoffs and there will be a lot of teams bidding on his services for next year. The Dodgers need to win that bidding war.

The Dodgers also need to improve their starting pitching. After Kershaw, there are nothing but question marks. Rich Hill had his moments during his two months with the team, but he also is a free agent and he will attract a lot of bidders during an off-season in which premium starting pitchers are in short supply.

Kenta Maeda won 16 games as a rookie but showed as the season progressed that he is a third or fourth starter at best.

The best chance at improving the starting pitching staff may already be with the system. Julio Urias showed flashes of brilliance during the second half of the season. If the front office quits babying his arm, he could become the second starter next year.

Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart and Jose DeLeon might be better alternatives than Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who all missed most of the season with injuries.

The Dodgers are set with Corey Seager at shortstop, Yasmani Grandal at catcher, Adrian Gonzalez at first base and Joc Pederson in center field. The Dodgers can probably get another year out of Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick sharing second base and Andrew Toles and Trayce Thompson, who both impressed at times in the outfield.

Look for the Dodgers to revive trade talks with the Milwaukee Brewers for Ryan Braun, a deal that could end Yasiel Puig’s Dodgers career.

The Dodgers figure to contend for their fifth straight Western Division title again next year. But anything short of a berth in the World Series again will be a disappointment.

FOOTBALL BRIEFS: USC took the weekend off. UCLA and the Rams weren’t so lucky.

The Rams lost their third game in a row after a 3-1 start, flying all the way to London to lose to the New York Giants, 17-10. A week after having his best game as a pro quarterback, Case Keenan crashed back to earth, throwing four interceptions. Not all the interceptions can be blamed on Keenan, but four interceptions is four interceptions.

Those only turned the heat up on Rams management to put number one draft pick Jared Goff into the lineup. Rams fans figure if they are going to lose, they might as well get the rookie quarterback some experience.

Head coach Jeff Fisher indicated Oct. 24 he wasn’t considering a change in quarterback during his team’s bye week, but after some time to think about it, he might change his mind.

The Rams face the Carolina Panthers at the Coliseum Nov. 6.

The Bruins also are off this week, giving starting quarterback Josh Rosen more time to let a nerve injury in his right shoulder heal. With Rosen sitting out again against Utah Saturday, Mike Fafaul decided to etch his name in the UCLA record book.

UCLA backup quarterback Mike Fafaul set school records for most passes attempted and most passes completed in a game in the Bruins loss to Utah, 52-45 Oct. 22. The Bruins are off this weekend before racing Colorado Nov. 3. (Photo by Mario Villegas)
UCLA backup quarterback Mike Fafaul set school records for most passes attempted and most passes completed in a game in the Bruins loss to Utah, 52-45 Oct. 22. The Bruins are off this weekend before racing Colorado Nov. 3. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

Fafaul set records for most attempts and most completions in a game the Bruins lost, 52-45. Obviously, defense was the problem against Utah. The Bruins couldn’t stop running back Joe Williams, who set a school record with 332 yards in only 29 carries.

Williams quit the team in September, saying he was tired of football. He came back after injuries depleted the Utah backfield and UCLA couldn’t tackle him.

Like the Rams, the Bruins have lost three in a row, while falling to 3-5. They next play at Colorado Nov. 3.

USC gets back in action Oct. 27 against California after playing their most complete game of the season Oct. 15 in a 48-14 rout of Arizona. The Trojans are riding the crest of a three-game winning streak, but can’t overlook the Golden Bears, who also are 4-3 with wins over Oregon and Utah.