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SPORTS DIGEST: Luke Walton ready for first head coaching job

LOS ANGELES — It’s been a hectic week for new Lakers coach Luke Walton.

On June 19, Walton sat helplessly as the Golden State Warriors, the team he has served as an assistant coach the last two seasons, lost in historic fashion to the Cleveland Cavaliers in game seven of the NBA Finals.

The next day he spent driving from the Bay Area to Southern California to assume his new job as the Lakers head coach. June 21 was meet the media day and June 23 is the NBA Draft.

Oh, and Walton’s wife, Bre, is expected to deliver their second child, also June 23.

Surprisingly, Walton didn’t seem overwhelmed by it all while talking to media members on his first full day as coach of the Lakers.

He preferred not to look back at the Lakers’ last two seasons, the two worst in franchise history.

“What I can affect is what’s going to happen next year and the year after that,” he said. “And we’re going to put, you know, our stamp on the culture that we want.”

Walton, who won two titles during a nine-year career with the Lakers, said he envisions a franchise that will be exciting for both the players and fans alike.

“Our players are going to like coming to practice every day,” he said. “We’re going to play a brand of basketball that the L.A. fans will appreciate. We’re going to compete. All of these things going forward with my vision of how we’re going to do things is what I can control.

“I don’t know how that’ll be different from the previous two years because I wasn’t in here for those years.”

Walton’s hiring was announced on April 29, but it was agreed that he would remain as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors until they completed their season. The Warriors season ended with a 93-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals June 19, becoming the first team in history to blow a 3-1 lead in the finals.

The Lakers had a franchise-worst 17-65 record in the 2015-16 season and have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.

Walton spent two seasons as an assistant coach with Golden State. He had a 39-4 record as the Warriors interim coach to begin the 2015-16 season when Steve Kerr was unable to coach because of back problems, including a 24-0 start, the best in NBA history.

Walton is the son of Basketball Hall of Fame member Bill Walton, who starred at UCLA in the early 1970s before winning titles with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics during a 13-year NBA career that was plagued by injuries.

Now a television analyst, Bill Walton is known for having an opinion on everything and recently said he advised his son not to take the Lakers job.

The son was able to joke about that at his press conference.

“I love my father,” he said. “Sometimes he has great advice, sometimes he doesn’t.

“I’m sure you’ll see him in the hallways wearing Lakers shirts that are too small for him and chanting ‘Lakers’ and all sorts of other things that we’ve come to love about him.”

Walton began thinking about a coaching career before he retired as an NBA player. During the 2011 NBA lockout, he served as an assistant coach at the University of Memphis under coach Josh Pastner, who was a teammate of Walton’s at the University of Arizona.

At Arizona, Walton played under Lute Olson, one of the top college basketball coaches of the last 40 years. With the Lakers, he played under Phil Jackson, just like his boss at Golden State, Steve Kerr.

That’s a pretty good coaching pedigree.

Walton said he likes the youth of the Lakers and compared guards D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson and forward Julius Randle to the Warriors top three players, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

He also acknowledged that the Lakers needed more than those three players, but still insisted the Lakers could compete for the playoffs next season in the Western Conference.

Russell, who butted heads with former coach Byron Scott throughout his rookie season, was shooting three pointers while Walton met with the press June 21.

“A lot of us are coming out of college and just really want to be able to play and have fun,” Russell said. “[Walton] just mentioned having fun and being able to run as much as possible. So I think that’s what we need.”

The Lakers also need to sign a couple of veteran free agents that the young players, including the second pick in the draft, can learn from.

Kevin Durant would be a wonderful addition, but there are other free agents out there that the Lakers can start building around.

And following the Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and Byron Scott coaching eras, there is nowhere to go but up for the Lakers.

“He’s one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game and we feel fortunate that he’ll be leading the on-court future of our team,” general manager Mitch Kupchak said in announcing Walton’s hiring in April.

Let’s hope Kupchak got it right this time.

Dodger relief pitcher Kenley Jansen broke the franchise record for most saves in a career when he notched his 162 save June 20. The record of 161 was set by Eric Gagne between 2001 and 2004. (Courtesy photo)
Dodger relief pitcher Kenley Jansen broke the franchise record for most saves in a career when he notched his 162 save June 20. The record of 161 was set by Eric Gagne between 2001 and 2004. (Courtesy photo)

FINALLY HEATING UP: With summer finally here and the temperatures rising accordingly, the Dodgers are finally showing some life.

After a 3-2 win June 21 sparked by an eighth inning, three-run homer by Yasmani Grandal, the Dodgers have their first five-game winning streak of the season.

The offense still isn’t clicking on all cylinders and Japanese rookie Kenta Maeda seems to be the only starter other than Clayton Kershaw capable of going more than six innings per outing, but the Dodgers are finally playing well enough to worry the Giants, who still lead in the National League West by five and half games.

First-year manager seems to have finally found a rotation in the bullpen that works, with Dodger relief pitchers now the third best unit in the major leagues. Who thought that would happen in April.

Kenley Jansen is the anchor in the bullpen. The closer broke the team record for career saves June 20 when he pitched the ninth inning of a 4-1 win over Washington.

It was save number162 for Jansen, breaking the record sat by Eric Gagne, who got 152 of his 161 saves with the Dodgers between 2002 and 2004.

Of course, Gagne saved 84 games in a row between Aug. 26, 2002 and July 5, 2004, including all 55 save chances in 2003. That’s a record that will probably last forever.

Jansen picked up save 163 the next night after Adam Liberatore and Louis Coleman pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings.

Chris Hatcher and J.P. Howell are the only two relief pitchers with earned run averages over 4 and Liberatore has given up only two runs in 31 appearances.

Joe Blanton has been a surprise and Pedro Baez may yet prove to be the setup man the Dodgers feel he can be.

Anyway you want to look at, the Dodgers bullpen is carrying a big load right now. Hopefully, that will continue.

Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks dribbles the ball up the court June 21 in the Sparks loss to the Minnesota Lynx, 72-69. It was the Sparks first loss of the season after they won their first 11 games. (Courtesy photo)
Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks dribbles the ball up the court June 21 in the Sparks loss to the Minnesota Lynx, 72-69. It was the Sparks first loss of the season after they won their first 11 games. (Courtesy photo)

SPARKS FINALLY LOSE: The Los Angeles Sparks don’t get a lot of attention here, but they are off to a great start. They lost for the first time this season June 21 to the Minnesota Lynx, 72-69, dropping their record to 11-1. The Lynx are 13-0.

The game featured 17 lead changes and wasn’t decided until Minnesota guard Renee Montgomery hit a three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left.

The Sparks Kristi Tolliver followed with her own long basket at the buzzer, but the officials ruled she got the shot off after the buzzer and that her toe was on the three-point line when the ball left her hand.

The Sparks led by one at halftime and the game was tied after three quarters.

The Sparks and the Lynx figure to battle all year for supremacy in he Western Conference.

NEW CIF ALIGNMENT: The CIF Southern Section has released new playoff groupings for 11 sports including football, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball. Teams are now evaluated and grouped for the playoffs based on a series of factors that include regular season records, strength of schedule and playoff performances over the past two seasons.

Those factors will be used to compile power rankings that will be used to determine which divisions schools will be placed in for the playoffs.

The rankings for next year were released June 17 and as soon as I figure them out, I will let you know what they are. Corona Centennial is the top school overall.

The objective, as far as the section is concerned is competitive equity. The new system relies on all schools to report the results of all games and matches.

The new power rankings will be used for the upcoming school year.