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About Keir Chapman

  • Member Since: April 7, 2016

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Keir Chapman began his career in sports journalism as Sports Director for iCLU Radio in Thousand Oaks. After graduating from California Lutheran University in 2013, Keir used his experiences as a writer and a college basketball player in a weekly blog for the New York based athletic gear company, True Athelite. Now, Keir makes weekly appearances on the Doug and John show on KHTS as Mr. Sports and is happy to contribute to the Santa Clarita Gazette.

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The Angels and Dodgers Put on a Show to Start the 2018 Freeway Series

| Sports | July 12, 2018

The famed Freeway Series took place last week in a season that has been very different for both Los Angeles teams. The Angels have been hovering around .500 after a loss to Boston on June 28 gave Anaheim a 41-41 record. The Dodgers, conversely, rode a four-game win streak down the I-5 to take on their L.A. counterparts.

The three-game series offered its fair share of highlight moments, and a twist-ending that was hard to predict. The Angels, despite their struggles, were able to protect their field and fend off the Dodgers, winning the series two games to one.

The first game wasn’t settled until the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers held a 2-1 lead and needed just one more out to take the win. Angels pinch-hitter David Fletcher wouldn’t let his team lose that easily. He hit a single that allowed Shohei Ohtani to reach home and tie up the score. Then, Ian Kinsler took the plate and drove a walk-off single to right field, helping Anaheim snatch a 3-2 victory away from the Dodgers.

Ohtani returned to action for the first time in a month on July 3 against the Mariners. Before game three of the Freeway Series, he had registered only two hits in five outings. A bruised right knee relegated Ohtani to the bench for this match, but that didn’t stop the Angels’ sensation from making an impact.

Albert Pujols tied the game with a home run in the sixth inning. From there on out, it was Ohtani’s time to shine. He came in as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, and with his lone at bat, hit a homer of his own to bring the final score to 4-3.

Game two was the only time in the series that either team won by more than one. Justin Turner ensured the Dodgers never trailed, giving his team a 2-0 lead with a single in the fifth. A Mike Trout home run made it a one score game, but Yasiel Puig’s ninth inning homer clinched the victory for the Dodgers.

July has been a rough month for the Angels offensively. After the first seven games of the month, their 19 runs scored were dead last in the MLB. The team’s collective .195 batting average was second worst in the league in that span. It comes as no surprise that Trout was their best hitter, registering a .300 batting average and six hits.

The Angles are hoping the bats come alive, because the pitching staff has been nothing short of sensational to start the month. Opposing offenses were only able to score 28 runs on Anaheim, and did so with just a .217 batting average. Andrew Heaney put on a show in the final game against the Dodgers, fanning 10 batters, and earning his fifth win.

The Dodgers suffered from anemic offense in their slow start to the season, but it appears that the team is putting it all together at the right time. At the end of the Freeway Series, the Dodgers had a collective .292 batting average, and scored 53 runs. Both of these numbers were good for third in the league. Matt Kemp continues to be a revelation in his return to Los Angeles, notching 11 hits, 11 RBIs, and a .458 batting average to start the month.

Pitching doesn’t appear to be a problem for the Dodgers either. They have allowed a batting average of .201 to opposing hitters, the lowest mark in the league. Teams have also scored 22 runs against the Dodgers in the opening week of July, the third lowest total in the MLB. Ross Stripling was the only pitcher to collect a win against the Angels, striking out seven batters in the process.

The All-Star break begins in just one week, but before it does, these two teams will square off again at Dodgers Stadium. The latest installment of the Freeway Series begins on July 13, and both ball clubs should expect to be in the same position they were last time, save for any dramatic changes.

It’s hard to anticipate what will happen when the Angels make the trip to Downtown Los Angeles, but another series win would be monumental in taking momentum into the All-Star break. The Dodgers will look to avoid losing steam themselves, since they will have five days off following their bout with Anaheim.

There is a lot at stake when these two teams meet up again. It will soon become clear which one can take the pressure, and finish the Freeway Series as Los Angeles’ top baseball team.

Revisiting the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2018 Draft

| Sports | June 28, 2018

On May 18, I speculated on what the Clippers would do with two back to back picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Two of the top prospects that were discussed were Kentucky point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Texas A&M center Robert Williams. Well, the draft finally took place on June 21, and the Clippers threw some definite curveballs that few saw coming.

Most mock drafts had Los Angeles selecting Gilgeous-Alexander at number 12, and while the team wound up drafting him, the pick came in the form of a trade with the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets held the 11th pick in the draft, which they gave to Los Angeles for pick number 12 and two second round draft picks. The Clippers got the guy they wanted in Gilgeous-Alexander, and Charlotte got the prospect they coveted in Miles Bridges.

For those who don’t remember, Gilgeous-Alexander is a 6 foot 6 inch point guard that gives Los Angeles a ton of length at that position. He does most of his scoring damage inside the paint, where he can penetrate with the help of an array of moves that get defenders out of position.

Once in scoring position, Gilgeous-Alexander can finish through contact, or pass to an open player when facing a double-team. His long arms come in handy on the defensive end, as he is able to read passing lanes and record steals. In his lone season at Kentucky, he averaged 1.65 steals per game.

With the 13th pick, the Clippers chose a player few were talking about in Boston College point guard Jerome Robinson. The decision to take another guard with an already stacked backcourt may seem confusing, but Robinson has all the makings of a modern NBA wing player.

Robinson stands at 6 foot 6 inches and has the ability to play on and off ball. With the ball in his hands, he too can make his way to the rim and finish through contact, like Gilgeous-Alexander. Robinson is also unafraid to take contested jump shots off the dribble. This will allow the Clippers to run isolation plays through Robinson, when he is ready to be inserted into the regular rotation.

Off ball, Robinson is a good catch and shoot option. His true shooting percentage in his final year at Boston College was 61 percent, showing his potential as a reliable scorer. He averaged 20 points per game, and did so with an offensive rating of 116.8 points per 100 possessions. In other words, Robinson knows how to put the ball in the basket, and does so at an elite level.

With Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson both coming in, the Clippers have begun the work of clearing up the logjam developing at the guard position. Starting shooting guard Austin Rivers was recently traded to the Washington Wizards for center Marcin Gortat. Gortat will act as insurance, in case Deandre Jordan decides to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.

This may signal Los Angeles’ confidence in Robinson to earn a spot in the regular rotation sooner rather than later. Currently, the only two shooting guards in front of him are 2018 Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams, and Sindarius Thornwell, who averaged 15.8 minutes in his rookie season.

The path for Gilgeous-Alexander to see regular playing time seems pretty clear as well. He currently sits behind Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic at the point guard position, but the trade of Rivers makes it apparent the Clippers want to make room for their rookies to contribute as soon as possible.

This means Teodosic may be on his way out. He never figured to be part of Los Angeles’ long term plans, but opted in to his $6.3 million contract. If the Clippers can find a trade partner to take Teodosic off their hands, Gilgeous-Alexander will find himself second in the point guard rotation. If Teodosic stays with the team, it’s more than likely Gilgeous-Alexander supplants him on the depth chart anyways.

Los Angeles is clearly trying to build a team that will contend for a championship in the future, rather than the now. Gortat ensures the Clippers will have a starting-caliber center this season, at the conclusion of which, he will be an unrestricted free agent. This means, come 2019-2020, Los Angeles will have $72.5 million in cap space to fill out their roster with either, a big name free agent, or multiple serviceable role players.

The Clippers’ roster is in a state of flux at the moment. No player appears to be safe from the trading block, save for Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson. It seems Los Angeles has faith that these two can be foundational players to build around, and are actively trying to carve out playing time for both of them to develop.

Everything appears to be chaotic at the moment, but there is a definite sense of direction that should be reassuring. By the time the monolith that is the Golden State Warriors begins to decline, it is possible a young and finely-crafted Clippers team will be there to take Golden State’s place.

Los Angeles Angels Looking for Answers as Shohei Ohtani’s Season in Jeopardy

| Sports | June 14, 2018

The sudden success of Shohei Ohtani seems to have been cut short by an announcement that seemed to come just as suddenly. On June 8, it was announced Ohtani would be placed on the 10-day disabled list for a grade 2 sprain to his right ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). On June 10, it was speculated he would need Tommy John surgery to repair said ligament, which would end both his 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Ohtani captivated not only Angels fans, but the baseball world, with his abilities as both a hitter and a pitcher. Dubbed “The Japanese Babe Ruth,” Ohtani dominated the Pacific League in Japan, and was named the league’s MVP in 2016. Although it took Los Angeles sometime to figure out how to best utilize their versatile weapon, Ohtani had a huge impact on the team almost any time he took the field.

The beautiful thing about the wins above replacement (WAR) stat, is that it gives a metric to quantify just how impactful a starter is. As a pitcher, Ohtani accounted for an average of one win more than a replacement pitcher would produce. Delving deeper into his stats, it’s easy to see why.

In nine starts, Ohtani earned a 4-1 record, making him one of just two starting pitchers on the team to suffer only a single loss. His 3.10 ERA was the third lowest amongst all starters as well. Ohtani made it nearly impossible for batters to figure out what pitches were coming. He could toss a 100 mile per hour fast ball, before throwing a splitter for a change of pace. He allowed just 36 hits in his time on the mound, second lowest of the pitching rotation.

Sticking with the WAR metric, Ohtani proved himself a worthy hitter as well. He again accounted for an average of one more win than a replacement batter, and did so with only 114 at bats, 10th most on the team. In fact, only Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, and, of course, Mike Trout had a higher WAR than Ohtani on the Angels. For those unfamiliar with Trout, his 5.4 WAR is easily the highest in the MLB.

Ohtani made the most of his limited appearances at the plate, earning the third highest batting average on the team at .289, and third highest on base percentage at .372. Ohtani truly broke out in a three game stretch from April 3-6. He hit a home run in each of these three games, had seven RBIs, and finished the stretch with a .421 batting average. Los Angeles went on to win all three of these games.

The loss of Ohtani does leave large holes to fill in both the pitching and hitting rotation, but it has opened the door for another young player to make a name for himself. With Albert Pujols resuming his spot as the team’s designated hitter, first baseman Jose Fernandez is getting his moment to shine. So far, the results have been promising both offensively and defensively.

Fernandez received his first start at the beginning of the Angels’ most recent series with the Minnesota Twins. Fernandez finished the three game series, which Los Angeles won 2-1, going 4-6 with one RBI and a .444 batting average. On defense, Fernandez maintained a perfect fielding percentage, logging 14 putouts, and one assist on 15 chances. He also turned a double play in Los Angeles’s 2-1 win over Minnesota on June 9.

While Fernandez’s hot start is a pleasant surprise, it doesn’t take away the fact that Ohtani is potentially facing a serious procedure that doesn’t guarantee he will return the same player. To quell these fears, look to the example of Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg took the nation by storm as a rookie in 2010, only to be lost the same injury Ohtani currently faces. In 2011, he returned to pitch just 24 innings, but has bounced back throughout his career, and enjoyed his most successful season in 2017. Last year, Strasburg recorded a 15-4 record, had an ERA of 2.52, and allowed just 49 hits and 13 home runs. He also earned his third All-Star game bid, the first two coming in 2012 and 2016.

So, if Ohtani does need Tommy John surgery, which the Angels are optimistic he won’t, it doesn’t spell doom for his promising career. It is disappointing that Los Angeles could be without Ohtani for two years, but if the procedure is what he needs to ensure his future in the MLB, then it is the right call to make.

A player with Ohtani’s skill set rarely comes around, and the Angels are fortunate to have him in the fold. When he does finally return, whether it be later this season, or further down the road, Ohtani gives Los Angeles the foundation to build a championship contender upon.

Los Angeles Looks to New Names as the Dodgers Attempt to Save Their Season

| Sports | June 7, 2018

Ross Stripling’s five straight strikeouts in the third and fourth innings were the icing on the cake of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 5-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 5. The victory brought LA to a 30-30 record, the first time the team had a .500 record since a 3-2 loss to the Miami Marlins on April 24 left Los Angeles sitting at 11-11. The big bats that many Dodgers fans expected to see all season were on display as Pittsburgh was unable to stop LA from piling on the points.

Pirates RHP Joe Musgrave came in to the match with a 2-0 record and a 0.64 ERA, but when Joc Pederson hit a two-run homer to right field in the second inning, it was clear Musgrave was in for a long night.

Matt Kemp extended the lead in the third inning, popping up a shallow sacrifice fly to left-field, allowing Curtis Taylor to find his way home. Yasiel Puig registered his seventh home run in the fourth inning, and Cody Bellinger put the nail in the coffin in the sixth inning with a single-run home run to make the final score.

Stripling has been a revelation on the mound since being pressed in to action due to the injuries suffered by a majority of LA’s starting pitching rotation. In five innings, he allowed just four hits, no earned runs, and struck out seven batters. For the season, he now has a 1.52 ERA, and a 4-1 record.

Pittsburgh saw strong play from left fielder Corey Dickerson, who went 2-4 for the evening, bringing his ERA to .316, which leads all Pirates’ starters. Pittsburgh started May off on a five-game win streak to obtain a 23-16 record, but have lost 14 of their last 21 and now sit at 30-30. After their series with LA, they go on to face the Chicago Cubs, and the Arizona Diamondbacks in a brutal six-game stretch.

The first 60 games of the year have been a rollercoaster ride for Los Angeles. Early on, it appeared as though injuries would derail a Dodgers team that finished last season as World Series runner-ups. Pitching ace Clayton Kershaw who was lost to a biceps injury on May 1, returned to throw for five innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on May 31, only to be lost again to a lower back strain.

Short stop Corey Seager, a two-time All-Star and 2016 Rookie of the Year, was lost for the season on April 30, after learning he would need Tommy John Surgery on his right elbow. The injuries to Kershaw and Seager alone were a mountain for the Dodgers to overcome, but compile that with the loss of pitchers Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tom Koehler, and Julio Urias, and no one would blame Los Angeles for conceding the season early.

Out of the ashes of these ailments, however, have risen new talents that, at worst, give the Dodgers incredible depth when all presumed starters return, and at best, can serve as starters for years to come.

Stripling’s emergence can’t be stressed enough. He began the season as a relief pitcher, and has made the most of his opportunity as a starter. Aside from the stats listed above, he is also second on the team in strikeouts with 66. His 1.7 wins above replacement are far and away the highest among all pitchers.

Not to be outdone, rookie RHP Walker Buehler is shining in the absence of LA’s regular starters. He boasts a 3-1 record, an ERA of 2.74, and has struck out 50 batters. His 36 hits allowed are the fewest of all active Los Angeles pitchers, but these come in just 46 innings pitched, the fewest among the active starters.

Names like Puig, Bellinger, Pederson, and Yasmani Grandal have become household names in Southern California, so it comes as some surprise that a third baseman by the name of Max Muncy has been one of the Dodgers’ best hitters as of late. In 87 at bats in the last 30 games, Muncy has amassed a batting average of .264 on 23 hits. He has also had eight home runs to go along with 20 RBIs. The only hitter to have more success in this timeframe is Kemp.
Speaking of Kemp, it appears he hasn’t missed a beat in his return to LA. After 60 games, he leads all National League batters in batting average at .344. He is also Los Angeles’ leader in every major hitting statistical category, with nine home runs, 34 RBIs, and a .568 slugging percentage.

After the Dodgers finish their series against Pittsburgh, they host 36-25 Atlanta Braves. Buehler will get the start for the opening game of the series on June 8, and will have a chance to show he can perform well against a tough opponent. After Atlanta, LA takes on the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants in a five-game stretch that should help bolster Los Angeles’ improving record. That is, if the team’s recent winning ways are sustainable.

The Dodgers’ biggest flaw is in their fielding. After their win against the Pirates that brought them to a .500 record, Los Angeles is tied for 10th in errors committed with 37. Because of this, they are 21st in the MLB with a .983 fielding percentage.

Even though their defense is lacking, the Dodgers are ninth overall in runs allowed with 236. This may be due to the team’s overall pitching performance, however, as they have the 10th lowest collective ERA in the league at 3.63. They have also not allowed more than 500 total hits to opposing batters in 60 games.

Los Angeles is returning to form, and with talent coming out of the woodwork, it appears the team has some time for the regular starters to get reintegrated after recovering from their injuries. There’s still a whole lot of baseball to be played before the All-Star break, which may allow for the Dodgers to make up the ground they lost to start the season. One thing is clear – there is hope in Los Angeles again.

Aaron Donald’s Looming Contract Extension Problem for Rams’ Future

| Sports | May 24, 2018

It’s no longer news that the Los Angeles Rams potentially have one of the best defenses in the NFL going into the 2018 season. However, all is not perfect in La La Land, as a contract decision for one of the team’s biggest stars is looming, and it’s already causing a bit of trouble.

Aaron Donald, Los Angeles’ 2017 leader in sacks (11), tackles for a loss (7), and forced fumbles (5), is entering the final year of his rookie contract after the Rams picked up his fifth-year option. Donald is set to make nearly $7 million due to this decision, but this is just a fraction of what he is worth based on his performance on the field.

It was reported on May 21 that Donald would not be attending the Rams’ organized team’s activities, as he and his agent lobby for a contract extension. Head coach Sean McVay is aware of how important Donald is to the team, but told ESPN he is unsure when the contract dispute would be resolved.

“It is something we want to get resolved,” McVay said. “As far as a timetable, we don’t really have any dates on that.”

Although a new member of the team, cornerback Marcus Peters didn’t hold back in letting his feelings be known on the situation, imploring Los Angeles to, “pay the man.” Despite his undeniable talent, Peters was shipped from Kansas City to Los Angeles in a move that signified that the Chiefs were unable to put up with his on-field antics any longer.

Peters’ opinion on Donald’s contract is almost universally shared, but the context for his presence in Los Angeles, coupled with how unabashedly he spoke on the matter, does leave him open to criticism about his past, whether one believes this is fair or not.

To begin to get a grasp on the amount Donald will be looking to receive, let’s look to the highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL, Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox. The Eagles gave Cox a six-year, $103 million contract extension with $63 million guaranteed against injuries in 2016. According to overthecap.com, he is guaranteed to make $36,299,000 over the life of the contract, and is guaranteed a base salary of $11.5 million, 10 percent of the team’s cap space, in 2018.

There is no doubt that Donald will be looking for a higher guaranteed amount than what Cox received, and while his skill level does deem him worthy, the Rams have an eye for building a perennial contender, and will have to make some tough decisions in the coming years to ensure they do.

Fourth-year running back Todd Gurley is also on his rookie contract, and is currently costing Los Angeles very little. In 2018 he is set to make just over $2 million and accounts for just 2.5 percent of the team’s cap space.

The Rams did pick up Gurley’s fifth-year option as well, giving them one more season before going through the same contract issues they currently face with Donald. However, if they pay Donald everything he is asking for now, they may not be able to afford Gurley down the line.

Then there’s third-year quarterback Jared Goff, who the Rams traded up to the number one overall pick in 2016 to acquire. Goff cemented himself as the team’s franchise quarterback in his second year, throwing for 3,804 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions.

As of now, Goff is guaranteed just under $3 million for the coming season, a legitimate steal for a quarterback of his caliber. In 2019, that number will jump to slightly over $4 million, and unless the unexpected happens, the Rams will assuredly pick up his fifth-year option for 2020.

Goff’s pay day seems far off, but with Donald’s needing to come this season, Gurley’s coming next, and then Goff’s the year after, Los Angeles needs to think wisely about how they distribute their money to three very deserving players. This means sacrifices will have to be made for both team and players.

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers and safety Mark Barron, role players who both make strong contributions to the team, may find themselves being traded away before their contracts end, in order for L.A. to afford their cornerstone players.

Brockers will be owed just $750,000 in dead money if the Rams were to cut him before June 1 of 2019, which makes that a financially viable option as well, although a trade would allow Los Angeles to receive assets to help ensure future success.

While the Rams will be forced to let go of talented players for the sake of their superstars, their superstars may have to forsake record-breaking contracts if they want to remain with Los Angeles. This is, of course, if players like Donald believe staying in L.A. is in their best interest.

Currently, the Rams will have the second most cap space going in to the 2019 season, and are also the closest to reaching the Super Bowl of the top five teams with money to spend. Los Angeles will have over $72 million in cap space, a number that will significantly shrink if Donald is paid what he is seeking. This may not be a problem for Donald, but it will pose one to both Gurley and Goff when it comes their time to get paid.

The Jets will have the most cap space in 2019 at nearly $86 million, and unlike the Rams, will have no significant contract extensions to handout. Although New York isn’t close to being even a playoff contender at the moment, the drafting of Sam Darnold out of USC, and the addition of Trumaine Johnson, previously of the Rams, has them trending in a positive direction.

The addition of a talent like Donald would give the Jets a potent defense, and may help them reach the postseason, while simultaneously hurting any title hopes the Rams may have. Fortunately, even if Donald doesn’t receive an extension before the season begins, Los Angeles will have all of 2018 to avoid any sort of doomsday scenario.

This is the business side of the NFL, where dollars and cents are king. In a perfect world, the players who sacrifice their bodies for the sport they love would get paid everything they deserve. At the end of the day, though, teams have to make conscientious choices that set themselves up for long-term success, long after superstars retire.

One thing is for certain, Donald is one of the most talented players in the league, and a team will definitely pay him like one. Whether or not that team is the Los Angeles Rams remains to be seen.

Lottery Luck Set Up Clippers for Future Success

| Sports | May 18, 2018

The Los Angeles Clippers are entering offseason number two in what appears to be a different approach to reaching the NBA Finals. Long gone are the faces that made up Lob City, except for Deandre Jordan, who may be out the door as well, if he does what everyone expects, and opts out of his contract.

Jerry West, the architect of the current Golden State Warriors, took on a risk by blowing up the most successful Clippers team in franchise history. He let J.J. Redick walk away in free agency without a fight, and made a blockbuster deal with Houston that sent Chris Paul packing in exchange for Patrick Beverley and a host of role players.

His biggest move, however, came on January 29, when Blake Griffin was shipped off to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Detroit’s first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The pick was 1-4 protected, meaning, if the Pistons received a top-four draft pick, they’d get to keep it.

This was not the case. Detroit was awarded the 12th pick during Tuesday’s Draft Lottery, which they immediately handed over to Los Angeles. The Clippers then earned the 13th pick due to their own record, giving them two subsequent picks in a strong part of the NBA draft.

The immediate thought is that the team should trade one, or package both of these picks into a trade for established NBA players, or to move up in the draft to take a prospect that can contribute faster. However, the teams at the top of the draft order have very little need to move down. As for NBA-ready players available for trade, point guard Dennis Schroder of the Atlanta Hawks is the only one who has expressed interest in finding a new home. The Clippers’ best bet at this junction is to use both of their picks to fill areas of need. The expected departure of Jordan leaves a hole at the center position, and although Beverley has been a serviceable point guard in the past, especially on the defensive front, he only played 11 games with Los Angeles last year, so no one really knows how well he fits with the team.

Three prospects come to mind when looking at the middle of the first-round. Multiple mock drafts have the Clippers taking Shai Gilgeous Alexander, a point guard out of Kentucky, but it’s the second pick that is up for debate. Centers Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson are expected to be available when Los Angeles is on the clock, but both are far from a sure thing. Alexander could very well be the Clippers’ answer at starting point guard for a very long time. He is an excellent ball handler and gets into the paint with ease. This makes him an excellent pick and roll point guard, as he can use a screen at the top of the key to get to the rim. There, he has a host of moves that allow him to create his own shot, and when he draws multiple defenders, he has the vision and passing ability to find the open big man for an easy bucket. This is what allowed Alexander to be an efficient offensive player in his time at Kentucky. He maintained a true shooting percentage of 58 percent with an offensive rating of 117 points per 100 possessions. He also averaged 5.1 assists per game, which isn’t an eye-popping stat, but is a good foundation for him to grow.

One potential cause for concern with Alexander is his weight. At 180 pounds, Alexander may find himself getting bullied by bigger NBA guards as he begins his professional career. It’s easy to say he can just gain the weight to ensure this doesn’t happen, but it’s a harder concept to put in to practice.

Even if Alexander doesn’t bulk up significantly, he is 6 feet 6 inches, with lanky arms and fast feet. These attributes helped him on defense in college, where he had a defensive rating of 100.8 points per 100 possessions.

Now comes the difficult task of figuring out who Los Angeles should take with their second first round pick. Williams is consistently projected to be taken higher than Robinson, and there is merit to that argument. First and foremost, Williams has two years of college basketball at Texas A&M under his belt, whereas Robinson committed to Western Kentucky before un-enrolling and taking the 2017 NCAA season off to prepare for the draft.

Williams was a defensive force for the Aggies, posting a team-best defensive rating of 91.9 points per 100 possessions. He used the entirety of his hulking frame to ensure opposing teams rarely had an easy path to points in the paint, and averaged 2.63 blocks per game in doing so.

Offensively, Williams was the most efficient member of the Texas A&M squad. He had a team-high true shooting percentage, at 61 percent, and had the fourth best offensive rating, at 114.1 points per 100 possessions. He was able to post such lofty numbers because all of his points came at the rim. There weren’t too many players that he was unable to post-up and out muscle. His skill-set is eerily similar to Jordan’s, making the All-Star center’s departure slightly more bearable. The two share the same weakness as well. Williams’ offensive game is limited to the paint, allowing defenders to focus their attentions there. Today’s NBA seems to be shying away from the traditional center, in lieu of a big man who can stretch the floor by shooting jump shots. This is what makes Robinson such an appealing prospect.

Robinson takes the edge in height, standing at seven feet compared to Williams’ 6-foot-10 inches, but Williams outweighs Robinson 240 pounds to 223 pounds. It’s the difference in weight that truly dictates the differing styles between the two. Unlike Williams’ brand of physical play, Robinson uses his exceptional athleticism to excel.

He moves his feet very quickly on defense, so even if a player initially gets by him en route to the rim, Robinson can easily recover and disrupt the play. He is also lankier than Williams, and can use his long arms to swat away shot attempts. Like Williams, Robinson looks to score in the paint first. His speed gives him the potential to succeed in pick and roll plays, as he can set a screen to free the point guard, and quickly get to the basket, where his height will make it hard for a defender to stop him from scoring.

The fact that Robinson has a jump shot in his arsenal, makes him different than any center the Clippers have had in a long time, and adds a new wrinkle to their offense. Although Robinson hasn’t demonstrated the ability to shoot NBA-range 3-pointers yet, just having him able to take and make shots outside of the paint spaces the floor, and forces defenders to have to guard Robinson anywhere, instead of focusing all of their efforts inside.

All of Robinson’s strengths are well and good, but it is hard to have complete faith in him, as he has yet to demonstrate his ability against college, let alone NBA caliber players. The Clippers would need to know they are taking on a project by picking Robinson, a risk they may be willing to take, as they are not looking to compete for the championship in 2018.

With a president like West, it is impossible to tell what will happen with these draft picks. He may very well be able to pull off an amazing trade and snag Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs, but more likely than not, the two picks will become two players that set Los Angeles up for success in the long-term.

The Warriors rule the Western Conference for now, due in large part to West’s ability to build a team. If he can work his magic again, the Clippers could be on their way to dominating the conference as Golden State begins to decline. The players taken in the 2018 NBA Draft aim to be a big part of this plan.

Los Angeles Chargers Select the Steal of the Draft in Derwin James

| Sports | May 4, 2018

The 2017 NFL season was a weird one for the newly minted Los Angeles Chargers. It began with the unpopular move to the city that had just acquired the Rams a year ago. Then, the Chargers opened the season losing four straight games, three of which were by a score of three or less, before winning nine of their last 12 matches.

Despite having one of the best passing offenses in the league last year, led by Philip Rivers’ second-best 4,515 total passing yards, along with a top-tier passing defense, Los Angeles finished the season with a 9-7 record and barely missed the playoffs. As a result, they were rewarded the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Such a spot can potentially be a problem, as the player available may not be one that can have an immediate impact, thus leaving the team in a relatively similar position to before they made the pick. However, the Chargers found some draft night magic, and were able to snag Florida State safety Derwin James, a defender slotted to be unavailable by the time Los Angeles made their pick.

The fact that James was still on the board at number 17 took everyone by surprise. His ultra-athletic abilities and strength not often seen in his position made him a coveted prospect. At the combine, he was tagged as a top performer in bench press, knocking out 21 reps, in the vertical jump, showing off his 40 inch vertical, and in the broad jump, leaping 132 inches. His showing at the combine was so strong that NFL.com gave him a prospect grade of 6.44, deeming him an instant starter.

Anyone watching Florida State football could have told you James had all the makings of an excellent NFL defender. He came in second on the team in total tackles, with 84, and his 5.5 tackles for a loss were the most of any defensive back. He also led all players in passes defended, with 11, and was tied for most interceptions, with two, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

What makes James so dangerous is his field vision. This is how he is able to snuff out if a play is pass or run, follow the action as it unfolds, and make a play on the ball, whether that be break up or intercept a pass, or take down the ball carrier. With James’ strength, it isn’t very often that an offensive player breaks free from one of his tackles.

On almost any other NFL team, James would be an unquestioned starter, and the de facto enforcer of the defense. However, as previously mentioned, the Chargers have an excellent pass defense, which is by no accident. Casey Hayward has been a revelation at cornerback since coming from Green Bay, and Jahleel Addae and Tre Boston are a fearsome duo at the safety position.

In fact, Addae and Boston were the team’s leaders in total tackles, Addae leading the way, with 96, and Boston right behind, with 79. Boston also led Los Angeles in interceptions, with five. These numbers aren’t just fluff either; the Chargers were third in the NFL in total passing yards allowed and passing yards per game, with 3,156 and 197, respectively. The 63 percent completion percentage they gave the opposing quarterback was middle of the pack, but the team’s 6.5 yards-per-reception was tied for third least overall.

This gives the Chargers an interesting, but overall, good dilemma. Depending on offseason performance, it is possible James takes one of the two starting safety spots, but it would come as no surprise if Addae and Boston were back on the field for the first defensive series. That’s no reason to assume James won’t see extended playing time, as he has incredible versatility, and can line up at multiple positions.

In specific situations, James will be slotted as either a cornerback or linebacker. As a corner, James’ 6-foot, 2-inch frame allows him to match up well with almost any receiver. Although speed isn’t one of James’ strongest attributes, he has the strength to disrupt a receiver’s route at the start of the play, and the athleticism to make a play on the ball in tight coverage.

The role of linebacker will put James closer to the initial offensive action. If a blitz is called, he will be a nightmare to block, and could easily find himself in the backfield to disrupt a play at its inception. If asked to drop into coverage, James has more than enough experience to do that as well. Although tight ends will most likely have a few inches on him, James’ athleticism and ball tracking capabilities should even out his height disadvantage.

After the turmoil that marred the beginning of last season, the tide seems to be turning in the Chargers’ favor. If the team remains healthy, they will have a host of weapons. On offense, Rivers, running back Melvin Gordon, and wide receiver Keenan Allen are an unstoppable trio. On defense, the sack machines of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, along with the aforementioned strong secondary, give Los Angeles an almost unmovable wall.

That doesn’t even factor in the impact that James will have for the team. If he isn’t a week one starter, he will eventually find his way into the starting lineup, and has the potential to be the leader of the defense. It is rare that a player like James tumbles to the middle of the first round of the NFL draft, and Los Angeles was wise to ensure he fell no further.

Now the Chargers have all of the makings of a championship team, one that will not be underestimated in 2018. Not only are they set for the short term, but young defenders like Bosa and James also ensure the team will have a potent defense for years to come.

California Kid Jrue Holiday Makes Waves in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans

| Sports | April 26, 2018

Jrue Holiday’s ties to Los Angeles are as deep as they come. He was born in Chatsworth, and led Campbell High School to the 2008 California Division IV state championship. He then attended UCLA, helping the Bruins reach the second round of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

With such a strong Southern California connection, it comes as some surprise that his best body of basketball work is taking place in New Orleans. This is very much the case, however, as Holiday has helped make a name for himself in this year’s NBA playoffs. The sixth-seeded Pelicans weren’t given much of a chance to take down the third-seeded Portland Trailblazers in round one. Despite the naysaying, New Orleans came out of the first round as the only team to win every game against their opponent.

Holiday’s impact on this series can’t be ignored, specifically in games two and four. In the first of these two games, Holiday led all players in scoring and assists, with 33 points and nine assists. For all of the strong offensive numbers Holiday put up, it was his defensive effort, especially against Portland’s All-Star guard Damian Lillard, that allowed New Orleans to walk away with a 111-102 victory. Lillard scored just 17 points on 7-18 shooting, while turning the ball over seven times.

In game four, the final bout of this series, the joint offensive explosion from Holiday and Anthony Davis was too much for the Trailblazers to overcome. The duo combined for 88 points, 41 of which came from Holiday. Again, Lillard was rendered harmless, as he was only able to score 19 points on 7-16 shooting. If it wasn’t for CJ McCollum’s 38 points for Portland, the 131-123 Pelicans win would have been much more lopsided.

As his stats for the series will show, Holiday had an impact that went far beyond high scoring and assist totals. This is not to say that his points and passes were trivial, as the Pelicans probably don’t sweep Portland if Holiday doesn’t score 28 points per game and dish out 6.5 assists. However, these numbers don’t encapsulate everything Holiday did in his time on the court.

It should first be mentioned that Holiday had the second highest usage percentage of the team, at 30.2 percent. According to realgm.com, usage percentage is “a measurement of the percentage of plays utilized by a player while he is in the game.” This means that Holiday was directly involved in 30 percent of all plays that occurred while he was playing.

With that in mind, it makes the fact that Holiday was able to maintain a true shooting percentage of 63 percent even more impressive. Factor in the fact that he also accounted for 29 percent of all assists that occurred while he was on the court, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Holiday was asked to do it all on offense. He more than answered the call, shown by his offensive rating of 118 points per 100 possessions.

It would be easy to excuse a poor defensive effort with so much offensive responsibility. Holiday need not make such excuses, as he was one of the team’s better defenders, as well. His defensive rating of 110.6 points per 100 possessions does leave a little to be desired, but his ability to lockdown Lillard all series should more than make up for any slight defensive indiscretions.

Lillard, who led Portland in scoring all season, with 26.9 points per game, averaged just 18.5 points in their first round series. Even reaching this total turned out to be a chore for Lillard, as he registered a true shooting percentage of 47 percent while having the second highest usage percentage of the team at 24.9 percent. He also was far and away the Trailblazers’ leader in turnovers, totaling 16 throughout the team’s four games.

Giving Holiday all of the credit in stopping Lillard wouldn’t do justice to the defensive performance of the other Pelicans players. Rajon Rondo, the other starting guard, had the fifth highest defensive rating of the team at 108.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis and Nikola Mirotic can be thanked for closing off the paint, as the pair had defensive ratings of 100.9 and 100.7 points per 100 possessions, respectively. Both were also the team leaders in block percentage, with Mirotic accounting for 5.5 percent of all blocks that occurred with him in play, and Davis blocking 5.8 percent of all shots with him on the court.

New Orleans’ sweep of Portland was a team effort through and through, but Holiday will receive the most recognition from it, as no one expected him to dominate every facet of the game as he did. Before the season began, he was much maligned after receiving a five year, $131 million contract. Most fans didn’t believe Holiday was worth that much of the team’s money, and that any other guard could produce the same results for a cheaper price tag.

Holidays’ first round performance should serve as some vindication for the bonus he received, but the NBA is very much a “what have you done for me lately,” kind of league. If Holiday struggles throughout the rest of the Pelicans’ playoff appearance, his incredible play against Portland may be forgotten.

The road to being crowned NBA champions is a long one. New Orleans will need to take down the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and whoever survives the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoffs, in order to take home the trophy.

Realistically, this isn’t the Pelicans’ year, but with Holiday, Davis, and Rondo in the fold, as well as Demarcus Cousins returning next season from an ACL tear, the team is set up for future championship runs. Holiday will be an integral part of this team’s success if he continues to play the way he did against the Trailblazers.

UCLA Men’s Basketball Brings in Big Potential with 2018 Freshman Class

| Sports | April 19, 2018

The NCAA Men’s Basketball season came to a close recently, so all sights are set on the 2018-2019 season. The nation’s best high school recruits have all chosen the schools they’ll be suiting up for, and the anticipation is mounting to see which of these prospects help their respective programs make it to the pinnacle of college basketball, cutting down the nets as national champions.

In the mix is UCLA, after having yet another successful offseason. When all is said and done, the Bruins are projected to have a top-five recruiting class, strengthened by the additions of Moses Brown and Tyger Campbell, who both signed their National Letters of Intent on April 11. Although both will be true freshmen at the start of the new season, they have the potential to fill the voids left from losing Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday.

Campbell is a pass-first point guard who should be looked to as the engine of the offense any time he is on the court. He is a bit undersized, at 6-foot and 170 pounds, but his stature has not limited the impact he makes.

When going one-on-one with a defender, Campbell has the ball-handling skills to get separation and create his own shot. These same abilities are what allow him to penetrate the paint and score at the rim against much taller defenders. Even if he doesn’t score, Campbell can draw fouls and get his points at the free-throw line.

A pass-first point guard has to have incredibly good court vision, a trait that Campbell doesn’t lack in the slightest. This comes in handy when multiple defenders are required to stop Campbell from scoring at the rim, leaving another offensive player wide open. Campbell has the vision to find his open teammate, often leading to easy points. The one flaw with great court vision is that a passer may believe he can pass the ball to a tightly defended player, which can lead to turnovers.

Jaylen Hands is the projected starter at point guard, following a freshman season that saw him score just shy of 10 points per game, and register four rebounds and three assists per game as well. A bench role will give Campbell time to adapt to the speed of the collegiate game and the strength of the players in it. He will also be matched up against second string point guards, giving Campbell an opportunity to display his many talents.

Brown gives the Bruins something they were lacking last season, a true center. This isn’t to say Welsh wasn’t a fantastic center in his time at Westwood, but Brown plays the position in a completely different way. Welsh is a stretch center who can collect double-digit rebounds and hit shots from any spot on the court. Brown is a more prototypical big man, who can protect the rim, and score with his back to the basket.

At 7-foot 1-inch and 241 pounds, Brown is a long-limbed center that any opposing offensive player will find difficult to score on. Brown’s presence in the paint should lead to teams trying to score on UCLA with jump shots. How the Bruins’ defense responds will be a story to follow when the season tips off, but forcing an opposing team into trying to win from the outside is a solid defensive strategy.

More jump shots will also lead to more rebounds, which Brown has no trouble collecting. In the 2018 McDonald’s All American Game, Brown was tied for sixth most rebounds, with five, in just 13 total minutes – the least amount of playing time for any player. With more floor time, it’s not hard to fathom Brown averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game.
The 2018 McDonald’s All American Game gave a glimpse of another one of Brown’s strengths – efficient scoring. He scored 11 points on 63 percent shooting from the field. Brown is able to score so easily because all of his offense takes place at the rim. He can post up any defender willing to go toe-to-toe with him, and has the footwork to make said defender pay. Brown is also strong enough to finish through contact, however his free-throw shooting needs improvement before it can be seen as a legitimate threat.

If Brown isn’t the player taking the shot on offense, he has a knack for corralling offensive rebounds and turning them into second chance points. This makes him a double-double threat on any given night.

The Bruins will be returning Hands, Kris Wilkes and Prince Ali, and will be looking to atone for a 2017-2018 season that ended in a 65-58 loss to St. Bonaventure in the First Four of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament. The additions of Brown and Campbell, as well as three other four-star recruits in Shareef O’Neal, Jules Bernard, and David Singleton III, helps fill out UCLA’s roster with young, athletic talent.

Yet again, the Bruins have a roster ripe with potential, and it is now up to Steve Alford to mold this talent into a top-ranked team. There is no reason this rendition of UCLA’s men’s basketball should be barely squeaking into March Madness. If all goes the way it should, the 2018 Bruins can rival the success of 2016, where Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf led the team to the Sweet 16. Only time will tell if this will be the case, but bringing Brown and Campbell into the fold are steps in the right direction.

Dodgers Bring Doubt to 2018 World Series Bid with Early Season Struggles

| Sports | April 12, 2018

November was bittersweet for Dodgers fans. On the bright side, it marked the first time since 1988 that the boys in blue returned to the World Series stage. Conversely, it also saw the team force a pivotal game seven, where the Houston Astros won with ease, taking home the championship with a 5-1 victory.

Although 2017 didn’t end the way Los Angeles would have liked it to, it did offer the hope that the Dodgers had a strong enough roster to contend for a World Series win, and that they could make it back for a chance to be crowned world champions.

The start of the 2018 season, however, has done very little to bolster that hope, as the Dodgers find themselves with a 3-6 record at the conclusion of their first three series. So far, they have faced the San Francisco Giants twice, with a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in between.

Arizona was expected to be one of the stronger teams this year, after finishing last season at 93-69. The Giants, on the other hand, finished last season at 64-98, and are a team Los Angeles should be collecting wins from if they plan on contending again.

When a team with high expectations has a slow start to the year, the pitching situation must be examined. The Dodgers lost Yu Darvish, a late season addition in 2017, to the Chicago Cubs, and Clayton Kershaw is now 30 years old. These two elements have the potential to lead to some pitching woes. However, that is not the case in the slightest.

As a team, Los Angeles is sixth in the MLB in ERA, with 2.72, with Kershaw’s efforts being a main contribution to that overall number. The ace has the lowest ERA of all starters at 1.89, and is the team leader in strikeouts, with 19. These solid stats are made more confusing by the fact that Kershaw is 0-2 in his first three starts.

Alex Wood, who falls second in LA’s starting rotation, has a similar stat line. He has the second lowest ERA of all starters at 1.93, and is tied for the lowest amount of hits allowed on the team, with seven. These efficient numbers should be good enough for at least one win, but Wood sits with an 0-1 record after two starts.

Pitching doesn’t appear to be the problem, so maybe the Dodgers struggle defensively. Again, this is not their issue. Although their fielding numbers aren’t spectacular, L.A. has committed just five errors, registered 268 putouts, and has a fielding percentage of .987, all of which are right at the league average. The Dodgers are also one of the best teams in the MLB in runs allowed, their 25 being fifth least allowed overall.

By process of elimination, it can be concluded that Los Angeles’ offense is their biggest weakness, and the numbers appear to back that theory up. In 328 at bats, the team has recorded just 70 hits, good for 20th in the league. They have a collective batting average of just .213, and have the fourth least number of runs scored, with 29. These numbers help explain why Kershaw and Woods have yet to earn a win.

In their first two games of the season, the Dodgers lost to San Francisco 1-0 both times. On opening day, Kershaw did allow a home run in the fifth inning; however, L.A. had only five total hits, two coming from Kershaw himself. Woods’ start the following day saw him allow just one hit in eight innings before closer Kenley Jensen allowed a run in the ninth. The Dodgers were only able to muster one hit the whole game.

One factor that can be attributed to the team’s low batting average is the loss of third baseman Justin Turner, who led the Dodgers last season with a .322 batting average. Turner was lost for an indefinite amount of time after breaking his wrist in a preseason game on March 19. Logan Forsythe, who is starting at third base in Turner’s place, has a batting average of just .158, and has brought in just two runners.

Turner’s output is clearly missed, but not the only reason for L.A.’s offensive struggles. Cody Bellinger led the team last year in RBIs and home runs with 70 and 39, respectively, but only has three RBIs and one home run in nine games. In fact, no Los Angeles hitter has more than one home run, and the team has only four collectively. This comes as no surprise, as the batters have been unable to put any power behind their hits. The Dodgers have a .293 slugging percentage, which is third worst in the MLB.

To be fair, Los Angeles has gone against two of the better defensive squads to start the season. In terms of fielding percentage, Arizona and San Francisco are both top 10 in the league. The Diamondbacks come in fourth, with a .995 percentage, while the Giants are ninth with a .989 percentage.

Both teams are also top 10 in overall pitching performances. Arizona has a collective ERA of 2.56, while San Francisco has a 2.86 ERA. Both are tied in runs allowed, having given up just 28 runs at the conclusion of their first three series.

The season is still very young, meaning the Dodgers aren’t fated to have a weak offense for the remainder of the year, but it is troubling how consistently they have struggled at the plate. The city of Los Angeles is waiting with bated breath for its team to have a breakout game at bat. When that happens, it would be wise to wait until a big offense becomes a part of this team’s culture before celebrating.

The Dodgers were able to push the Houston Astros to the brink last season with a very similar roster, so there’s no reason to believe they can’t make it to the World Series again. If they can get their offense to finally click, they’ll greatly resemble the team that made it to baseball’s ultimate stage just a year ago. There’s still so much baseball left to be played, and one can only hope the Dodgers figure it out in time.

Shohei Ohtani Makes MLB Debut as Angels Win Series against A’s 3-1

| Sports | April 6, 2018

From the moment Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels back in December, speculation ran wild in regards to how the team would use Ohtani’s abilities as both a hitter and pitcher. This is the hype that comes when one is deemed the “Japanese Babe Ruth.”

The regular season got into full swing on March 29, meaning the time had come for one of the most highly touted international prospects of all time to make his MLB debut. In his first series against the Oakland Athletics, Ohtani showed glimpses of why he was so heavily recruited, as well as some expected struggles as he gets acquainted with a new league.

In the first game of the season, Ohtani was inserted into the starting lineup as the designated hitter, a spot usually reserved for Albert Pujols. Ohtani’s performance at the plate was underwhelming, as he went 1-5 for a .200 batting average. These numbers don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet, but Ohtani’s batting has never been as strong as his pitching.

In his Japanese Pacific League career, Ohtani obtained his career highs in home runs and RBIs in 2016, with 22 and 67, respectively. During that same year, he earned an ERA of just 1.86, culminating in him being named the league’s MVP. While his 2016 ERA would be amongst the MLB’s best, his hitting numbers pale in comparison to the league’s top-tier hitters.

Speaking of pitching, Angels’ fans had their first glimpse of Ohtani on the mound in the team’s 7-4 win against the A’s on March 31. Aside from allowing three earned runs in the second inning, leading to a 4.50 ERA, Ohtani pitched well enough to notch six strikeouts, and collect his first MLB win.

The most impressive element to the strikeouts Ohtani recorded was that a majority of them came on hitters swinging and missing. This is due to the fact that Ohtani has a dangerous splitter ball in his arsenal, a pitch he used to retire four batters.

Ohtani was helpful to the Angels as they won their first series with Oakland three games to one, but Los Angeles started the season strong due to their ability to mesh as a team, and from key contributions from another newcomer in second-baseman Zack Cozart.

If Cozart continues to play the way he did against the A’s, he can easily be seen as the steal of the offseason. In 2017, he made his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, before signing a three-year, $38 million deal with the Angels in December. For just over $12 million a year, Los Angeles received a player that is already making waves for them on offense and defense.

After the A’s series, Cozart is second on the team in batting average, with .368, RBIs with three, and slugging percentage with .737. Cozart also hit a home run in his first game with Los Angeles, although the team went on to lose 6-5 in 11 innings. Defensively, Cozart has been nothing short of perfection. He has a perfect fielding percentage, with seven putouts and 13 assists on 20 total chances. He is also tied for first on the team in double plays turned with three.

Short stop Andrelton Simmons quietly played a pivotal role in the Oakland series, leading the team with a .438 batting average, and tying Mike Trout for team-high in RBIs, with four. He, too, had a perfect fielding percentage in the series, with three putouts and 11 assists, and is who Cozart is tied with for most double plays turned.

In regards to fielding percentages, it’d be easier to list all of the Angels players who didn’t have a perfect percentage – none. After four games with the A’s, Los Angeles is one of just six teams to still maintain a perfect fielding percentage. The team had 112 putouts and 37 assists on 149 total chances. This stout defense is one reason why the Angels cultivated a +8 differential in runs scored to runs allowed against Oakland, but another factor is at play as well.

Los Angeles had one of the best overall pitching performances in their opening series in all of the MLB. They are top-10 in the league in both strikeouts and ERA, coming in sixth in the former, with 36, and ninth in the latter, with 3.38. An area in which they can improve is the batting average they allow opponents. In this category the Angels come in 15th place, allowing the opposition a .229 batting average.

Their strongest individual pitching outing came from Tyler Skaggs, who manned the mound in Los Angeles’ 2-1 win over Oakland on March 30. Skaggs squared off with 23 batters, allowing just three hits, recording five strikeouts, and allowing no earned runs in the 6.1 innings he pitched. After the dust from the A’s series settled, Skaggs was the only starter to still have a 0.00 ERA.

Many caveats come with trying to make inferences based on the first series of an MLB season, the biggest one being that there are 162 games and teams are just beginning to find themselves. So, if you’re thinking about fretting over Ohtani’s somewhat shaky start, don’t. Los Angeles will figure out how to weave him into the batting lineup as the season progresses, and Ohtani has already picked up his first win as a pitcher, alleviating any pressure that might come in trying to obtain a victory.

As a whole, the Angels were one of the better defensive teams last year, even though they ended 2017 at 80-82. It appears as though they have brought the same approach to fielding as they did a year ago, but again, it’s way too early to tell. One can only wait and watch to see if all of the positive traits that allowed the Angels success in their first series, become a part of the team’s identity in 2018.

Los Angeles Rams Take Next Step in 2018 Offseason

| Sports | March 29, 2018

Last season, it was discussed ad nauseam how improved the Los Angeles Rams were from the 2016 season. This was not a hard feat to accomplish, as the team’s first year in LA bared a 4-12 season, resulting in the firing of then head coach Jeff Fisher.

Under new head coach Sean McVay, the Rams surprised all by winning the NFC Western Division with an 11-5 record. They were rewarded with a trip to the National Football Conference playoffs, where their Cinderella story came to a close with a 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the wildcard round.

The true victory from all of the improvements the Rams made a year ago, is that it gave them an identity, one of a young and talented team ready to take the league by storm. Naturally, other talented players would want to be a part of such a team.

The result is what LA fans have seen all offseason, the revamping of a defense that, last year, was 12th in the NFL in points allowed with 20.6 per game. Key additions to the secondary, and on the defensive line have given defensive coordinator Wade Phillips plenty to work with, and have put the Rams in Super Bowl contention conversations.

Before any new additions are discussed, it is important to note key players Los Angeles has lost from a season ago. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who led the team with eight receiving touchdowns in 2017, will now be catching passes from Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Meanwhile, one of the Rams’ top cornerbacks, Trumaine Johnson, is now the focal point of the Jets’ secondary. Johnson had two interceptions last season, returning one for a touchdown.

It would be hard to believe that, after losing Johnson, Los Angeles’ secondary would actually become stronger, but this is in fact the case. The team has been busy in the trade market, obtaining star cornerbacks Marcus Peters from Kansas City, and Aqib Talib from Denver. Both come with their fair share of baggage, Peters occasionally losing his temper while playing with the Chiefs, while Talib is known throughout the league as one of the game’s dirtiest players.

It’s because of these factors that the Rams were able to get both on a bargain. Kansas City received Los Angeles’ fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, as well as, their second-round pick in 2019. Los Angeles had to part ways with just their fifth-round pick in this draft, to obtain Talib.

Character issues aside, Peters and Talib are incredibly talented. Peters came in fifth in the NFL in interceptions with five last season, while also forcing four fumbles, and returning one for a touchdown. Talib had a down year in 2017, recording just one interception. However, in his four seasons with the Broncos, he registered 11 interceptions, and returned six of those for touchdowns.

Los Angeles was able to resign Nickell Robey-Coleman, who matched Johnson with two interceptions last year. They also took a chance on Sam Shields, the former Packers cornerback who was sidelined for the entire 2017 season due to concussions. The combination of these two, along with Peters and Talib, give the Rams one of, if not, the best secondaries in all of the NFL.

When defensive end Robert Quinn was traded to the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles lost one their better edge rushers. Quinn came in second on the team in sacks with 8.5. The defensive line more than made up for the loss of Quinn, when they added Ndamukong Suh on a one-year $14 mil deal. Suh lines up as the nose tackle in the center of the line, so he won’t provide the same kind of edge pressure that Quinn did. What makes Suh special is the pressure he creates in the backfield from the interior of the defensive line. He doesn’t merely look to plug holes, but actively tries to bring down the quarterback.

Because of this mentality, he recorded 4.5 sacks last season, while forcing a career high two fumbles. His mindset is also the reason why he has been labeled as one of the dirtier players in the NFL, his most notable offense coming in 2011, when he was ejected for stomping a Green Bay Packers’ offensive lineman.

The addition of Suh gives the Rams the most feared defensive line duo in the league, as he will line up next to Aaron Donald. Like Suh, Donald plays on the inside of the defensive line, generating more pressure in the backfield than anyone at his position. He led Los Angeles in sacks in 2017 with 11, while forcing five fumbles. The beauty of having both, is that offenses can’t double team them, and if they try, it will be a cakewalk for any other defensive lineman to make a play in the backfield.

There is an area of weakness in Los Angeles’ defense, and it comes at the linebacker position. The hole is self-induced, as the team traded Alec Ogletree, who lead all Rams with 95 tackles last season, to the New York Giants. In return, Los Angeles received New York’s fourth-round and sixth-round picks in this year’s draft. As the free agency pool dries up, it appears the only fix to this problem will come from the draft. The Rams pick 23rd in the first-round, which is the one downside from having a strong season. Fortunately, one impact linebacker is projected to be there, but first, let’s discuss the best case scenario for Los Angeles.

Roquan Smtih, the one-time UCLA recruit, who famously flipped his allegiance to Georgia in 2015, has been viewed as a top-10 pick after recording 135 total tackles and 6.5 sacks in a 2017 season that ended with a loss in the College Football National Championship. Smith, however, has recently been medically red-flagged by multiple teams, potential causing his draft stock to fall.

For reference, the same thing happened to Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster last year. This caused Foster to fall to San Francisco, who drafted him with the 31st pick. Foster did miss six games with a shoulder injury, but in the 10 games he played, he recorded 72 tackles.

One thing to note, is that Foster also had off-field concerns, culminating in his arrest in February for domestic violence and potentially possessing an assault rifle. Smith has never had questions about his character brought up, and would only fall in the draft if his injury concerns were dire enough.

Now that that day dream is over, it’s time to talk about the more realistic linebacker possibility for the Rams. Rashaan Evans of Alabama is slotted to be drafted late in the first-round, right around where Los Angeles is to pick. He totaled 74 tackles last year, 13 of which went for a loss. To pile on to these solid stats, Evans added six sacks.

Clearly, the Rams are in a good position. Yes, they have a few holes to fill at linebacker and wide receiver, but other than that, there are few areas of weakness for this team. They just went 11-5 and received some postseason experience, albeit a short one, and have one of the best young head coaches in McVay. It may be a stretch to say they will make it to the Super Bowl when they will have to eventually take on the Eagles and Vikings to get there, but this Rams team is built for the long-haul. Pretty soon, there will be a parade in the streets of LA, celebrating the World Champion Rams.

UMBC Pulls Off Biggest NCAA Upset with Win Over Virginia

| Sports | March 22, 2018

Few things in sports are more exciting than a big upset. An underdog taking down a team that is perceived to be better in every way is the embodiment of the spirit of competition. This is why viewers will always tune in to March Madness, the monicker given to the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. No other organized sport creates an environment as conducive to upsets, like college basketball.

This is why it is so surprising that in the history of the tournament, a 16 seed team had never toppled a one seeded team. Coming in to this year, the favored team went 135-0 in this matchup. However, all of this changed when (16) UMBC defeated (1) Virginia 75-55. This feat was made all the more significant as Virginia finished the regular season atop the AP Top 25 polls, and was named the tournament’s number one overall team.

So, how did UMBC, or the University of Maryland Baltimore County, for those who haven’t had the chance to look up the abbreviation yet, pull off this David versus Goliath style victory? The quick summation is, they appeared to want the win more than Virginia, but what went down on the court is far more interesting than this explanation.

The first half was tightly contested, featuring three lead changes that led to a 21-21 halftime tie. The second half is where thing began to unravel for Virginia, and it is how quickly this occurred, that is so surprising.

By the time the first four minutes had ticked off the final frame, the Retrievers had jumped out to a 35-24 lead, riding a 14-3 run. What made the run even more magical was that it was engineered by a single player.

Joe Sherburne, a junior that played a hair under 30 minutes for the whole game, scored nine of his 14 points during this pivotal stretch for UMBC, and assisted on a 3-pointer by the team’s strongest scorer, Jairus Lyles.

After Sherburne’s work was done, Lyles took back the mantle of leading the team, scoring 20 points in the second half to finish the game leading all scorers with 28. Every time Virginia’s star player, Kyle Guy, would bring the score within 12, Lyles was always quick to answer. Despite Guy scoring 13 second half points, and 15 overall, the Cavaliers were never able to overcome the quick run that the Retrievers embarked on coming out of the locker room.

Delving deeper into the stats of this game, it comes as no surprise that Sherburne appears to be the catalyst that allowed for UMBC’s historic upset. He boasted the team’s second highest offensive and defensive ratings, scoring 128 points per 100 possessions, and allowed Virginia’s offense just 88 points per 100 possessions.

Lyles’ advanced stats speak to just how prolific a scorer he was during this match. His offensive rating of 145 points per 100 possessions, as well as his true shooting percentage of 94 percent, were both far and away the best numbers for the Retrievers.

These two had pivotal individual performances, but UMBC won with a complete team effort. They went 12-24 from 3-point range, easily topping Virginia’s 4-22 outing. The Retrievers also had a true shooting percentage of 68 percent to the Cavaliers’ 45 percent. In short, UMBC couldn’t miss. This is how they were able to put up 75 points on a Virginia team that was first in the country in points allowed, with an average of 54 points per game allotted to opponents.

Virginia’s stout defense covered for one of the nation’s weakest offenses. The team averaged just 67 points per game, good for 314th overall. The Retrievers’ defensive rating as a team was 87 points per 100 possessions, meaning the Cavaliers’ already less than stellar offense had even more obstacles to overcome. Pair that with UMBC’s hot shooting night, and it’s easy to understand how the game ended the way it did.

The final bits of information that explains how a 16 seed was able to beat a one seed in such a fantastic fashion, are rebounds and assists, in both of which, UMBC dominated Virginia. The Retrievers retrieved 31 rebounds to Cavaliers’ 21. UMBC also shared the ball with ease, notching 26 assists to Virginia’s five.

Aside from UMBC pulling the biggest upset in NCAA history, this rendition of March Madness has been fraught with surprising victories. There’s (11) Loyola-Chicago in the West Region that took down (6) Miami and (3) Tennessee, and has a date with (7) Nevada that has already taken out (2) Cincinnati. (11) Syracuse of the Midwest Region. And one of the last teams selected to the tournament stunned (3) Michigan State and will now play (2) Duke in the Sweet 16.

Although UMBC lost to Kansas State 50-43 in the second round, they ensured every bracket was busted before making their exit. They are now a team in the national spotlight, and with that comes new pressure the school has never felt before. If they respond well, there’s a good chance viewers will see them, come tourney time next year. For now, UMBC has made NCAA Men’s Basketball history in a game that will be talked about for years to come.

Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold Represent Southern California in Quarterback Heavy Draft Class

| Sports | March 15, 2018

The 2018 NFL Draft begins on April 26, and two of the top quarterback prospects hail from right here in Southern California. This is, of course, in reference to Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, the signal callers for UCLA and USC respectively. Both used the 2017 college season to significantly bolster their draft stock, and as a reward, it would be no surprise to hear either name called as the first overall pick.

Despite Darnold and Rosen being the unquestioned starters under center for their respective teams, this last year was the first and only time the two met head to head in college competition. In 2016, Rosen was sidelined after six games with a right shoulder injury, and was unable to face USC.

This year’s installment of the UCLA-USC rivalry perfectly encapsulates what both quarterbacks do well. Rosen was asked to throw more, as the Bruins trailed all game. His accuracy needed improvement, as he went 32-52, but his numbers were fantastic. Rosen had 421 passing yards and three touchdowns to just one interception.

Darnold and the Trojans had the luxury of taking on UCLA’s FBS-worst rush defense. In 2017, UCLA allowed 287.4 rushing yards per game, and an average of 2.7 touchdowns on the ground. USC took full advantage, as running back Ronald Jones put up 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Darnold ran another score in for his only touchdown of the game. As a passer, Darnold did all the Trojans asked of him, going 17-28 for 264 yards, with one interception.

UCLA made the game interesting in the closing minutes, as Rosen found Jordan Lasley on a 27-yard touchdown, the duo’s third end zone connection in this match. Lasley was Rosen’s primary receiving target all season, and lived up to that billing by finishing the USC game with 204 receiving yards.

Any potential comeback the Bruins had brewing was squashed by their inability to stop the run. On 3rd and 1 with less than two minutes remaining, Jones sealed the game with a two-yard scamper. Three kneel-downs later, and the Trojans won the battle for Los Angeles supremacy, 28-23.
One of the Bruins’ main flaws was on full display against USC, as Rosen faced pressure in the pocket all game. The Trojans were able to bring him to the turf four times, while UCLA got to Darnold just once. For the season, Rosen was sacked 26 times, tied for 32nd in the FBS. Taking sacks was not an uncommon occurrence for Darnold either, as he was sacked 29 times in 2017, which was tied for 16th.

Between Darnold and Rosen, it appears that Darnold had the stronger 2017 season. He was fifth in the nation in passing yards at 4,143, whereas, Rosen was 14th with 3,756. Darnold’s completion percentage was a hair better, as well; he completed 63 percent of his passes to Rosen’s 62 percent.

Where Rosen takes the edge is in interceptions thrown. Darnold was tied for top 10 in the NCAA with 13 for the year, while Rosen threw 10, tying him for 25th. It should be noted that Darnold played 14 games to Rosen’s 11, which should not be used to take away from Darnold in any way. In fact, it speaks to Rosen’s susceptibility to injuries, which is one of his major concerns.

As two of the nation’s top prospects, Darnold and Rosen were both invited to the NFL combine, and so far, the buzz is good. Rosen was given a 6.19 ranking on NFL.com, putting him in the category of instant starter. Darnold took it one step further, earning a 7.1 ranking and being touted as a Pro-Bowl caliber quarterback.

Scouts have marveled at Rosen’s footwork and mechanics. Both came in handy when he was with the Bruins. He was able to move around a pocket that allowed constant pressure, and make accurate throws. One note on NFL.com states he “might be the best back shoulder thrower in the game.”

Where Rosen lost points, however, is his tendency to try and make a throw that isn’t there. This has been his Achilles heel for some time now, and often led to interceptions that could’ve easily been avoided.

In Darnold’s combine, NFL teams took note of his incredible arm strength, a staple of his playing style since he took over for USC in 2016. What may have not always been appreciated during Darnold’s college career was his ability to go through his receiving progressions quickly and efficiently, a trait not lost on the combine scouts.

Darnold’s incredibly high turnover rate, which goes hand in hand with his less than stellar throwing mechanics, are something that may give a team pause in drafting him. Darnold will be working with the best coaches in the world when he makes it to the NFL, and will hopefully be able to remedy the slow wind up that tips off defenders to where he will throw.

There are multiple quarterback-needy teams in the top of the NFL draft, including the Cleveland Browns, who draft first and fourth overall. Rosen may have burned this bridge, however, stating back in December that he would “rather be a lower pick at the right team than a higher pick at the wrong one.”

The feeling appears to be mutual, as John Dorsey, Cleveland’s general manager, told NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline that he advised the team to stay away from Rosen with their top two picks. Between Darnold and Rosen, it appears one can assume Darnold has a much higher likelihood of suiting up for Cleveland when all is said and done.

Rosen could easily find himself in New York, where both the Giants and the Jets pick in the top 10, and are in need for a quarterback of the future. With the Giants, Eli Manning appears to be the man at the moment, which would give Rosen time to get accustomed to the NFL, and for the Giants to find an offensive line, saving Rosen from the constant pressure he faced at UCLA.

Both UCLA and USC fans have been treated to fantastic quarterback play with Rosen and Darnold at the helm. With their talent level, it is only a matter of time before they’re both starting under center in the NFL as well, even if neither is the first overall pick. One could only hope for a future rivalry to develop between the two as their NFL careers play out. First things first, however; let’s see where they wind up after the 2018 NFL Draft is all said and done.

Los Angeles Dodgers Begin Cactus League with World Series Expectations

| Sports | March 10, 2018

Feel that? Spring is in the air, and that means it’s just about time for the first pitch of the MLB season. Last year, Los Angeles flirted with its first World Series win since 1988, but ultimately fell short to the Houston Astros. The Dodgers were able to force the series to go to seven games, including a 3-1 victory in game six that saw LA score three runs in the sixth and seventh innings to seal the win. The Astros got the better of the Dodgers in game seven, jumping out to a 5-0 lead after two innings, an advantage Houston would never lose on their way to a 5-1 title-clinching performance.

The loss left fans wondering if Los Angeles would be able to make it to the World Series again this season. In the offseason, the pitching staff took a hit as Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow sailed ship to the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers acquired Darvish at the trade deadline last season, and were rewarded with four wins and three losses in Darvish’s nine starts, as well as an ERA of 3.44. In relief, Morrow recorded six wins and no losses with a 2.06 ERA.

The only move that really registered on the Richter scale for Los Angeles this offseason, was the trade that brought back Matt Kemp. The team was forced to part ways with Scott Kazmir, Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, and Charlie Culberson to get the deal done. With so many players moving out, and so few new players coming in, the questions must be asked. Is the 2018 rendition of the Los Angeles Dodgers talented enough to make it to the top of the MLB?

Spring training is not to be used as a true test of what the coming season will look like. However, it is the first time the team will take the field in exhibition, and naturally, fans of the team will be curious to see how well the projected starters perform.

Defense helped define 2017 for the Dodgers, as the team allowed the second least number of runs scored in the regular season, at 580. Los Angeles was also strong at fielding the ball, earning a .985 fielding percentage in 5,789 total chances. So far in spring training, the team has been unable to live up to those lofty numbers.

Opposing offenses have scored a total of 77 runs against the Dodgers in the Cactus League. Their fielding percentage has also dropped significantly, where they are now at .965, fourth worst in the league. The team numbers haven’t been all that impressive, but individual players are definitely putting on a show, especially amongst the catchers.

Yasmani Grandal, Will Smith, and Kyle Farmer all have perfect fielding percentages on 35, 33 and 26 total chances, respectively. Grandal, who is the regular season starter at catcher, has notched 33 putouts, putting him in 10th place among all players. His at plate appearance has room for improvement, as he has a batting average of just .158 with three hits. Two of his hits have gone for home runs, so he is making the best of the hits he has had.

Farmer has been the real surprise of the bunch. He is slotted at third in the depth chart, and has taken advantage of the large amount of playing time he’s received in the Cactus League. Aside from the 1.000 fielding percentage, he has seven hits at 11 at bats, for a .636 batting average, and he is putting power behind his bat, registering the team’s second best slugging percentage, at 1.091.

Not to be outdone, key members of the team’s outfield are putting up 1.000 fielding percentages as well. Center fielder Curtis Taylor has had 11 total fielding chances, collecting five putouts and six assists, along with a double play. The presumed starter in left field, Joc Pederson, is displaying why he belongs as first string on day one, with 11 putouts and one assist on 12 total chances.

Kemp, who looks to be Pederson’s backup, has demonstrated strong play throughout the Cactus League. He has five hits at 16 at bats for a .353 batting average. Three of his hits have gone for homers, which is tied for most on the team. It may be hard to sneak into the starting lineup, but Kemp is clearly making a case to be a regular in the rotation.

The regular season starting pitchers have made their way to the mound sparingly this spring, but have had good outings when there. Kenta Maeda has seen the most action, with 4.1 innings pitched, and has earned one win with a 2.08 ERA. Alex Wood has the most wins amongst the starting pitchers, with three, but in doing so, has an ERA of 10.80. He has allowed four hits, four earned runs, and a home run in 3.1 innings pitched.

Of course, that leaves Clayton Kershaw to account for. The fan favorite pitcher has played in only three innings, where he has allowed just one hit and no earned runs. The starters are pitching as strong as ever, but when it comes to the bullpen, the Cactus League has not offered the Dodgers many views of their relievers.

Josh Fields, who had five wins in 57 innings pitched last season, reported to camp behind his throwing schedule due to discomforts. This has stopped him from seeing the field this spring. Tony Cingrani also began training camp behind in his throwing schedule from a stiff shoulder, and he too has yet to throw a pitch in a Cactus League game. Last, but certainly not least, is closer Kenley Jensen, who has yet to pitch as he battles an illness.

The only relievers expected to make the regular season roster that have seen any playing time are Scott Alexander, Pedro Baez, and Koehler. Alexander has played the strongest out of the three, striking out five batters with a 3.00 ERA.

LA began a four-game win streak with a 7-6 win over the Cactus League’s first place team, the Chicago White Sox. Chicago boasts an 8-2 record, with both losses coming at the hands of the Dodgers. Los Angeles first played the White Sox in the first game of the league, blowing out Chicago 13-5.

On Opening Day, which falls on Thursday, March 29, the Dodgers take on their longtime rival, the San Francisco Giants, in a four-game series. The Giants picked up some big names in Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen, and San Francisco staple Pablo Sandoval. The three aren’t making a big impact in the Cactus League, but at the very least, Longoria and McCutchen will be starting day one.

It’s a long, long way to the World Series, almost the furthest point possible. High expectations have been bestowed upon the Dodgers to make it back to the championship round. Whether or not they do so remains to be seen, so just sit back and enjoy whatever the season has in store.

Los Angeles Lakers Look Much Improved in Recent Winning Stretch

| Sports | March 1, 2018

If the Los Angeles Lakers’ losing ways have turned viewers away, it’s time for them to take a second look. The purple and gold have seemed to turn a corner, winning 10 of their last 15 games, most of which were won without second overall pick Lonzo Ball on the court.

Admittedly, the schedule they have faced during this stretch has been far from daunting. However, L.A. has taken down some postseason contending opponents in the Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and Oklahoma City Thunder, who the Lakers have defeated twice.

There are multiple factors at play in Los Angeles’ recent winning ways. First and foremost is their ability to share the ball. The Lakers are currently sixth overall in the NBA in assists as a team, averaging 23.7 per game. In their 10 most recent wins, the team has averaged 28 assists per game.

The return of Ball, who has been out with a knee injury since January 13, has helped bolster L.A.’s already strong passing game. Ball is averaging 5.5 assists in the two games he has played so far. In those two games, the Lakers are averaging 30 assists.

Second year small forward Brandon Ingram has also been making a splash as of late, and is becoming the offensive center-piece that Los Angeles hoped he would be. For the season, Ingram is averaging 16 points to lead the team. In the nine wins Ingram has played in during this 15-game period, he has averaged 18 points per game. An area in which he can improve, however, is efficiency. His true shooting percentage is 53 percent, which is not terrible, but will need to be better if he is to make the next jump in his development.

Fortunately, Ingram is not tasked with carrying the offense on his own. The Lakers boast one of the best scoring benches in the league, which averages 42 points per game. The second unit was at one time led by Jordan Clarkson, who is now on the Cleveland Cavaliers. Clarkson was fourth on the team in scoring, with 14.5 points per game.

His departure doesn’t spell doom for Los Angeles, as they still have rookie sensation Kyle Kuzma to provide points when the starters need to rest. Kuzma is currently second in scoring on the team with 15 points per game, and has a true shooting percentage of 54 percent. Like Ingram, there is room for growth in efficiency, but Kuzma is far exceeding what everyone expected from the 27th pick in the NBA draft.

Los Angeles was also not left empty handed when losing Clarkson, as the team received Isaiah Thomas in the trade that sent Clarkson to the Cavaliers. The court of public opinion seems to have shifted on Thomas, who was once lauded as a hero for playing in the playoffs for the Celtics despite the death of his sister, along with a hip injury that sidelined him until January 2 against the Trailblazers.

Thomas has been working his way back from said hip injury, and in doing so, has lost some of the scoring efficiency that helped him average 29 points per game last season. With Cleveland, Thomas had a true shooting percentage of 49 percent, a number he has increased to 56 percent since moving to LA. He is also helping to account for the loss of Clarkson by chipping in 13 points per game off the bench.

The improvements the Lakers are making on offense shouldn’t overshadow how pivotal their defense has been, not only in the past 15 games, but for the season as a whole. They are among the NBA’s best defensive teams when it comes to their defensive rating. This stat breaks down how many points a team’s defense allows per 100 possessions. L.A. is currently 11th in the league in defensive rating, allowing 107.7 points per 100 possessions.

One would assume that Los Angeles’ defensive numbers would be better in the stretch of games being discussed, but they are actually slightly worse. Teams are averaging 109 points against the Lakers in the past 15 games. L.A. has been able to hold two of their tougher opponents to low scoring nights, with the Pacers notching 86 points in their loss to L.A., and the Thunder scoring just 81 in their second loss.

The return of Ball should also help bring the Lakers’ defensive numbers back down, as Ball is currently Los Angeles’ leader in defensive rating, allowing 102.7 points per 100 possessions. This leaves him at 17th in the NBA, but it will be interesting to see how Ball’s defensive rating fluctuates now that he is playing again. It could be that missing 15 games has helped keep his defensive rating artificially low, but only time will tell for certain.

The Lakers are a proud organization, but one that is currently in a long transition period. They have yet to smell the playoffs since the 2012-2013 season, a five-year stretch that is unheard of for a team that was at one time a perennial lock to make the postseason. This is the first year that there is a sense of hope in Los Angeles, a jolt of life that comes from adding incredibly talented and young players.

It would take a Herculean effort for L.A. to make the playoffs this season, especially in the ever-powerful Western Conference, but it feels as though the team is just a few good moves away from breaking out of the five-season slump they’re in. It’s only a matter of time before the Lakers rise again, and when they do, expect them to stay at the top for a long time to come.

Roger Federer Fends off Father Time to Reach Pinnacle of ATP Rankings

| Sports | February 22, 2018

Father Time is said to be undefeated in the sports world. All athletes, no matter how iconic, will eventually succumb to age, especially in professional athletics, where younger talent is added every year.

This is what makes the performances of the likes of Tom Brady, who was named NFL MVP at 40 years old, and LeBron James, who is averaging 26.5 points, nine assists, and eight rebounds at 33 years old in his 14th NBA season, so remarkable.

Roger Federer also falls into that echelon of older superstars still sitting at the top of their sport. The 36 year-old Federer has earned his way back to the number one spot in the ATP rankings, gaining 500 points from defeating Grigor Dimitrov in the championship round of the Rotterdam Open. It is the first time Federer has reach the top of the ATP since October of 2012.

Federer started his season strong, cleaning up the competition at the Australian Open, until running into a tough opponent in Marin Cilic in the tournament’s final round. As to be expected from a game that goes five sets, neither Federer nor Cilic had a huge advantage in any one aspect of the game. However, Federer’s slight advantage in service points won, which he bested Cilic 99-88, may have been what gave him the 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 Australian Open victory.

Although the 2,000 points Federer received from taking home a Grand Slam title isn’t what pushed him past Rafael Nadal for number one in the ATP, it set a precedent early in the season. Federer is back, and he has some records to chase.

The Australian Open win gives him 20 Grand Slam titles for his career, which already leads all male tennis players. He is still chasing Steffi Graf (22 titles), Serena Williams (23 titles), and Margaret Court (24 titles) for most all-time. Federer also trails both Novak Djokovic and Nadal in Masters 1000 Tournament wins, as the duo has 30 to Federer’s 27.

He will have two chances to chase down the latter record, first at the Indian Wells Masters tournament on March 5 in Indian Wells, Calif. Federer has won the tournament five times, and as recently as last year, defeating Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5 in the 2017 championship round.

Immediately following the Indian Wells Masters, Federer will take part in the Miami Open on March 19, a tournament Federer has won three times, with the most recent win again coming in 2017. In the final round of the tournament last year, Federer took down his long-time rival Nadal 6-3, 6-4.

As for Grand Slam tournaments, there are a few months before play begins at the French Open. The tournament is set to begin May 28 and run through June 4, and all of the conversation up to the beginning of the French Open will be if Federer will play or not. Last season he opted out, citing career longevity. The tournament is played on clay courts, a surface that Federer was trying to avoid.

With the way he is playing, it would appear Federer will take part in the French Open this season. However, if he feels avoiding clay courts is what is allowing him to play at such a high level at 36, then he could opt out again. Speculating is all that can be done until Federer makes his announcement, and the tennis world will be waiting eagerly for his final word on the French Open.

It is truly a special time for professional sports, as age is becoming less and less a factor in an athlete’s performance. Advances in sports medicine and nutrition are key factors in this. However, the legendary work ethic of Brady, James, and Federer are truly what allows these three to outperform all others in their respective sports again and again.

Federer will someday have to retire, as will Brady and James, but until that day comes, let’s all just appreciate their performances. It may be a long time until we see athletes of their caliber again.

Hart Girls’ Soccer Prepares for Postseason Push after Fifth Straight Foothill Title

| Sports | February 15, 2018

Santa Clarita has a thriving sports scene that spans across a variety of athletics. The Foothill League is comprised of the six Hart District schools, each program having the potential to dominate any sport at any time. This is what makes playing in Foothill so grueling.

It’s also what makes the success of Hart’s girls’ soccer team so remarkable. Taylor Moorehead clinched a 2-1 victory against Canyon on February 2, scoring the winning goal in the 55th minute. The win brought the Indians to a perfect 8-0 league record, and more importantly, gave Hart its fifth consecutive Foothill title.

Pinning down what allows the Indians such success in high school sports, where rosters are constantly changing, is a difficult task. Head coach Guilherme Mitrovitch, who has led the program for all five league titles, shares what he believes makes his team so consistent.

“I believe it is a combination of factors,” Mitrovitch said. “The number of quality players within the program, a prepared coaching staff that works together towards the same goals, support from parents and school staff and last, but not least, making sure the student athletes believe in what we are doing.”

Winning is made easier when a team’s defense is clicking. Hart personifies this ideology, playing suffocating defense that is almost impossible to score on. In fact, it wasn’t until their seventh Foothill game against Valencia that the Indians allowed a goal in league play. For the regular season, Hart was scored on just two times in 10 Foothill games.

“First of all, they have to work well together,” Mitrovitch said. “We stress movement, covering, communication, reading the game, and defending as a unit. In addition to that, they have to take pride in shutting out opponents.”

What makes Hart so dangerous is that their stout defense is balanced with an efficient offense. In league play, the team scored 26 total goals, averaging out to just under three goals per game. This includes games of seven and five goals, both against Golden Valley, and a four-goal shutout of West Ranch in the Indians’ second matchup with the Wildcats.

“We like to have an offense that doesn’t operate only one way, which is not always easy to accomplish,” Mitrovitch shared. “Due to the depth of our squad this season, a lot of players end up getting involved in the offense.”

Despite showing few weaknesses throughout the season, Hart’s bid for a perfect Foothill season came just short, as Saugus was able to force a 0-0 draw in their final league game against the Indians.

Hart defeated Saugus 1-0 in the two teams’ first matchup, but Centurions’ goalie Kayla Medof allowed that lone score on eight shot attempts by the Indians, good for a 90 percent save rate. In the second game, Medof stopped all nine shots the Indians placed on goal, helping to preserve the tie, and spoil Hart’s perfect Foothill record.

The season didn’t end exactly how coach Mitrovitch would’ve preferred, but the conclusion of Foothill play isn’t being factored into the team’s preparation for the playoffs.

“We surely wanted to finish 10-0 (in Foothill League), but I don’t think it gives us extra motivation,” Mitrovitch said. “The girls are prepared and looking forward to playoffs just the same.

There is little time to dwell in the past, as the Indians are set to host the Westlake Warriors in the first round of the CIF Southern Section (SS) Division 1 Girls Soccer playoffs. This is the first time the two programs are scheduled to meet, and although the Warriors have an overall record of 6-3-7, it would be unwise to take any postseason opponent lightly. Westlake played Thousand Oaks, the Marmonte League runner-ups, to two ties during the season, showing they can hang with tougher opponents.

If Hart wants to make a deep postseason push akin to last season, which ended with a trip to the CIF SS Division 1 semifinals and a berth in the CIF SS Regional Girls Soccer Championship, it will take more than just perfect preparation. The team will need to deepen their connection, something Mitrovitch believes they are capable of.

“I believe it is going to take a huge amount of team work and consistency to make another run like that,” Mitrovitch said. “However, we showed we can compete with those big schools in last year’s Division 1 playoffs. We want to make sure we represent Foothill League and the SCV well.”

Regardless of where Hart finishes in the postseason, the success they have displayed this season, and in years past, is something that should be celebrated. Mitrovitch acknowledges and takes pride in these accomplishments, but like any championship level coach, is hungry for more. It’s a trait the team takes after as well.

“I’m very proud of what we have accomplished this season so far, and I’m very happy for my seniors,” Mitrovitch said. “But, we are not happy to just be in the playoffs. We want more.”

Clippers Say Goodbye to Blake Griffin as Franchise Remains in Flux

| Sports | February 8, 2018

To say the Los Angeles Clippers are cleaning house would be an understatement. The franchise has gone through a thorough facelift, leaving the team almost unrecognizable from last year. In fact, only Deandre Jordan, Austin Rivers, and Wesley Johnson remain from the 2016-2017 roster.

Blake Griffin, who was the face of the franchise since being drafted in 2009, was surprisingly jettisoned from Los Angeles to Detroit on January 30th, along with Brice Johnson and Willie Reed. In return, the Clippers received prolific, scoring small forward Tobias Harris and defensive stalwart Avery Bradley. The Pistons also parted ways with fan favorite Boban Marjanovic, as well as a first and second round draft pick.

Although the draft picks are good assets to have in case a trade comes along, the most immediate impact of this trade comes from Harris and Bradley. The two have already entered the starting lineup, which now consists of Jordan, Harris, Bradley, Milos Teodosic, and Danilo Gallinari, who has returned from injury.

Predicting this lineup would have been impossible before the beginning of the season. While this version of the Clippers seems a little strange, the results have, so far, been promising. Los Angeles is 2-1 since the trade, their only loss coming against the Trailblazers, when the Clippers were without Bradley and Harris.

Los Angeles has gone on a two-game winning streak since inserting the two players into the starting lineup. It must be mentioned that the competition level hasn’t been exactly top-tier, as the Clippers have defeated the Chicago Bulls (18-35 overall), and the Dallas Mavericks (17-37 overall) in this two-game span. This isn’t to take away from Bradley’s and Harris’ impact; in fact, the Clippers are putting up slightly better defensive and offensive numbers with both in the lineup.

Bradley made a name for himself in Boston as one of the best defensive guards in the NBA. Although he struggled in Detroit, he appears to be bringing the same level of defensive intensity that he did with the Celtics. In his two games, he has registered a defensive rating of 104.4 points per 100 possessions, good for third on the team.

Harris, who had a 109.3 defensive rating in Detroit, has dialed in on defense since joining Los Angeles, obtaining a defensive rating of 102.5 points per 100 possessions, second only to Jordan. Both his and Bradley’s contributions on the defensive end have not gone unnoticed. The Clippers all season have allowed opposing offenses to post 107 points per game. In Bradley and Harris’ two starts, that number has dropped to 102.

Los Angeles was expecting to get immediate offensive help from Harris, and he has not disappointed on that side of the ball either. He is currently second on the team in points-per-game, with 21.5, hitting 49 percent of his field goals, and 36 percent of the 3-pointers.

Bradley’s offense is taking a little more time to come into its own with the Clippers. He only scored eight points against the Bulls, and 12 against the Mavericks. However, he is scoring efficiently, shooting 53 percent from the field. In Bradley and Harris’ two starts, Los Angeles is scoring 108 points per game, one point higher than the 107 they have been averaging for the season.

The Clippers’ next game is potentially the biggest of the season. They square off with the Detroit Pistons on Friday, the first time Los Angeles will have to play against Blake Griffin since the trade.
At this time, it appears that both teams have benefited, as Detroit has embarked on a four-game win streak since Griffin joined the fold, although he didn’t play in the team’s 125-114 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons now sit one game outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Griffin, in his three games, is already Detroit’s leading scorer, providing 20 points per game. He is also their leading assist man with six per game. In the three games with Griffin in the starting lineup, the Pistons are scoring 108 points per game after averaging 103 for the season. The team already played solid defense, allowing opponents to score 102 points per game for the year, and have found a way to improve that number with the addition of Griffin, holding opponents to an average of 100 points per game with him in the starting five.

When the Clippers travel to Detroit, Los Angeles fans may feel like they’re watching a basketball game from a parallel universe. This is how hard it is to fathom Griffin on any team other than the Clippers. It appears consultant Jerry West, who most recently helped construct the current Golden State Warriors, is trying to build an even better version of the Clippers that once boasted Griffin, Chris Paul, and J.J. Redick.

Although Bradley and Harris have made immediate contributions to Los Angeles, it is somewhat disappointing that West’s vision of the Clippers doesn’t include Griffin. It’s an end of an era once dubbed “Lob City,” and although that rendition never made it past the second round of the Western Conference playoffs, they brought the Clippers to relevancy, and created possibly one of the most fun teams in NBA history. This fact will never be lost to the fans of the franchise, no matter how much success the Clippers see in the future.

Super Bowl LII Primer Betting Line: Patriots -4.0

| Sports | February 1, 2018

After 19 hard fought weeks, the Super Bowl is finally here. The New England Patriots started their season slowly, going 2-2 in their first four games. Time and again, the Patriots have been a testament to the age-old adage, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” And finish strongly New England did. In their final 12 games, they went 11-1 to finish with a 13-3 record and top seed in the AFC playoffs.

After easily dispatching of the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional game, the Patriots came up against the juggernaut that is the Jacksonville Jaguars defense. New England struggled to find their rhythm through three quarters, trailing Jacksonville 17-10 entering the final frame. As soon as the Jaguars took their foot off the gas, Tom Brady made them pay, connecting with Danny Amendola for two touchdowns that helped New England eek out a 24-20 win.

Over in the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles were a title contender from the get-go, with second-year quarterback Carson Wentz at the helm. He amassed 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns en route to an 11-2 record. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, Wentz was lost for the season due to a torn ACL suffered in their 43-35 week 13 win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Journeyman quarterback Nick Foles more than picked up the slack, going 2-1 in the final three regular season games, as well as throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles’ 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings’ number two overall pass defense in the NFC Championship game.

The quarterback battle of Brady v. Foles isn’t the most enticing matchup in Super Bowl history, but this game will boil down to which defense can muster the most stops, and get the opposing offense off balance. When it comes to allowing offenses to score, both the Eagles and the Patriots ranked atop the NFL in this category. Philadelphia came in fourth during the regular season at 18.4 points per game, while New England came in fifth at 18.5 points.

So, both teams excel at keeping the score low, but how they go about that is what makes them so different. The Eagles have a fearsome defensive line that excels at putting pressure on the quarterback. Defensive end Brandon Graham led the team in sacks with 9.5, and registered 18 quarterback hits for the season.

Fletcher Cox earned a Pro Bowl berth, which he was unable to cash in on due to making the Super Bowl, by filling any holes in the middle at the defensive tackle position. He was second on the team in sacks with 5.5, and recovered two fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Philadelphia’s defensive front is so deep, second string defensive end Chris Long led the team in quarterback hits with 20, and was third in sacks with five.

The disturbance the defensive line creates is a catalyst for turnovers, which Philadelphia created a ton of over the season. The team came in fourth in the league with 31 total turnovers, 19 coming on interceptions, and 12 coming on fumbles. Cornerback Patrick Robinson led the team in interceptions with four, while three players weren’t far behind with three. The Eagles have made the most of these turnovers, turning five into touchdowns.

New England’s defense differs from Philadelphia, as the Patriots focus on bending, but not breaking. They will allow an offense to pick up yards, demonstrated by the 366 yards-per-game teams averaged against them during the regular season. However, opposing teams struggle to find the end zone, often having to settle for field goals.

In the AFC Championship, the Jaguars found the end zone early, scoring two quick touchdowns in the second quarter. It was field goals for Jacksonville the rest of the way, which is how they held an advantage in time of possession with 35 minutes to New England’s 24 minutes, but could only put up 20 points.

Expect the Eagles to be able to move the ball early, and probably often, against New England’s defense. The game Foles had was no fluke, and he has an abundance of receivers in Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Zach Ertz. On the ground, Philadelphia has the running back duo of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, giving them virtually zero weaknesses to exploit on offense.

Conversely, the Patriots are led by the nearly undisputed greatest quarterback of all time in Brady, who has one of the best tight ends in Rob Gronkowski to throw to. Brady can also rely on Amendola, who has, time and time again, come through in the clutch. At running back, the Patriots have the speedy Dion Lewis, who averages five yards per rushing attempt and can catch out of the backfield, along with Super Bowl LI hero James White, who was fourth on the team in receptions, with 56, despite playing as a running back.

This has all the makings of a tightly contested game, and with the Patriots’ propensity to come back in the fourth quarter, the game won’t truly be decided until the final horn sounds. Despite not truly being able to tell who will win, a Super Bowl Primer would not be complete without a final score prediction. It will be a nail-biter, but when all is said and done, Brady and the Patriots will walk away with their sixth Super Bowl ring in a 24-23 classic.

Breaking Down UCLA’s Tightly Contested Quarterback Competition

| Sports | January 25, 2018

It’s a new era of UCLA football with the ousting of Jim Mora Jr. after five seasons as the program’s head coach. The Bruins were able to snag one of the hottest head coaching commodities of the offseason in Chip Kelly, who returns to the college ranks after a stint as an NFL coach.

UCLA will also be turning its attention to the quarterback position, as Josh Rosen, one of the best quarterbacks to wear the blue and gold, will be heading to the NFL as a likely first overall pick.

The competition looked to be between Devon Modster, the now sophomore quarterback who backed up Rosen in 2017, and incoming freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Thompson-Robinson gained notoriety for being recruited as a four-star quarterback in his junior year, despite never having started at Bishop Gorman High School.

The Bruins were gifted a good problem, when former Washington Huskies quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels declared he would be coming to UCLA as a graduate transfer, making him immediately available for next season. Carta-Samuels was a one-time four-star recruit, and spent three years at the University of Washington, amassing 310 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in that time.

Kelly now has a treasure-trove of quarterbacks to choose from to start for UCLA next season, and will surely take his time in the decision. It is no secret that Kelly’s offensive system requires a mobile quarterback. In his first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, Kelly had quarterback Nick Foles run a total of 57 times in 10 starts. Foles’ second most rushing attempts for a season was 17 in 2015 with the then St. Louis Rams.

Fortunately for the Bruins, Modster, Carta-Samuels, and Thompson-Robinson all have mobility as a strength. Furthermore, the trio all have the ability to throw accurate passes of varying lengths on the move. With that in mind, here are some ways in which the three differ.

Devon Modster
Given Modster’s familiarity with UCLA’s offensive personnel, it could be assumed he has a stronger grasp on the starting spot. His chemistry with his receivers was on display in Modster’s first start of the season against Kansas State in the 2017 Cactus Bowl.

Jordan Lasley and Theo Howard were the beneficiaries of Modster’s strong first half in this game. Lasley scored the Bruins’ first touchdown, after Modster hit Lasley on a screen in perfect position for the receiver to take the ball 52 yards to the house. Just three minutes later, Modster threw a beautiful, deep pass to a streaking Howard for a 70-yard touchdown that gave the Bruins a 17-7 halftime lead.

Modster displayed accurate ball placement on all three passing levels. For the game, he went 21-34 with 295 passing yards and the two aforementioned touchdowns. Furthermore, he showed strong pocket presence, going through his receiving options before taking off to run. In fact, Modster only carried the ball two times for 19 yards.

The second half is where the game unraveled for UCLA. Kansas State switched from man coverage to a zone defense, allowing Modster to complete shorter throws, causing the Bruins to find themselves faced with third down fairly often. In the second half, they punted twice, turned the ball over on downs twice, and lost a fumble.

It should come as no surprise to learn that 215 of Modster’s 295 yards came in the first half, while eight of his 13 incompletions came in the second half. UCLA’s defense did put Modster in a must pass situation throughout all of the final two quarters, as Kansas State scored on every second-half possession.

The game did expose Modster’s most glaring weakness. He doesn’t yet have the ability to put the team on his shoulders and lead a comeback win. If that’s the biggest knock on a one-time backup quarterback, however, then the Bruins would be in good hands with Modster as their starter.

K.J. Carta-Samuels
Carta-Samuels is the biggest unknown of UCLA’s quarterback room. He recorded just one start during his time with Washington, a 31-14 loss to Stanford in 2015, in which Carta-Samuels went 9-21 for 118, while scoring on a rushing touchdown.

In three years at Washington, Carta-Samuels logged just 15 rushing attempts, but showed he had the ability to run with the ball in high school. At 6 feet 2 inches and 221 pounds, Carta-Samuels uses his physicality, rather than speed, as a runner. He is hard to bring down on the first tackle, especially if he breaks past the front seven and gets into the secondary.

Like Modster, Carta-Samuels has strong pocket presence, with running coming as a last resort if all passing options are unavailable. His accuracy as a passer depends on the distance. On short and intermediate throws, he is usually on the money, putting the ball in the best place for his receivers to make a play after the catch.

Deep balls, on the other hand, appear to be Carta-Samuels’ weakness. He definitely has the arm strength to push the ball downfield, but doesn’t have the greatest accuracy on these passes, showing a tendency to both over and under throw his targets.

That being said, most of Carta-Samuels’ tape is from the high school level. It is more than fair to assume that three years at Washington helped fine-tune his passing accuracy, especially on deep balls. This will be revealed more when spring practices begin, and Carta-Samuels has a chance to throw with UCLA’s offense.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Of the three quarterbacks, Thompson-Robinson has the most potential. His raw talent is undeniable. His first start at Bishop Gorman didn’t come until his senior season, after already having committed to UCLA. Thompson-Robinson’s one year at the helm of the Gaels didn’t disappoint either. For the season, he went 176-256 for 3,275 yards, 38 touchdowns and three interceptions on a 69 percent completion rate.

The year culminated in the Las Vegas State Championship, where Thompson-Robinson displayed his athleticism in a 48-7 win over Reed High School. For the game, Thompson-Robinson went 17-25 for 260 yards and two passing touchdowns. He also ran for 57 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, and had a 10-yard touchdown reception.

Despite possibly being the Bruins’ biggest play-making threat at quarterback, Thompson-Robinson is also the least polished passer of the three. He has the ability to play from the pocket, but his footwork while dropping back to pass is sloppy at times. He can hang in the pocket and pass with accuracy on short, intermediate, and deep passes, but has the propensity to run as soon as he feels pressure.

Forcing Thompson-Robinson to run is also dangerous for defenses, as he has incredible speed and an arsenal of moves to make tacklers miss. In 2017 at Bishop Gorman, Thompson-Robinson ran for 426 yards on 4.8 yards per carry, with seven rushing touchdowns.

A lot of Thompson-Robinson’s passing plays in high school came from shotgun or in motion, which fits well with Kelly’s spread offense. A few things keep Thompson-Robinson from being the favorite to start for UCLA next season, including his pocket presence and footwork, and acclimation to the college game, which Modster and Carta-Samuels already possess.

It is way too early to tell who will come out of camp as UCLA’s starter, but never too early to predict. Modster will more than likely start 2018 as starting quarterback, with Carta-Samuels as backup, and Thompson-Robinson as third string. Depending on Modster’s performance and Thompson-Robinson’s rate of progression, however, don’t be surprised to see Thompson-Robinson under center at some point in the year.

Los Angeles Clippers

| Sports | January 18, 2018

There is All-Star potential in the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup, and it’s not who you think. Yes, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan have been pivotal in keeping the Clippers afloat in an injury-plagued season, and are almost certain to be playing in the All-Star Game. The surprise of the season, and the engine that drives Los Angeles, however, has been 12-year veteran Lou Williams.

Williams was acquired in the trade that sent Chris Paul to Houston. At that time, Patrick Beverley was Los Angeles’ main return, while Williams was expected to provide the same scoring punch off the bench that earned him Sixth Man of the Year in 2015. A season-ending knee injury to Beverley, along with an ankle injury to Austin Rivers, has forced Williams out of his familiar role with the second-unit, and into the starting five.

The results have been nothing short of spectacular. Williams set up shop as the starting shooting guard on January 8 against the Atlanta Hawks, and has yet to lose. The Clippers have reeled off five wins in a row, including victories over the Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets. Los Angeles’ recent win streak has propelled the team into the playoff picture, where they are currently the seventh seed.

None of this success would be possible without Williams. In the 125-106 win over the Warriors, Williams dropped 50 points and seven assists, highlighting the two areas of the game in which he excels. For the season, he is averaging a career high in points-per-game, with 23, and assists-per-game, with five. Williams can put up points, and does so with incredible efficiency. According to realgm.com, Williams is enjoying his second most efficient shooting season, with a true shooting percentage of 61 percent. His 3-point shot is flourishing as well, and his 41 percent success rate is the highest of his career.

What makes Williams so dangerous his arsenal of offensive moves. He uses off ball screens to get open on the perimeter, where defenders have to make the choice of closing out on him, or leaving a little space to ensure he doesn’t drive to the basket. Either way, Williams often makes the defense pay.

If Williams is able to penetrate the paint, the best option as a defender is to rotate over and cut off his path to the hoop. This is how Williams has excelled in dishing out assists, as the defense’s response to his presence often leaves another Clipper open. Williams’ willingness to pass can be a double-edged sword, however, as he is second on the team with three turnovers per game.

Williams’ ability to take over a game made itself evident in the final three minutes of the first half in Los Angeles’ 113-102 win over Houston. Trailing 51-48, Williams scored nine straight points and assisted on a Jawun Evans layup in the final 30 seconds, giving the Clippers a 59-56 lead at the half. The Rockets never led again.

Williams’ sheer scoring ability seems to be a perfect fit in Los Angeles’ offensive style. When Milos Teodosic is handling the ball, Williams can focus on playing on the perimeter, opening up the paint for
Griffin and Jordan. When Williams is asked to be the primary ball handler, he has a knack for getting to the rim or finding the open man when defenses send double teams his way. Suffice it to say, Williams makes the Clippers’ offense nearly impossible to guard.

The question now becomes, has Williams done enough to elevate himself into the All-Star conversation in a Western Conference stacked with quality guards? It will be hard for him to unseat one of the following: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, CJ McCollum, or Damian Lillard.

Just the fact that Williams is in the conversation for the All-Star Game in his 12th season is a testament to the impact he is having on the Clippers. As injuries began to pile up, it appeared the team would not sniff the postseason in their first season after Paul and J.J. Redick departed. It’s still too early to tell if Los Angeles will remain in the playoff picture, but Williams is making sure they have a legitimate chance. And, in the process, he has changed people’s perception of him from perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, to All-Star starter and key contributor to a potential playoff team.

Falcons and Rams Feel-Good Season in First Round of the NFL Playoffs

| Sports | January 11, 2018

For the first time since January 4, 1986, the Los Angeles Rams had the privilege of hosting a playoff game. In Los Angeles’ previous postseason experience, the Rams rode legendary running back Eric Dickerson’s two rushing touchdowns and playoff record 248 rushing yards, to a 20-0 divisional round victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Over 30 years later, and with a potentially legendary running back in Todd Gurley, this rendition of the Los Angeles Rams could not emulate the success of their predecessors. In the 2017 wildcard round, the Atlanta Falcons forced the Rams to turn away from Gurley, who is in legitimate conversation for NFL MVP, ultimately ending Los Angeles’ playoff experience with a 26-13 wire-to-wire victory.

So, how did a Rams offense that led the league in scoring with 30 points a game, get held to a paltry 13 points? The trouble began on special teams, where two fumbles turned into 10 quick Falcons points.

The first fumble came in the first quarter after Los Angeles forced the Falcons into a three-and-out. Blake Countess muffed the ensuing punt, which Atlanta recovered at the Rams’ 17 yard line. Countess’ error accounted for only three points, however, as Los Angeles’ defense was able to hold the Falcons to just six yards.

Another Atlanta field goal on the team’s next possession made the score 6-0, a deficit that was by no means insurmountable for Los Angeles’ prolific offense. Unfortunately, it didn’t get the chance to see the field before the Falcons scored again. Rams return man Pharoh Cooper brought the kick to the Los Angeles 28 yard line, before losing the ball. Atlanta recovered it at the 32 yard line, and with just under 12 minutes left to play in the second quarter, Devonta Freeman was scampering into the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown run to make the score 13-0.

Now, it was the Rams turn to go on a run. With over five minutes left before halftime, Gurley carried the ball twice for 30 yards, while Jared Goff connected with rookie receiver Cooper Kupp twice for 29 yards. 15 of Kupp’s yards came on a touchdown pass that capped off the seven-play, 79-yard drive.

Just like that, it was 13-7, and the Rams seemed to be turning the tide of the game in their favor. Their following possession would cut the deficit further, as Sam Ficken nailed a 35-yard field goal in the waining seconds of the half. Los Angeles headed to the locker rooms down 13-10.
Atlanta was able to kill any momentum the Rams felt they had gained, as the away team began the second half with an eight minute drive that culminated in a 25-yard field goal from Matt Bryant. If Los Angeles could have stopped Matt Ryan from converting a fourth-and-one quarterback sneak, they would have saved four minutes.

The Rams could only gain 28 yards on their next drive before giving the ball back to Atlanta. The Falcons thanked the home team for this favor by scoring another field goal, making the game 19-10.

Gurley did all he could to help his team put points on the board at the start of the fourth quarter, gaining 47 yards on two carries. The result of this possession would be a 32-yard Ficken field goal that brought the Rams within six points. A stop on defense may have swung the game in Los Angeles’ favor. This was not meant to be, however.

In five plays, Atlanta was able to go 24 yards. Then, Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu on a screen pass, which the receiver took 52-yards to the Los Angeles 10 yard line. Two plays later, Ryan found Julio Jones on an 8-yard touchdown pass to create the final score of 26-13.

Pinpointing what went wrong begins with the two special teams fumbles. They instantly put the Rams in a two score deficit, making Goff pass more than he was used to. During the regular season, the second year signal caller threw 30 passes per game. Against Atlanta, he threw the ball 45 times.

That’s not to say Goff couldn’t handle the increased workload. He ended the game 24-45 for 259 yards and a touchdown. The real problem with the higher pass attempts is that Gurley only carried the ball 14 times, whereas, he averaged 18 carries per game in the regular season. Gurley did make the most of his limited carries, amassing 101 rushing yards. He seemed to be shredding Atlanta’s rush defense, so it hard not to speculate what he could have achieved with more touches.

Los Angeles’ much talked about revamped offensive line also didn’t play up to their regular season standards. The unit allowed Goff to be sacked three times, after allowing just 1.75 sacks per game before the playoffs.

Outside of Sanu’s 52-yard catch and run, the Rams’ defense played the same as they had all year. Ryan’s 218 yards was right at Los Angeles’ regular season average of 217 passing yards allowed per game. In the same vein, Atlanta’s 124 total rushing yards were right at the Rams’ average of 122 rushing yards allowed per game.

What it truly boils down to is that the Rams are a young team that allowed the postseason stage to get the better of them. They made key mistakes that forced them out of their offense, and the defense allowed an eventually game sealing big play on a screen that could have easily been stopped.

Los Angeles has a lot of promise, though, and this loss doesn’t take away from that. Sean McVay just wrapped up his first year as a head coach, Gurley is already an MVP candidate at 23-years old, and Goff made major strides in his sophomore season.

Barring any unforeseen lapses, the Rams should find themselves in the playoffs next season. This time around, they’ll be going in with postseason experience under their belts. In the end, the Los Angeles’ loss can be seen as growing pains in this young team’s maturation process, and fans should be excited they can watch the Rams growing up on the gridiron.

UCLA Bruins Basketball Banks on Balance in Recent Win Streak

| Sports | January 6, 2018

UCLA began the 2017-2018 college basketball season looking lost without Lonzo Ball. Two losses in a row to Michigan and Cincinnati made it appear that the Bruins would be unable to hang with bigger named programs as the season progressed. A narrow 85-82 victory over the South Dakota Coyotes broke the two-game losing streak, but did little to quell the concerns of the UCLA faithful.

Although the win wasn’t glamorous, the Bruins haven’t lost since. This includes their 83-75 upset victory over the then 7th ranked Kentucky Wildcats, the team that sent UCLA home in Sweet 16 of the NCAA men’s basketball championship a season ago. The Bruins needed a balance between their big named freshmen and their reliable veterans to pull out the win. It’s a formula that has served them well during the four-game win streak they are currently riding.

Aaron Holiday continues to make the Holiday name proud. As his brother Jrue once did for UCLA in the 2008-2009 season, Aaron is leading his team to victory, night in and night out. Against Kentucky, he finished with a team-high 20 points and eight assists. It is no surprise that he leads the team in both categories, averaging 18 points and five assists per game.

His 36 percent 3-point shooting percentage doesn’t jump off the page, exemplifying how his ability to get to the basket is his biggest weapon. It allows him to get easy points at the rim, attempt a team-high five free throws per game, and dish the ball to open shooters as defenses collapse on him.

Surprisingly, this includes senior Thomas Welsh, who has added the “three ball” to his repertoire. This gives UCLA the stretch center that has become pivotal to basketball in both college and the pros. Last season, Welsh attempted just one 3-pointer, the first of his career. Now he is second amongst all starters in three-point shooting percentages, at 39 percent.

This hasn’t taken away from his ability to corral rebounds. In fact, his 11 rebounds per game is his highest season average of his career, outperforming his last season average of nine. Against Kentucky, Welsh used a mix of his newfound shooting ability, going 3-6 from three-point range helping him put in 13 total points, and his reliable rebounding, snagging 11 boards.

Coming in to the year, the fanfare of the incoming freshman class paled in comparison to a season ago. Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Cody Riley were the big names to watch for, and aside from Riley who was suspended for the season due to the China shoplifting fiasco, Wilkes and Hands have made major contributions to UCLA’s winning ways.

Hands started the season as a starter, but has bolstered the bench unit in recent games, as redshirt sophomore Prince Ali has been inserted into the starting lineup. In the game against Kentucky, Hands provided 14 points off the bench, shooting 50 percent from the court. He currently has the highest shooting percentage of all Bruins’ guards, making 47 percent of the shots he takes.

Wilkes has been the offensive spark plug at small forward that he was expected to be when he joined the team. He is second in points-per-game, with 13, as well as rebounds, with six. His skill set was apparent against Kentucky, as he tied Holiday with 20 points, while grabbing five rebounds. His ability to make threes, however, is an area in which he needs to improve. He went 3-9 against the Wildcats, and makes just 29 percent of his 3-pointers.

UCLA has begun Pac-12 play with two wins over Washington State and Washington, leaving them in first place in the conference. The win over Washington State was a wire-to-wire 96-82 drubbing, but the Bruins’ match against Washington was the Huskies’ to lose in the final eight minutes of the game.

And lost it they did. Washington led 52-48, but were able to muster just one point for the rest of the game, while UCLA poured on 26 to make the final score 74-53. Holiday and Wilkes put up nine points apiece in this stretch, displaying to the audience that they are the offensive pillars of the team. The win was one to celebrate, but it did highlight a flaw that UCLA will need to address if they are to continue the momentum they have created for themselves.

The Bruins turned the ball over 15 times to Washington’s 12. Although UCLA isn’t in danger of leading the country in turnovers, their propensity to give the ball away has hurt them in the past. In their 78-69 loss to Michigan, they turned the ball over 20 times, following that with 18 turnovers in their 77-63 loss to Cincinnati.

Luckily, UCLA will have a chance to focus on holding on to the ball against their next two opponents. Stanford is 24th in the country in turnovers, with 16 per game, and average only five steals per game. The Bruins take on the Cardinal on Thursday. Cal is just slightly better at holding on to the ball than their northern California counterparts, with 15 turnovers per game, while snagging six steals per game.

UCLA has found success working as a team, and the chemistry they have created will only get stronger as the season progresses. Identifying and solving their turnover problem will go a long way in ensuring they stay successful in a surprisingly weak Pac-12. The year is young, but UCLA has a lot they can build on before March rolls around.

To get to the top, the Bruins would need a Cinderella story style run through the bracket. The improvements they make now will give them the tools they need to make a fantastic finish like that a reality.

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