Local teams still trying to find their identities

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how good a team is or is going to be. 

That’s where we are right now with the Rams and Chargers in football and the Lakers and Clippers in basketball.

The basketball season is just getting started, but the NFL season is half over and we wonder how good are the 7-2 Rams. 

Are they the team that beat defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay by 10 points in the third week of the season or are they the team that got blown out the following week by Arizona and then, after going on a four-game winning streak in the weakest part of their schedule, got beat badly by the Tennessee Titans Nov. 7, 28-16, in a game that wasn’t that close.

The Chargers are the same way. They jumped off to a 4-1 start, lost two in a row to the Ravens and the Patriots before bouncing back Nov. 7 to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-24, on the road with a last-minute field goal.

Both teams are still firmly in the race for the playoffs, but they are also likely to have another peak and valley as the season plays out.

The Rams are in a Super-Bowl-or-bust mode, so they need to avoid more games like the loss to the Titans, which came before a national television audience.

The Rams lost the game in a five-second span in the second quarter when Matthew Stafford threw two of the worst interceptions ever.

The first gave the Titans a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line from where the Titans scored on the next play. 

After the kickoff, Stafford threw a pick six to safety Keith Byard. Just like that, the Titans had a 14-3 lead. They added another touchdown before halftime and, after the Rams settled for only a field goal in the third quarter, put the game away with a fourth-quarter touchdown.

The Rams outgained the Titans 347-194 and had 22 first downs compared to 16 for the Titans.

But the Titans sacked Stafford five times and the Rams committed 12 penalties. That’s no way to win a football game.

The Rams have a chance to right the ship on Monday Night Football this week when they play the San Francisco 49ers. They have the following week off before facing the Green Bay Packers Thanskgiving weekend at Lambeau Field.

We should know more about the Rams after that game as they head into December.

The Chargers at 5-3 find themselves tied at the top of the AFC West with the Las Vegas Raiders with home games coming up against the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers the next two weeks. 

The Chargers need to shore up their defense. In the first four games of the season, the Chargers gave up only 74 points. In the last four games they have surrendered 132 points.

Justin Herbert continues to show he is going to be a stellar quarterback in the league and even the running game has picked up. 

The Chargers could find themselves favored in their last eight games. But they need to avoid performances like the ones against the Ravens and Patriots if they hope to make a difference come January.

STILL SEARCHING: The Clippers and Lakers are both in the top eight of the NBA Western Conference at this writing, but they are headed in different directions.

After losing four of their first five games, the Clippers have won five straight as coach Tyronn Lue has found a rotation that seems to work.

With Nicholas Batum and Paul George at forward, Eric Bledsoe and Reggie Jackson at guard and Ivica Zubac at center, the Clippers have a balanced lineup that may rely too much on George, but that’s what superstars are for.

The three-man bench rotation of Terrance Mann, Luke Kennard and Isaiah Hartenstein will soon get a boost from center Serge Ibaka, who is almost totally healthy after back surgery last June.

The Clippers play with energy and smarts (only eight turnovers against Portland Nov. 9). The role players know their jobs and George is pulling the wagon while Kawai Leonard recovers from knee surgery.

The Lakers, on the other hand, are struggling just to get healthy. 

LeBron James could miss up to a month with an abdominal strain. Anthony Davis has injured a thumb, a knee and an ankle already this year and missed most of another game with an upset stomach.

Coach Frank Vogel is still trying to settle on a rotation as he waits for Trevor Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn — and LeBron — to get healthy.

Russell Westbrook is trying to adjust to his role, which is the main ball handler with James out, but something else when James is in the lineup. Westbrook is a great individual player, but he doesn’t always fit in with his teammates.

Someone who has fit in well is Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 17.6 points in 28.5 minutes a game. Anyone who saw that coming, take a bow.

If James is healthy, the Lakers are a better team with Davis playing center, popping out occasionally for a three-pointer but doing most of his damage inside.

But Davis prefers to play power forward, forcing the Lakers to play DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard at center. Both are averaging about 14 minutes a game, meaning Davis is the center for 20 minutes a game, no matter where he starts.

Leonard and Howard combine for 10.4 points and 10.9 rebounds a game, decent stats for a backup center, but not what the Lakers need.

The Lakers also need to find someone other than Anthony who can score off the bench. Wayne Ellington is working his way into the rotation after starting the season injured, but the Lakers need to get more from Kent Bazemore and Avery Bradley if they are to avoid a play-in game again when the playoffs roll around in April.

FINALE FLOP: The Galaxy and LAFC both missed out in the Major League Soccer playoffs — not that easy considering seven of 13 teams in the Western Conference qualified. The local teams finished eighth and ninth. 

The Galaxy only needed to win their final game against Minnesota to advance, but they tied 3-3. 

LAFC needed a win and some help from other teams (including the Galaxy), but lost to Colorado, 5-2. Not exactly the way they wanted to finish the season. 

It was the first time in franchise history LAFC failed to make the playoffs. The Galaxy have now missed the playoffs three times in the last five years.

Both teams have some work to do in the offseason. 

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