SPORTS DIGEST: Lakers, Clippers move closer to playoff matchup

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By Don Wanlass, Contributing Writer

The Lakers and Clippers have been two of the best teams in the NBA since the season started 10 long months ago.

Many of us were hoping way back in October that the two teams would meet in the Western Conference finals, which would mean two weeks of games in Staples Center that would put the NBA spotlight squarely on Los Angeles.

That spotlight could still land on the Lakers and the Clippers, but it will shine on them in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, not Staples Center.

Both teams still need to get past the second round of the playoffs, but after recent performances, both teams appear to be on track for an epic series.

The playoffs didn’t start like that. The Lakers lost their opener to the Portland Trailblazers and didn’t look pretty doing it.

But LeBron James has hoisted the team on his massive shoulders and is leading the team to what could be his fourth championship ring.

James is averaging a triple double in the first four games of the series with Portland, a series that could be over by the time you read this.

He is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game and providing leadership you would expect from a veteran who has been through the wars before.

The Lakers still don’t have a third player they can rely on to score consistently night after night, but with James and Anthony Davis averaging more than 50 points between them, the Lakers have managed to survive with Kyle Kuzma scoring one night and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope getting hot the next.

Damien Lillard has gamely tried to put Portland on his back and will them to a series win, but his shoulders are smaller than James and now he is hurt. After dislocating a finger in game two of the series, Lillard left game four with an injured knee and was ruled out of game five Aug. 26.

The Lakers totally dominated game four, jumping out to a 15-0 lead in the first four minutes, with Davis outscoring the Blazers 16-14 by himself for the first nine and a half minutes, at which time the Lakers led 32-14.

Yes, the Lakers are well on their way to the second round.

Whether the Clippers can keep up remains to be seen, but their record-breaking performance Aug. 25 in game five against the Dallas Mavericks portends well for them.

The Clippers entered game five of the first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks all even at 2-2 with Paul George missing in action.

The Clippers then put a beat down on the Mavericks, jumping off to a 41-22 first quarter lead on the way to a 154-111 win. The 154 points were a franchise playoff record. So was the 43-point margin of victory.

After averaging only 15 points a game in the first four games, George went off for 35 on 12 of 18 shooting from the field. Kawhi Leonard chipped in with 32 points and Montrezl Harrell had his best game of the series with 19.

The Mavericks played without their second best player, Kristaps Porzingis, and their best player, Luca Doncic, is playing on a bad ankle. He managed to score 22 points, but he didn’t have enough help from his teammates.

The Mavericks don’t play enough defense to slow down the Clippers, who can close out the series Aug. 27.

Next up for the Clippers is the winner of the Houston-Oklahoma City series, which stands at 2-2.

South L.A.’s James Harden continues to lead the Rockets and Chris Paul has done a great job keeping the Thunder in the series.

The Lakers draw the winner of the Utah Jazz-Denver Nuggets series is round two. The Jazz leads the series 3-2 and can close it out with a win in game six Aug. 27.

In two weeks, we will have a better idea of whether we will see a Lakers-Clippers series. Right now the chances are better than likely we will have a Los Angeles conference final in the NBA this year.

But anything can happen in a season where everything already has.

ROLLING ALONG: Talking about sure things, the Dodgers appear to be well on their way to an eighth straight National League West division title.

Even after blowing three late-inning leads to the San Francisco Giants in a 10-8 11th-inning loss Aug. 25, the Dodgers still lead the San Diego Padres by four games

Unless boredom sets in, the Dodgers will be part of an expanded playoff system. The Dodgers need to spend the month of September deciding on will be in a starting rotation that can pitch six innings every night and then determine who is best equipped to pitch the last three innings.

The Dodgers have a great offense. They pay struggle to manufacture runs from time to time, but everyone in the lineup, from one to nine, can hit home runs and when you have a lineup like that you are rarely out of a game.

Clayton Kershaw appears to still have plenty left to maintain his staff ace status over Walker Buehler, who has been inconsistent so far this year. Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin might be the next best two starters beyond Kershaw and Buehler. Both are second-year players, but they have shown enough promise to be given more opportunities.

Julio Urias still appears to be a work in progress.

He was chased after 1 2/3 innings last week against Seattle and came back Aug. 25 to give up four runs in four-plus innings. The Dodgers need to decide whether Urias is going to be a starter or a reliever if he is ever going to fulfill the potential the team saw in him when he was a teenager in Mexico five years ago.

(Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to the NBA players’ boycott.)

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