Lakers Win Ugly; UCLA Loses Pretty
March 9, 2020

This just in. College basketball is much more fun to watch than professional basketball. Actually, to people my age, this isn't news, but Milennials may disagree. To make the case, we go to southern California this weekend, where the two local NBA teams battled for supremacy on Sunday, after an LA college extravaganza less than 24 hours earlier.

ESPN/ABC play-by-play man called it 'statement weekend' for the Los Angeles Lakers. On Friday, they hosted the only team with a better record, the Milwaukee Bucks, and then on Sunday, faced the team closest to them in the West standings, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers, and good for them, won both games.

Saturday afternoon at the Galen Center, USC was home to UCLA. Both teams are considered 'on the bubble' to make the NCAA Tournament, with the winner almost assured a tourney berth. USC won the game in a low scoring contest.

I'm not much of an NBA fan anymore, but I thought I'd watch the Lakers-Bucks game. In what's now considered low-scoring in the pros, the Lakers led 22-19 at the end of the first quarter. While ABC analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson were praising the defense, the stat sheet showed both teams combined to take 25 three-point shots and hit only three (that's 12 percent by the way). The Lakers were 1-for-15. That's not defense, that's run-down-the-court, jack-up-a-three, miss, have-the-other-team-run-down-the-court, jack-up-a-three, and miss. Ooo what fun.

The halftime score of the UCLA-USC game was 24-22 Trojans at the half. It was very low scoring but was thrilling basketball. Teams actually did play defense, and every basket, due to the racous crowd and the magnitude of the game, had you on the edge of your seat.

The Lakers-Bucks game would get better. LA won it 113-103 and the showdown between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo lived up to the hype. James had 37 points. The other guy had 32. The two teams split the season series 1-1, and if they meet in the finals, it could be worth watching, but not as much as the college guys.

Jonah Matthews hit a three-pointer in the final second to give USC the lead and the 54-52 win. The Trojans seem headed for the Big Dance, while the Bruins, which had dismal early losses to Hofstra and Cal State Fullerton, and three of their first four conference games, snapped a seven-game winning streak. A win would have even given them a chance to win the Pac-12 regular season outright (Oregon won later that night to clinch the title). UCLA can still make the tournament, but need a few wins in the Pac-12 tourney to do it.

On Sunday, the Lakers won a 'road' game, beating the Clippers 112-103 at Staples Center, a building the two teams share. It was the first time the Lakers beat their arena mates this year, after losing Opening Night and Christmas Day. The two teams have never faced each other in the playoffs, but this year could meet in the conference finals. And the winner could very well face Milwaukee for the championship. Lots of drama here.

As for college? Anything can happen, and with no clear favorite this year, expect the unexpected. We'll see about the NBA playoffs later. Give me college hoops any day.

Coronavirus concerns: If you've been following the virus in the news, you know that the disease is spreading. Fear, or perhaps over-abundance of caution, is spreading much faster. Outside of this country, where the disease is much more prevalent, large gatherings have been canceled. The Pope is staying inside, soccer matches have been either postponed or played in empty buildings, and Japanese baseball has just delayed the start of their season. In the United States, where there is still more fear than virus, the same is starting to happen. The Indian Wells tennis tournament (which ios probably the largest on the tour other than the four majors) has been canceled, and schools are starting to suspend events. Sheldon High School in Elk Grove withdrew from the state basketball tournament because one family in the district was exposed to the virus. After parents rose up in anger, the team was allowed to continue, and will play its game tomorrow night. Of course, health and safety first, but we may see NCAA Tournament games, and baseball openers, all scheduled for later this month, either canceled, postponed, or played in empty arenas. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

New looks, not (necessarily) good looks: Giants and Dodgers fans will both have surprises when their ball parks open for business in a couple of weeks. Stadium renovations in Los Angeles mean fans will be able to walk all the way around the park on the inside, while still keeping the iconic left field and right field pavilions. However, the team is also advertising what they are calling 'home run seats', which sounds like luxury boxes in the outfield. One of the nice things about Dodger Stadium is there could not be any potential fan interference on home runs. Perhaps that could be changing.

More looks, SF style: The home of the Giants will be smaller in 2020. The massive 'triples alley' at Oracle Park is being reduced, with fences moved in and bullpens now behind a new outfield wall. While this could ultimately turn out to be a good thing, it's also a direct slap in the face to the memory of the late owner Peter Magowan, who died last year. The reason those changes weren't made earlier to the ball yard that opened in 2000, is because Magowan didn't want it. Less than a year after his death, his successors went ahead and made the changes anyway.

Mic'd up: Putting microphones and earpieces on baseball players and coaches during a game is a good idea. ESPN's 'All Access' featured four games this week, but none better than Monday's Cubs-Angels game with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo chatting while playing defense, in the dugout, and even during at-bats. You need players with the personalities to pull it off, but it was highly entertaining. Also this week. The Dodgers chatted with third base coach Dino Ebel. That may have been the most informative baseball lesson ever, and you never knew how much went into being a coach on the field.

Really, Alex?: During ESPN's Tuesday spring training broadcast of the Yankees and Red Sox, commentator and steroid cheat Alex Rodriguez said that the Astros deserve all the boos they get this year from the sign-stealing scandal, saying that they have shown no remorse. This from a guy who bold-face lied on network television when he said he didn't take steroids, and is now somehow considered a revered figure, dating Jennifer Lopez and appearing on national TV every week. A-Rod did add, I served the longest suspension in Major League Baseball history. It cost me well over $35 million, and you know what? I deserved that. Easy to say now.

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