Alexander: Could Lakers have repeated under normal circumstances?

Championship DNA, for whatever it’s worth, doesn’t guarantee good health.

The Lakers might have been able to boast the former, the outgrowth of last season’s championship run in the bubble. But the latter failed them throughout this mad scramble of a shortened, compressed NBA season. And yes, when it comes to writing the story of the Lakers’ 2020-21 season, and the bid to repeat that fell short, there is blame to be laid and it’s not all internal.

That story ended Thursday night with a 113-100 elimination game loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the first round, and it figured that the most important game of the season revolved around the injury report. Even then, good news turned out to be not so good after all.

After a couple of days of uncertainty, the Lakers received a blast of hope when Anthony Davis was deemed available to play before the game … only to have it doused when the All-Star big man limped off for good less than 5½ minutes into the game, his strained left groin making it impossible to continue after he’d visibly labored whenever he tried to run or jump.

The moment of truth came when Davis pursued the Suns’ Devin Booker on a drive to the basket, jumped … and came down awkwardly and agonizingly. Davis bent over in obvious pain, then limped to the sideline and plopped to the floor, head bowed in disappointment. Moments later he went to the locker room for treatment, and by halftime, the obvious had become official: He would not be returning.

Davis, of course, had provided the first clue that this Lakers season was going to be a grind when he limped off the court on Valentine’s Day night in Denver with the calf strain felt throughout Southern California. Davis missed 30 consecutive games with that injury and 36 all told in the regular season, hyperextended his left knee in Game 3 of the Suns series, then suffered the Grade 1 strain of his left groin in Game 4 on Sunday while trying to play through the knee issue. And yes, the knee injury led to the groin injury.

That in itself was a microcosm of what turned out to be a brutal end of the season, with Davis and LeBron James missing extensive time and a team that started out 21-6 and was seemingly in a great position to repeat suddenly having to battle for its playoff life.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Lakers and Miami, the last teams standing in the Orlando bubble last October, were also among the first ones gone this spring. With a short offseason followed by a 72-game schedule crammed into 146 days, with few off days, little time for real practices and an array of continuing COVID-19 protocols and restrictions … well, what did you expect?

“From the moment we entered the bubble to now, today, it’s been draining,” said James, a 36-year-old four-time league MVP. “Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally draining.”

The short offseason disrupted players’ routines, Davis noted, and “all around the league, guys didn’t handle that very well. … You usually take about a month or so off and you still have six weeks weight room training, and then you have another month, month and a half for on-court (work). We didn’t get that.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged that “none of our guys were prepared for training camp, and we tried to grind through it and get our legs under us,” another reminder that there’s a good reason why, under normal circumstances, players are expected to be in condition when camp begins.

The first-round series with the Suns finished with the No. 2 seed doing what it should do to a No. 7 seed. At 51-21 in the regular season, Phoenix was only one game behind Utah for the league’s best record, and the Suns might be capable of going the distance assuming future Hall of Famer Chris Paul gets his health back.

But Vogel had every right to wonder what if.

“This is a matchup, if we’re whole, that should probably take place in the conference finals,” he said. “But obviously the regular season was what it was with the injuries, and we slipped. I would like to see what our group could have done against this team if we were at full strength. But we weren’t. That’s sports. You gotta do the best you can and make the best of it.”

Not even James, with his personal streak of winning elimination games and his record of never having been knocked out in the first round in 14 previous tries, could save the day here. Then again, what was once a 29-point Phoenix lead in the first half was whittled to 10 late in the third quarter, thanks to a rally by a small lineup featuring LeBron at center.

“I was talking to Wes (Wesley Matthews) in the locker room just a few minutes ago, and I said the one thing that bothers me more than anything was we never really got an opportunity to see our team at full strength, either because of injury, or COVID, or something going on with our ballclub this year,” James said. “We could never fully get into a rhythm and never really kind of see the full potential of what we were capable of.”

That said, the Lakers’ early exit also means a full summer of rest, recovery and preparation. James seemed to indicate he’d skip the Olympics (while throwing in a sly plug for the “Space Jam” sequel coming out this summer).

Point guard Dennis Schröder put it another way, more colorfully than can be fully quoted in this publication, but the gist of it was: “You’ve got to get through the (garbage) to get to the good (stuff).”

If that’s true, wait until next year.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Dodgers’ Chris Taylor ends 14-pitch at-bat with 3-run double to help beat Cardinals

  • Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer throws to the plate during the first inning of Monday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • St. Louis Cardinals Paul Goldschmidt (46) reaches first base ahead of a throw to Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy (13) during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. Los Angeles second baseman Zach McKinstry committed the throwing error. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • St. Louis Cardinals’ Tommy Edman, left, is caught stealing third base by Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner (10) during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer throws to the plate during the first inning of Monday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty, a former Harvard-Westlake star, throws to the plate during the first inning of Monday’s game against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Gavin Lux #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a home run during the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Gavin Lux #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his home run during the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Gavin Lux (9) gets a high-five from third base coach Dino Ebel (91) as he runs the bases after hitting a home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Gavin Lux (9) crosses home plate after hitting a home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Jack Flaherty #22 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chris Taylor (3) gets a high-five from third base coach Dino Ebel (91) as he runs the bases after hitting a home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his home run during the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger (35) catches a fly ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals’ Tommy Edman during the third inning of a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts (50) is caught stealing second by St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tommy Edman (19) during the third inning of a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers attempts to steal second base against Tommy Edman #19 of the St. Louis Cardinals during the third inning at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Gavin Lux #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out during the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Justin Williams #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds the bases after his home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the sixth inning at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • St. Louis Cardinals’ Justin Williams (26) celebrates with Carlos Martinez (18) after Williams hit a home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Justin Williams #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates his home run with Carlos Martinez #18 during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • St. Louis Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson (3) hits a home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger (35) watches as a ball hit by St. Louis Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson flies over the fence for a home run during the sixth inning of a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Dylan Carlson #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds the bases after his two-run home run during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • St. Louis Cardinals fielder Dylan Carlson (3) celebrates with Tommy Edman (19) after they both scored off of a home run hit by Carlson during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Dylan Carlson #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates his two-run home run with Carlos Martinez #18 during the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner (10) singles during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Genesis Cabrera (92) throws during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a three RBI double during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • The Dodgers’ Chris Taylor connects for a tie-breaking, three-run double on the 14th pitch of his at-bat during the sixth inning of Monday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner (10), Will Smith (16), and Cody Bellinger (35) celebrate after all of them scored off of a double hit by Chris Taylor during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his three RBI double during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Justin Turner (10), Will Smith (16), and Cody Bellinger (35) celebrate after all of them scored off of a double hit by Chris Taylor during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Chris Taylor #3 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after hitting a double during the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers’ Will Smith (16), Cody Bellinger (35), and Justin Turner (10) celebrate with manager Dave Roberts, right, after all three players scored off of a double hit by Chris Taylor during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates in the dugout after scoring on a three-run double by Chris Taylor during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • St. Louis Cardinals’ Tyler O’Neill (27) crosses home plate after hitting a home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Matt Beaty #45 of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs around the bases after a double by Mookie Betts #50 during the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Matt Beaty #45 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates his run scored from a double by Mookie Betts #50 during the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Edmundo Sosa #63 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws the ball to first base for the out during the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • A Los Angeles Dodgers fan yells from his seat during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Will Smith (16) and relief pitcher Phil Bickford (52) celebrate a 9-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Phil Bickford #52 and Will Smith #16 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 9-4 win against the St. Louis Cardinals after the game at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Justin Turner #10 and Max Muncy #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 9-4 win against the St. Louis Cardinals after the game at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate a 9-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in a baseball game Monday, May 31, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Cody Bellinger #35 and manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their 9-4 win against the St. Louis Cardinals after the game at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: A general view of a flyover before the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 31: Justin Turner #10, Max Muncy #13 and Gavin Lux #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers run out to the field before the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES — And in the big inning, Chris Taylor had the book on Genesis.

The Dodgers scored four times in the sixth inning – capped by a 14-pitch at-bat from Taylor against lefty reliever Genesis Cabrera – to come from behind and beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-4, Monday night.

The longest at-bat of Taylor’s career came with the score tied, two outs and the bases loaded. It ended with a three-run double into the right-center field gap, breaking the tie and snapping the Dodgers’ three-game losing streak.

“That was crazy. It was an epic at-bat,” Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer said of the hit that made him a winner despite giving up three home runs. “In a big spot, he put together a crazy at-bat.

“Great at-bat. That’s about all I can say about it. Great at-bat.”

The Dodgers had done little for five innings against Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty – not unexpectedly. Flaherty came into the game with an MLB-best eight wins, a 2.84 ERA and a history of frustrating Dodger hitters.

In five career starts against the Dodgers, the former Harvard-Westlake star has allowed just 14 hits and a .139 batting average while striking out 45 in 30 innings.

He gave up just two hits in the first five innings Monday but they were back-to-back home runs by Gavin Lux and Taylor in the second inning.

Seven of the next eight Dodgers struck out against Flaherty and he retired 10 of 11 after the home runs. But Flaherty came out of the game after just five innings and 83 pitches due to tightness in his left side.

Bauer was every bit as stingy, allowing just one hit in the first five innings. But the Cardinals took a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth when Bauer gave up a leadoff home run to Justin Williams high off the right-field foul pole then a two-run homer to Dylan Carlson after second baseman Zach McKinstry made his second throwing error of the game.

Bauer gave up another homer in the seventh before the Dodgers went to the bullpen. Seventeen of the 22 runs Bauer has allowed this season have been the result of the 13 home runs he has given up.

“It’s just frustrating,” he said. “Forty percent of the hits I’ve given up are homers (13 of 40). I haven’t given up a run on a non-homer in over a month. Good pitches, bad pitches – it just seems like my luck on homers is terrible right now. It’s frustrating when you don’t get a chance to get out of jams. Just give up a hit ordouble or something.

“I don’t give up many hits and all of a sudden, when I do give up hits it’s a homer. Hopefully, it regresses back to the mean a little bit. But we’ll see. We’ll dig in and figure it out. But my gut reaction is it’s not anything necessarily that I’m doing. I don’t think I have any patterns. It’s not one specific pitch. It’s righties and lefties.”

The Dodgers were trailing but they must have been relieved when Flaherty didn’t come out for the bottom of the sixth. The Cardinals certainly weren’t.

After going 2 for 16 in five innings against the Cardinals starter, the Dodgers went 8 for 17 and put up seven runs in the final three innings against the Cardinal bullpen.

Right-hander Ryan Helsley got a ground out but then gave up a double to Max Muncy and a single to Justin Turner, putting runners at the corners. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt brought in the left-hander, Cabrera, to face Cody Bellinger.

That only created more problems.

Cabrera walked Bellinger and Will Smith to load the bases and force in a run. The hard-throwing lefty froze Lux with a 99-mph fastball for a called third strike, bringing up Taylor.

Cabrera missed with two fastballs but got Taylor to foul off a curveball then swing and miss at another fastball to even the count, 2-and-2.

“I was just trying to be on the heater and adjust to the offspeed,” Taylor said. “He’s got a really good fastball and I guess I didn’t want to be in between. Just trust my eyes there.

“We have scouting reports on all these guys. So I’d gone over them. I knew he had a good fastball and he liked to mix his off-speed in there as well. I was just trying to keep it short and simple against him. Sort of single him to death or play pepper however you want to think about it.”

The next four pitches were fastballs at 97 or 98 mph and Taylor fouled them all off then took a curveball to push the count full. Cabrera tried a changeup, a curveball and two fastballs. Taylor kept giving out souvenirs, fouling them all off – one just barely, in and out of catcher Yadier Molina’s glove.

“He was throwing a lot of strikes,” Taylor said. “Early in the at-bat, he fell behind and then I think he threw almost all strikes after that. It’s not like I was laying off tough pitches there, 3-2. I was swinging at every pitch.”

Taylor fouled off eight of nine pitches before lining another fastball – the 10th of the 14-pitch clash – into the gap, driving in the go-ahead runs.

“It was fun when I hit the double,” Taylor said when asked if he had enjoyed the building tension. “During the at-bat, I was trying to stay within myself and black out, so to speak. Just stay focused. But I could definitely feel the energy, especially once I came through with the hit.”

Tyler O’Neill’s home run off Bauer in the seventh cut into the lead but Lux got it back with his second home run of the game in the eighth inning and the Dodgers put the game away with two more runs. After Taylor doubled for the second time in the game, Matt Beaty drove him in with a pinch-hit single then scored on an RBI double by Mookie Betts.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was on the bench in May 2004 when Dodgers teammate Alex Cora ended an 18-pitch at-bat against Cubs right-hander Matt Clement with a home run. Roberts said he had flashbacks during Taylor’s game-turning at-bat Monday.

“He just wasn’t going to be denied,” Roberts said of Taylor. “The guy was up there throwing 97, 98 mph, breaking ball, changeup. A guy that typically doesn’t have command it’s sometimes harder because you don’t want to be surprised by a ball in the zone. But CT was just relentless in that at-bat.”

#Dodgers Chris Taylor: “It’s not like I laid off any tough pitches. He was throwing a lot of strikes” pic.twitter.com/IoEQVbhaDz

— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) June 1, 2021

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Stars carry Clippers in Game 4 rout of Mavericks that evens series

  • The Clippers’ Paul George stands by the bench celebrating a basket made by a teammate during the second half of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Mavericks on Sunday in Dallas. The Clippers won, 106-81, to even the best-of-seven series. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against Boban Marjanovic #51 of the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Dallas Mavericks’ Kristaps Porzingis, top left, and Tim Hardaway Jr., right, sit on the bench watching the final minutes of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. The Clippers won 106-81. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) shoots and sinks a 3-point basket in the second half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard breaks to the basket for a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the second half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) and Marcus Morris Sr. (8) celebrate a 3-point basket scored by Morris Sr., in the second half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, left, attempts to steal the ball away from Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic (77) in the second half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard is fouled going to the basket against Dallas Mavericks’ Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) and Dorian Finney-Smith, rear, in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, left, shoots as Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) and Ivica Zubac defend in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. The Mavericks’ Boban Marjanovic, right, looks on. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) and Reggie Jackson, middle, look on as Dallas Mavericks’ Dorian Finney-Smith (10) dunks in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard dunks during the first half of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Mavericks on Sunday night in Dallas. Leonard had 29 points and 10 rebounds in a 106-81 rout that evened the best-of-seven series. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard (2) and Terance Mann (14) defend as Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks’ Kristaps Porzingis (6) and Dorian Finney-Smith (10) walk up the court as Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) celebrates sinking a 3-point basket in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (6) takes a shot overLos Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, left, talks with referee Eric Lewis, right, in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Nicolas Batum (33) defends as Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) goes up for a shot in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • The Clippers’ Paul George and Nicolas Batum (33) celebrate going into a timeout during the first half of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday night in Dallas. Batum joined the starting lineup for the first time in the series. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) shoots and sinks a three-point basket in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis (6) defends as Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) attempts a shot in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, center, positions for a shot as Los Angeles Clippers’ Rajon Rondo, left, Terance Mann (14) and Ivica Zubac (40) defend in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, left, is fouled by Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George (13) on a shot attempt as Reggie Jackson (1) and Ivica Zubac (40) help defend on the play in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Marcus Morris Sr. (8) and Kawhi Leonard, right, defend as Dallas Mavericks’ Boban Marjanovic (51) charges to the basket for a shot in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Nicolas Batum (33), Kawhi Leonard, second from right and Marcus Morris Sr., right, defend as Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic positions for a shot in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • A fan wearing a veil cheers as the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks warm up before Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard glides to the basket as Mavericks center Kristaps Porzingis defends during the first half of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday night in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks controls the ball against the LA Clippers in the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers reacts against the Dallas Mavericks in the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Nicolas Batum #33 of the LA Clippers in the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers in the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers in the third quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks passes the ball against the LA Clippers in the first quarter in game four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers controls the ball against Dorian Finney-Smith #10 and Tim Hardaway Jr. #11 of the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Reggie Jackson #1 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against Dorian Finney-Smith #10 of the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the LA Clippers in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard glides to the basket during the first quarter of Game 4 of their first-round playoff series against the Mavericks on Sunday night in Dallas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers makes a slam dunk against the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers makes a slam dunk against the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter in game four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the second quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter in Game Four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Ivica Zubac #40 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter in game four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • DALLAS, TEXAS – MAY 30: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers takes a shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the first quarter in game four of the Western Conference first round series at American Airlines Center on May 30, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

  • Dallas Mavericks’ Maxi Kleber (42) and Luka Doncic, rear, defend as Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the basket in the first half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, center, watches the closing minutes of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. The Clippers won 106-81. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Los Angeles Clippers’ Ivica Zubac (40) throws his hands up as he shouts in the direction of an official after fouling out in the second half in Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Sunday, May 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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A-plus tactical adjustments + a dinged-up Luka Doncic = a 25-point Game 4 rout.

Forty-nine combined points from All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George helped too, as the fourth-seeded Clippers ran the fifth-seeded Mavericks ragged on Sunday night in a 106-81 victory. With the resounding win, L.A. evened the best-of-seven first-round series, 2-2, returning the favor by beating Dallas a second time on its home floor at American Airlines Center in Dallas, packed Sunday with 17,761 fans.

The matchup returns to Staples Center for Game 5 on Wednesday night.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue – who had maintained a determined air of calm confidence, even when his team trailed 2-0 in the series – tweaked the Clippers’ starting lineup for the second consecutive game, this time inserting 6-foot-8 Nicolas Batum for Ivica Zubac, the 7-foot center.

With no Clipper taller than 6-8 on the floor at tip-off, that small-ball lineup proved a big success, even with 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis playing for the Mavericks, and 7-4 Boban Marjanovic checking in for the first time this series with 6:47 to play in the first quarter.

“We finally have a good start!” Batum said postgame.

Indeed, their early 5-4 lead was the first in a first-quarter all series, and the start of an advantage that would grow steadily – to 12 before the end of the first quarter, to 19 in the second quarter and to as many as 28 points in the third.

Batum, who scored 10 points in his first playoff start since 2016, was a nightmare for the Mavericks, in turns solid and sneaky, the “glue guy” with sticky fingers. He finished with a career-playoff-high four steals, plus two blocked shots as he helped to douse Dallas’ greatest threat.

“He did a great job on Luka getting up the floor, trying to command the basketball, pressuring a little bit,” Lue said. “He had a block or two, just flying around, so you know, Nico starting today allowed us to switch more and do more defensively and that’s why we were able to hold them to 81 points tonight.”

Doncic was facing more than determined defense, though.

So spectacular until Sunday, having tallied 114 points, 26 rebounds and 27 assists to become the first player in NBA history to produce those numbers through their first three games of a playoff series, Doncic seemed to be feeling the effects of a cervical strain in his neck area that began bothering him halfway through Game 3.

“The pain is in the neck and then the nerve down,” Doncic said after the game, noting his neck actually felt better Sunday than it had Saturday – and that he nonetheless didn’t want to make an excuse. “I don’t think that matters right now. We lost by 20. And the injuries are part of basketball, but I was 100 percent. So I played terrible.”

Grimacing often, the 22-year-old superstar finished with an honorable, if mortal, 19 points on 9-for-24 shooting, including going 1 for 7 from 3-point range and 0 for 5 from the free-throw line in 36 tough minutes.

His teammates – who entered Sunday’s game shooting an astronomical 50.5% (55 for 109) from 3-point range – fell back to Earth in Game 4, their descent encouraged by more committed perimeter defense from the Clippers. On Sunday, the Mavericks shot just 5 for 30 (16.7%) from behind the arc.

Meanwhile, Leonard and George answered the bell again by continuing their sparkling assault: Leonard’s line: 29 points on 11-for-15 shooting, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks in a series-low 35 minutes. George gave his side 20 points, including going 3 for 6 on 3-point attempts, to go with nine rebounds in 35 minutes.

“We’re playing great, that’s all I care about,” Leonard said on TNT after the game, downplaying his own series averages – 33 points, 8.5 rebounds, 63% shooting from the field, 47% from 3-point range.

“One, two players can’t win a championship or a playoff series, so I’m happy that we’re all playing well and playing better defense. … We need everybody, the whole five that’s out there, and the rest of the 11 that’s on the bench as well as the coaching staff and trainers.”

In his second consecutive start, Reggie Jackson chipped in with 15 points, his third game in double figures.

What a difference 7½ quarters made.

The Clippers were cratering on the precipice of disaster – seemingly headed, at least momentarily, for a never-before-conquered 3-0 series deficit – before their outlook shifted 180 degrees with a resurgent rally that wiped out the Mavericks’ 19-point first-quarter lead in Game 3.

“At that point, we really had nothing to lose,” Batum said. “So we just get our composure and play defense and be tougher.”

Since then – in sync with Serge Ibaka’s prophetically positive tweets from L.A., where the veteran center is treating his ongoing back injury – the Clippers have outscored the Mavericks 213-159.

Now they’ll return to L.A. having claimed momentum and reclaimed home-court advantage – with the caveat that, in this series, the home team has yet to win.

Conscious of that, Lue closed his postgame virtual news conference by pounding on a table in front of him and issuing a call to his team’s fans: “Clipper fans, if you’re listening, we need energy!”

Kawhi’s efficient double-double leads the @LAClippers to their 2nd straight win in Dallas, tying the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Wed. at 10pm/et on TNT.

29p | 10r | 2s | 2b | 11-15 shooting pic.twitter.com/yFOtnlEAIo

— NBA (@NBA) May 31, 2021

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California prosecutors sue over rules that could free thousands of inmates early

By DON THOMPSON

SACRAMENTO — Three-quarters of California’s district attorneys sued the state Wednesday in an attempt to block emergency rules that expand good conduct credits and could eventually bring earlier releases for tens of thousands of inmates.

The lawsuit objects on procedural grounds, arguing that Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison used the emergency declaration to bypass the usual regulatory and public comment process.

The rules affecting 76,000 inmates, most serving time for violent offenses, took effect May 1, although it will be months or years until inmates accumulate enough credits to significantly shorten their sentences.

Forty-four of the state’s 58 district attorneys brought the lawsuit, which says the only stated emergency was the corrections department’s desire to follow the “direction outlined in the Governor’s Budget Summary” nearly a year earlier. Plaintiffs included district attorneys for Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Notably absent were district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco who have backed criminal sentencing changes.

The lawsuit asks a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to throw out the regulations and bar the department from granting any of the good conduct credits until it goes through the regular process.

“There is no actual emergency, and they cannot meet those emergency requirements,” the lawsuit contends. “Nowhere in the supporting documents is there an explanation of how last year’s budget has become an operational need for the adoption of the regulations on an emergency basis.”

The department said it acted under the authority given it by voters when they passed Proposition 57 in 2016, allowing earlier parole for most inmates.

It “filed regulations to promote changes in good behavior credits, and followed all policies and procedures by the Office of Administrative Law,” the department said in a statement promising to “continue to work with our partners to promote rehabilitation and accountability in a manner consistent with public safety.”

The emergency rules boost good behavior credits for a projected 63,000 inmates convicted of violent crimes, allowing them to prospectively serve two-thirds of their sentences rather than the previous 80%.

Another 10,000 prisoners convicted of a second serious but nonviolent offense and nearly 2,900 nonviolent third strikers would be eligible for release after serving half their sentences, down from two-thirds.

Inmate firefighters and minimum-security inmates in work camps, regardless of the severity of their crimes, are eligible under the new rules for a month of earlier release for every month they spend in the camp.

“Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals, shortening sentences as much as 50%, impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said in a statement. She has led the opposition and is running for state attorney general as an independent.

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Josh Taylor’s left hand allows him to lift all four belts after he wins a decision over Jose Ramirez

  • Josh Taylor celebrates while holding his belts after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Jose Ramirez hits Josh Taylor during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Jose Ramirez hits Josh Taylor during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor hits Jose Ramirez during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates while holding his belts after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor hits Jose Ramirez, left, during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor knocks down Jose Ramirez during a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor holds his belts after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Jose Ramirez enters the arena before a junior welterweight title boxing bout against Josh Taylor, Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • Josh Taylor celebrates after defeating Jose Ramirez by unanimous decision in a junior welterweight title boxing bout Saturday, May 22, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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LAS VEGAS — They put a historically juicy fight in a hotel theatre Saturday night, in front of 750 fans. It was like playing the World Series on Bad News Bears Field.

The music came on and Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor entered the ring briskly. No frills, no smoke.

As it turned out, no mirrors either.

Taylor was the better of the two undefeated super-lightweights at the Virgin Hotel. He took Ramirez’s two championship belts and added them to his own pair, and he proudly held all four of those heavy accessories at fight’s end.

His unanimous decision was based on two belts, too. One was a left hand on Ramirez’s cheek that floored him in the sixth round. The next, in the seventh round, was a crisp, merciless uppercut on Ramirez’s chin while both fighters were coming out of a clinch.

Those 10-8 rounds provided the margin of victory on all three judges’ cards. Tim Cheatham, Steve Weisfeld and Dave Moretti all gave it to the Scotsman, 114-112. The only reason it was close was Ramirez’ bottomless heart, which propelled him to the end while Taylor was in four-corners mode. He recedes to 26-1 but is hardly diminished as a champion, and maybe he can start belt-hunting again when Taylor, as expected, moves up to the rich soil of the 147-pound division.

“I don’t know what’s next for me,” Taylor said. “But all I do know is that there’s a new warrior king, and he’s from Scotland.”

Such an event belonged in a sold-out Staples Center or T-Mobile Arena, but the rec-room atmosphere didn’t bother either fighter. Taylor, a left-hander, began the night with effective right jabs, but Ramirez turned up the offense in the third round, with right leads and uppercuts.

At that point Taylor and trainer Ben Davison showed their virtuosity. Taylor began nailing Ramirez with left-hand leads. He also held, muscled and leaned upon Ramirez at every chance, and all the strong-arming probably led to what happened next.

After Taylor had a good fifth round, he came out in the sixth and reacted to Ramirez’s wayward right with a hard left hook on the cheekbone. Ramirez got up without a problem and battled to the bell, but it was still a two-point round for Taylor.

The more decisive shot happened in the seventh, when Taylor and Ramirez clenched. As referee Kenny Bayless was moving them apart, Taylor suddenly lashed Ramirez in the chin, and this time Ramirez had major difficulty gathering himself. Had it happened earlier in the round, Taylor might have closed the show.

“He (Bayless) said he was going to break us,” Ramirez said, “and I broke, and Josh threw the uppercut. You saw it. I just have to handle those situations a little differently next time. Maybe be a little dirty.

Ramirez played it to the end, rocking Taylor in the 10th round with right leads, and Taylor courted disaster by running out the clock. Weisfeld and Moretti gave Ramirez three of the final four rounds, and Cheatham gave him all four.

“I wasn’t running, I was trying to keep boxing him,” Taylor said. “He showed he’s a great champion.”

The peaceful coexistence between Taylor and Ramirez was strained on Friday, when Taylor and some of Ramirez’s Fresno-based fans began woofing after the weigh-in. On Saturday, Taylor ended almost every round by raising his fist on the way back to the corner, and he got into Ramirez’s face after the bell rang to end Round 8.

After the decision, the two hugged in the middle of the ring and talked for several minutes.

What really stood up was the illusion of the tale of the tape, the fact that two 140-pounders aren’t necessarily equal. Both men weighed in at 139.6 pounds and Ramirez actually had a reach advantage. Both are 5-foot-10. But Taylor seemed bigger, broader, stronger, with better levers. He physically controlled Ramirez just as he walked down Regis Prograis, in a split-decision win that set up this unification.

Given the fact that Taylor will get no smaller, it’s doubtful that a rematch can really fly. There will be more intrigue in watching Taylor go after welterweight Terence Crawford, who, like Taylor, is promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank.

Ramirez, for his part, has entertained the idea of fighting unified lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez.

Crawford has been stranded by the news that Errol Spence, the IBF welterweight champ and the theoretical opponent in the Next Last Great Fight (cq), has instead decided to meet 42-year-old Manny Pacquiao in July. Pacquiao hasn’t been in the ring since 2019 and isn’t likely to walk upright out of the one that matches him with Spence.

Boxing fans all want resolution but they prefer to find it at the end of a stirring rematch or two. Josh Taylor’s verdict was undisputed. Now all he needs is a bigger jury box.

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Alexander: Lakers successfully navigate play-in weirdness

The Lakers started out Wednesday night’s play-in game as if they really didn’t want to be there. They ended it looking like a team that didn’t want to come back Friday.

“Hesitant” was the term All-Star big man Anthony Davis used to describe his team’s play in the first half of the play-in game against the Golden State Warriors, a half in which he, fellow All-Star LeBron James and starting point guard Dennis Schröder went a combined 4 for 28 from the field and a sluggish Lakers team trailed by 13 points.

Maybe it was just a matter of adjusting to the weirdness of a game that was urgent but not quite a Game 7, more like a Game 6. Maybe it was a matter of reminding themselves that they are, after all, still the defending champions, and the only thing worse than the indignity of playing in this round would be the indignity of having to play that second play-in game, the one in which the loser really does go home.

So they avoided it. LeBron James’ cold-blooded, 34-foot 3-pointer with 58.2 seconds left, moments after he’d been raked in the face by Draymond Green and poked in the eye, punctuated a 103-100 victory that enabled the Lakers to skip Friday, secure the No. 7 seed and proceed directly to a best-of-seven first-round series against the second-seeded Suns that begins Sunday afternoon in Phoenix.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been unexpected. The Lakers have been sorting through potential rotations and trying to get James and Davis back into the mix after both missed extended stretches of the season with injuries, and the Warriors have been playing with urgency for a while. Others in the league might have used the final game of the regular season to, um, rest their stars, but the Dubs and the Memphis Grizzlies squared off Sunday for play-in seeding, trying to avoid the 9-vs.-10 matchup. They’ll meet again Friday night in San Francisco, and this time it truly will be an elimination game.

The Lakers wish them well, I’m sure.

It is a different animal, not quite a playoff game, not quite an elimination game, but one that could push you to the brink of summer vacation. Given (a) the unexpected bonus of a matchup between future Hall of Famers LeBron and Steph Curry and (b) the quality of the game that ultimately resulted, it seems a good bet that the NBA’s play-in round is here to stay. In time, its participants will figure out how to deal with it.

“I think from my perspective, it looked like we were almost just trying to play too perfect, instead of just going out there and kind of letting it hang and taking the results, whatever they were,” guard Alex Caruso said. “I think we were just trying to execute too much.

“And, you know, the Warriors’ last game was essentially their first play-in game, right? (They) already had dipped their toes in the water last game and they came out, knew their game plan, and were locked in.”

The visitors sensed it, too. ESPN’s courtside microphone picked up Golden State coach Steve Kerr telling his team during a first-half timeout, as he gestured toward the Lakers’ bench: “They got a lot of doubt down there. We got a lot of belief.”

A far more energized Lakers team emerged after halftime, and it turns out it wasn’t the coaches who lit a fire under them.

“You know, Duds (Jared Dudley) and Smooth (Markieff Morris) pretty much got on our (rears) at halftime,” James said. “They got on us and showed us that, you know, we gotta pick it up. … They brought the fight to our building, and we got to bring it right back. Guys like that, they speak, you listen. We took it to heart, didn’t take it personal. We just took it with us, and we improved our effort in the second half.”

Some of that might have been a reminder that they are, indeed, still the champs until somebody knocks them off. It has been a weird season throughout the NBA and particularly weird for the Lakers, who seemed eminently capable of rolling to a successful title defense until Davis and James were hurt.

The history is still daunting. No seventh seed has ever won the title. The closest thing, as we’ve noted, was No. 6 seed Houston in 1995, which had to regroup late in the season after trading for Clyde Drexler and wound up with Coach Rudy Tomjanovich reminding people, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” (As Tomjanovich mentioned at his Hall of Fame speech last week, Charles Barkley had compared those Rockets to a bunch of cockroaches that just wouldn’t die. Somehow, that wouldn’t have been nearly as poetic.)

Another apt comparison – and Laker fans of a certain age will hate this – would be the 1969 Boston Celtics. That team, with 34-year-old Bill Russell as player-coach and a bunch of other thirty-somethings in prominent roles, was 48-34, nabbed the last playoff spot in the East and seemed to be running on fumes as the playoffs began. But they won the whole thing, including a Game 7 in the Forum when the balloons then-Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke had waiting in the rafters in anticipation of a championship wound up deflating on their own.

When you have the mindset of a champion, as those teams did and as these Lakers do, you’re expected to figure it out.

“This is a hell of a team, right?” Davis said.

“We had to remind ourselves at halftime, we’ve been here before. Let’s go and play our style of basketball. And we were able to do that in the second half. So we have to find that swag again, knowing that we’re defending champs and nothing’s gonna be easy for us because we do have a target on our back. Every team wants to beat us. So we got to know that.

“And, you know, we’ve got to come out a lot better against Phoenix.”

All that talk that the play-in round would give the Lakers an extra chance or two to figure it out? Maybe it wasn’t just rationalization. Maybe this really was the palate cleanser they needed.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

ALL-ANGLES of @KingJames‘ LONG DISTANCE GAME-WINNER! 🔥🤯@Lakers will be the West #7 seed in the #NBAPlayoffs and face #2 PHX in the First Round (Game 1 Sunday, 3:30pm/et on ABC) pic.twitter.com/CpEtashUc2

— NBA (@NBA) May 20, 2021

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Court documents: 2 firefighters could be fired for sharing Kobe Bryant crash scene photos

By STEFANIE DAZIO and BRIAN MELLEY

LOS ANGELES — Two Los Angeles County firefighters could be fired and a third suspended after first responders took and shared graphic photos from the site of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his teenage daughter and seven others, court documents say.

The court documents were filed Monday as part of widow Vanessa Bryant’s federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County that alleges invasion of privacy. The filings propose that a Nov. 16 trial be postponed five months to April 27, 2022, because of a large amount of material that attorneys need to review.

Kobe Bryant and the others were killed Jan. 26, 2020, when the helicopter they were aboard crashed west of Los Angeles. Federal safety officials blamed pilot error for the wreck that killed the basketball star, whom Michael Jordan will present for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

An internal investigation by the Los Angeles County Fire Department found that two firefighters — whose names were not disclosed in the court filings — had taken photos of the bodies in the helicopter wreckage that “served no business necessity,” Vanessa Bryant’s attorneys wrote, and “only served to appeal to baser instincts and desires for what amounted to visual gossip.”

They then sent the photos to a third firefighter — a media relations officer who went to the scene and later shared the images with off-duty firefighters and their wives and girlfriends while socializing at an awards ceremony at a Hilton hotel the month after the crash.

The two firefighters — one of whom was at the site solely to monitor safety procedures — were sent “intention to discharge” letters last December. The third firefighter received an “intention to suspend” letter. The employment status of all three was not immediately clear Wednesday.

Los Angeles County attorneys have argued that there is no legal basis for Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit because the photos were not publicly disseminated. She can’t sue for a “hypothetical harm” that they may be shared publicly, the county said in filings.

Capt. Ron Haralson, a spokesperson for the county Fire Department, declined to comment, citing the lawsuit.

Several Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies — none of whom were directly involved in the investigation of the crash — are also included in the lawsuit because they are accused of taking or passing around the grisly photos with family, friends and, in one case, a bar patron and a bartender who later complained to the sheriff’s department.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva condemned the deputies’ behavior and, in a move that has since been heavily criticized, ordered them to delete the photos. The captain of the Malibu-Lost Hills sheriff’s station, which oversees the area where the crash occurred, pushed back on the decision but was overruled.

The Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday that “a full administrative investigation was conducted and appropriate administrative action was taken.” But it couldn’t provide details about discipline involving the deputies because of a pending lawsuit and state employment law that bars disclosing “specific administrative actions.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed a law that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

The firefighters’ punishment was first reported by KNBC-TV. Representatives from the union that represents firefighters did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment Wednesday.

The firefighter who received the photos and shared them with others was not named in court documents, but the Los Angeles Times has reported that Capt. Tony Imbrenda filed a retaliation lawsuit in November. Imbrenda alleged he was demoted for refusing to hand over his personal cellphone during the investigation into the photos, which he said was a violation of the Firefighter Bill of Rights.

Imbrenda did, however, hand over his department cellphone and laptop, the Times reported. His lawsuit says he received photos from people working at the crash site “as is common practice on all major incidents.”

He took his own photos the next day, the Times reported, but denied taking photos of the victims’ bodies and said he did not take photos with his personal cellphone.

Imbrenda did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Read more about Court documents: 2 firefighters could be fired for sharing Kobe Bryant crash scene photos This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. Santa Ana Shredding Service

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Man pleads guilty in series of Southern California Trader Joe’s robberies

LOS ANGELES — A Huntington Park man pleaded guilty Wednesday to carrying out more than a dozen robberies of Trader Joe’s stores throughout Southern California during a four-month crime spree last year.

Gregory Johnson, 43, admitted federal counts of interference of commerce by robbery and using a firearm in a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Johnson faces between seven years and life in federal prison, with sentencing set for Aug. 2.

The defendant admitted that from last Aug. 28 to Dec. 4, he robbed Trader Joe’s stores in Eagle Rock, Sherman Oaks, Chatsworth, Pasadena, Culver City, Rancho Palos Verdes, Agoura Hills, Brea, Santa Ana, Tustin and Chino Hills, and attempted to rob locations in Simi Valley and Corona.

During many of the robberies, Johnson brandished a handgun. On two occasions, he robbed stores in Rancho Palos Verdes and Brea, and returned weeks later to rob them again.

Johnson and his son, Gregory E. Johnson, were arrested following the Chino Hills robbery on Dec. 4, after a witness gave authorities a description of their getaway vehicle and license plate.

The younger Johnson, 20 at the time he was charged in December, pleaded guilty to participating in the Chino Hills and Chatsworth robberies. He faces up to 40 years in prison when he’s sentenced July 12 in downtown Los Angeles.

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12 indicted in alleged Southern California ‘green’ loan and mortgage fraud scheme

LOS ANGELES — A dozen people have been indicted in connection with an alleged mortgage fraud and “green” loan scheme that operated throughout Southern California and resulted in losses of about $15 million, the California Attorney General’s Office announced Wednesday.

The 133-count grand jury indictment, handed up April 26, alleges that the crimes occurred in Los Angeles, Riverside and Ventura counties.

The indictment charges the defendants with a variety of counts, including conspiracy, mortgage fraud, grand theft, identity theft, forgery, filing a false or forged document and money laundering.

The defendants allegedly exploited the Yrgene Energy Fund and Renew Funding, companies that provide funding to licensed contractors for energy- efficient home improvements for homeowners, and used false identities to get mortgage loans from conventional banks and hard money lenders, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“The allegations against these defendants charge a pattern of disregard for the law and willingness to go as far as stealing the identities of the deceased just to further their scheme,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement announcing the charges. “Our office will seek to hold these defendants accountable for their alleged actions.”

Those named in the indictment are: Tamara Dadyan, 39, Richard Ayvazyan, 42, Artur Ayvazyan, 41, Grigor Tatoian, 50, Andranik Petrosyan, 46, Arshak Bartoumian, 48, Artashes Martirosyan, 43, Lilit Malyan, 39, Lubia Carrillo, 41, Rosa Zarate, 49, Estephanie Reynoso, 31, and Vanessa Bell, 60.

Eleven of the defendants have pleaded not guilty, with Malyan due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for arraignment May 18.

The case stemmed from a multi-year investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, with assistance from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of Inspector General.

The attorney general lauded the two agencies for “their work to put an end to an extensive, six-year fraud scheme that resulted in the theft of an estimated $15 million.”

“If you were a victim or have information please call 213-486-6979,” said a tweet from LAPD Capt. Lillian Carranza.

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Dodgers come up short in latest replay of rivalry with Padres

  • Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler throws to the plate during the second inning of Thursday’s game against the Padres at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Ryan Weathers #40 of the San Diego Padres throws to the plate against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws to the plate against the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws to the plate against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Leftfioelder AJ Pollock #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers catches a drive by Wil Myers (not pictured) of the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws to the plate against the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Second baseman Sheldon Neuse #56 of the Los Angeles Dodgers catches a fly ball by Jake Cronenworth (not pictured) of the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out looking against the San Diego Padres in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres high fives teammate Wil Myers #5 after scoring on a RBI single by teammate Manny Machado (not pictured) against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres scores on a RBI single by teammate Manny Machado (not pictured) against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres singles against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks toward the plate after giving up a Rbi single to Manny Machado (not pictured) of the San Diego Padres in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres steals second base as Corey Seager #5 of the Los Angeles Dodgers can???t handle the trow in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws to the plate against the San Diego Padres in the second inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Manny Machado #13 RBI single as teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres scores against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out looking against the San Diego Padres in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Manager Dave Roberts, right, of the Los Angeles Dodgers not happy with a call by home plate umpire umpire Tony Randazzo #11 in the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres scores on a RBI single by teammate Manny Machado (not pictured) against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the third inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Manager Dave Roberts, right, of the Los Angeles Dodgers not happy with a call by home plate umpire umpire Tony Randazzo #11 in the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Luke Raley #62 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is out at first after running inside the lines and being hit by the throw against the San Diego Padres in the fifth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fans socially distanced look on during a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Trent Grisham #2 of the San Diego Padres high fives teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • The Padres’ Trent Grisham, right, is congratulated by teammate Manny Machado after hitting a solo home run during the sixth inning of Thursday night’s game at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres and teammate Eric Hosmer #30 look on against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks at the baseball as Trent Grisham #2 of the San Diego Padres rounds second base after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Trent Grisham #2 of the San Diego Padres high fives third base coach after hitting a solo home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers flips the baseball after giving up a solo home run to Trent Grisham (not pictured) of the San Diego Padres in the sixth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Outfielders Jurickson Profar #10 and Trent Grisham #2 of the San Diego Padres look on as Sheldon Neuse (not pictured) of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo home run to tie the game in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • AJ Pollock #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers high fives third base coach Dino Ebel #91 of the Los Angeles Dodgers after hitting a solo home run against the San Diego Padres in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • AJ Pollock #11 of the Los Angeles Dodgers high fives manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers after hitting a solo home run against the San Diego Padres in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sheldon Neuse #56 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo home run to tie the game against the San Diego Padres in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Outfielders Jurickson Profar #10 and Trent Grisham #2 of the San Diego Padres look on as Sheldon Neuse (not pictured) of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo home run to tie the game in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Fans reach for the baseball as Sheldon Neuse (not pictured) of the Los Angeles Dodgers hits a solo home run to tie the game against the San Diego Padres in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Sheldon Neuse #56 of the Los Angeles Dodgers rounds second base after hitting a solo home run to tie the game off relieve pitcher Emilio Pagan #14 of the San Diego Padres in the seventh inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Leftfielder Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres dives for a baseball hit by Will Smith (not pictured) of the Los Angeles Dodgers that was ruled foul than overturned for a ground rule double in the eighth inning of a baseball game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Closer Mark Melancon #33 of the San Diego Padres high fives catcher Victor Caratini #17 of the San Diego Padres after striking out Mookie Betts (not pictured) of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the final out in the ninth inning of a baseball game as the San Diego Padres defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • San Diego Padres celebrate after getting out of the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

  • Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers makes his way to the dugout prior to a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

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LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers and San Diego Padres pulled their budding rivalry back off the shelf and took another swallow Thursday night.

Yep – still good.

Last weekend’s exciting three-game series at Petco Park might have swung on a fantastic, game-ending defensive play by Mookie Betts in the middle game. The Padres got their own version of defensive grace in the opener of the series at Dodger Stadium as Jake Cronenworth snuffed out a late Dodger rally and preserved a 3-2 victory for the Padres.

“They had to make a great play, turn a big double play to hold us off,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We had a chance to win tonight and we got beat. Good baseball game.”

It was that. Again.

Tied after seven innings, the Padres pushed across the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth.

Justin Turner led off the bottom of the eighth with a single and Will Smith followed by lofting a high fly ball down the left-field line. Jurickson Profar raced over and made a diving attempt as the ball bounced off the chalked line.

Umpire Jim Reynolds signaled the ball had landed foul but a replay review overruled him. Smith was awarded a double, pumping life into a potential Dodger rally.

After Max Muncy grounded out, A.J. Pollock was intentionally walked to load the bases for Sheldon Neuse, a late addition to the lineup after both Chris Taylor and Zach McKinstry were scratched with lower back stiffness.

Neuse hit a bullet, a 108.7-mph one-hopper that Padres second baseman Cronenworth somehow smothered, sprawling on his stomach before tossing the ball to shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to start an inning-ending double play.

That went to replay as well but the call was confirmed and the Dodgers’ rally was snuffed out.

“It was a roller coaster inning. I thought we put ourselves in position to at least tie the game, potentially go ahead,” Roberts said.

“It took a great play by Cronenworth to recover on that ball and make a nice feed. And I just don’t know too many shortstops that can make that turn with his arm strength (Tatis). It was a heckuva play by them to end that inning.”

The double play took the life out of the Dodgers and Padres closer Mark Melancon struck out the side in the ninth.

But there hasn’t been much life in the Dodgers’ bats to begin with. Over their last five games (including three losses), the Dodgers have scored just 10 runs while batting .126 as a team (19 for 151).

And it’s not just a recent trend. Over their last 13 games, the Dodgers are batting .202.

“On the offensive side, I’m not too concerned,” said Roberts, diplomatically choosing not to point out injuries that have taken Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Gavin Lux out of their lineup at various times during this stretch.

“We’ve got a lot of good offensive players who have track records to back it up. I think we’ll be fine. There’s always parts of a season where there’s a lull offensively. That happens. Those pitchers are pretty good too. But I’m okay with our offense.”

The latest of those pitchers to handcuff the Dodgers is the youngest pitcher in the major leagues this season.

Twenty-one-year-old left-hander Ryan Weathers made his major-league debut in the postseason (one of only two players in baseball history who can say that). Counting that relief appearance in last October’s NL Division Series, Weathers has pitched in six big-league games, half of them against the Dodgers. He hasn’t allowed a run in 10-2/3 innings against them.

Held to two hits in Seattle on Wednesday, the Dodgers managed just one in 5-2/3 innings against Weathers – a leadoff single by Dodgers starter Walker Buehler in the third inning.

“We saw him twice in a week. His command in both those starts has been very good, fastball command,” Roberts said of Weathers, who allowed just one hit in 3-2/3 innings against the Dodgers last Friday. “Hell mix in a slider. You’ll see a handful of changeups. But he pitches off his fastball and it’s a plus-fastball. The last two times we’ve seen him it’s been really good command.”

The Dodgers’ only offense came in two swings in the seventh inning when Pollock and Neuse hit back-to-back home runs off Padres reliever Emilio Pagan.

That was all the 21st-century offense for the night.

The Padres put together the winning rally in the eighth against Blake Treinen. Profar and Victor Caratini led off with back-to-back singles, Profar going to third on Caratini’s hit. When Tatis hit a ground ball to short, the Dodgers turned a double play as the winning run scored.

“Yeah, I think we’ve talked about it plenty, about us two,” Buehler said of the Dodgers-Padres pairing that has excited baseball. “We’re both really talented teams that know how to play good baseball. You gotta assume there’s going to be a few nail-biters in there.”

Sheldon Neuse’s one-hopper was hit 108.7 mph off the bat. Jake Cronenworth smothered a bullet. https://t.co/DX1MqZzuma

— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) April 23, 2021

“They had to make a big double play to hold us off…we had a chance to win.” Dave Roberts shares his thoughts on tonight’s #Dodgers performance with @kirsten_watson. pic.twitter.com/PB1JyvGUjt

— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 23, 2021

Walker Buehler (7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 9 K) reflects on his #Dodgers outing vs. San Diego with @kirsten_watson. pic.twitter.com/aMGADnT3CZ

— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) April 23, 2021

Back-to-back for the @Dodgers and this game is tied! pic.twitter.com/7PKE1H8UyD

— MLB (@MLB) April 23, 2021

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