Dodger baseball and UCLA men’s basketball have two things in common. First, they are programs that were once elite, stumbled and now have come roaring back to prominence.
The second thing is they are grabbing the headlines and talking heads’ chatter with their accomplishments off and on the field.
Signing Freddie Freeman is another coup for the Blue Crew. Freeman is an Orange County native, having been born in Fountain Valley and played ball at El Modena High.
Freeman has a glittering resume, with a .295 lifetime batting average, 271 home runs and 941 runs batted in. On his mantle he’s got the NL MVP award from 2020, a World Series champion ring (with the Washington Nationals) from 2021, five All-Star games pins and a Golden Glove Award.
The Dodgers are collecting MVPs (Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts and now Freeman) like kids used to collect baseball cards. Unless the folks from Chavez Ravine suffer an Angel-esque streak of injuries, they are the new favorites to win the 2022 World Series.
“We couldn’t be more excited to add him as a staple of our lineup for years to come,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. Local fans feel the same way.
In Westwood, last season’s near-miracle run to the Final Four is echoing around the college basketball world again. The UCLA men’s team is now in the “Sweet 16” – otherwise known as the East Regional semifinals – and is just two wins away from that prime athletic real estate for the second year in a row.
The next obstacle is North Carolina, which knocked off defending champion Baylor. The Tar Heels and Bruins will clash on Friday. The next next obstacle is getting Jaime Jaquez Jr. ready to play. He left the game against St. Mary’s (which the Bruins won, 72-56) on Friday with an ankle injury with just under seven minutes to go in the second half. He had scored 15 points
Coach Mike Cronin isn’t worried. “Jaime, if he can walk, he can play.”
Generally, a chilly winter
Only one of our four area pro teams playing winter ball is having a season worth remembering, or even following.
The Lakers, once the gold standard of NBA, continue to sink, having lost seven of their last 10 games. They’re now fourth in the Pacific Division, and – more importantly – 10th in the Western Conference. That means they are at the very bottom of the “play-in” tournament that holds out some hope of making the “real” playoffs.
LeBron James continues to hold up his part, scoring 29.8 points per game (second best in the league), but injuries and half-hearted defense have made this a season to forget.
The Clippers are doing a little better in third place in the NBA Pacific, but three losses in a row have them underwater (36-37) and eighth in the conference, meaning they stand a good (don’t I mean “bad”?) chance of sharing the Lakers’ fate.
In Anaheim, the Ducks are excelling in futility, having lost six games in a row and won only two of their last 10. They’re sixth in the NHL Pacific and 12th in the Western Conference. Eight from each conference make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
So the Kings are the only team with much of a future indoors. They’re second in the NHL Pacific and fifth in the Western Conference. Unlike most teams, they play better (18-9-5) on the road than they do at home (16-13-3).
This week in area athletics:
- Lakers: Monday at Cleveland, host Philadelphia on Wednesday
- Clippers: Tuesday at Denver, Friday host Philadelphia
- Kings: Tuesday host Nashville, Thursday host Chicago
- Ducks: Monday host Nashville, Wednesday host Chicago
- UCLA men’s basketball: On Friday against North Carolina in NCAA “Sweet 16” round. It’s the East Regional in Philadelphia.
“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica.