Jason’s Jottings

by Jason Strangis


It’s Showtime again!

 

Cherish the moment. No doubt this is an extremely exciting time for Los Angeles sports fans. To use a trendy California term, it’s almost “perfect.”

Yes, sports followers in the LA area must be giddy right now. The Dodgers are on track to make it back to the World Series, and this time perhaps they can finish the deal and win it all. Dodger Fever is in full force and True-Blue loyalists are hoping that their favorite squad can add yet another championship to a rich history.
It’s not just on the baseball diamond where LA is thriving, of course. The Rams, Chargers, Lakers, and even the often-overlooked Clippers are all serious title contenders in 2019-20. Who would have thought this possible even a few years ago?

Let’s start with football or, more specifically, the NFL. The high-scoring Rams made it all the way to the Super Bowl last season, where they were finally slowed down by the always-clever (to put it kindly) opposing head coach Bill Belichick and the dreaded dynasty that is the New England Patriots. The Rams scored a mere three points in a devastating Super Bowl loss that is still being felt to this day.

The Chargers surpassed expectations by finishing with a stellar 12-4 record in the regular season and won a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens in the wildcard opener. But their season ended painfully with a lopsided loss at New England the following week in the divisional round.

Despite these setbacks, both LA football teams have high hopes in 2019-20. The Rams averaged more than 30 points per game last year, behind only Kansas City. Hollywood’s leading man on the gridiron — young “California Cool” quarterback Jared Goff — rocketed to stardom with 32 touchdown passes to only 12 interceptions in guiding the Rams to a 13-3 record. However, after being rattled by the Patriots’ swarming defense in the Super Bowl, the 24-year-old QB probably feels he still has a lot to prove. So does the “boy genius” strolling the sidelines, Sean McVay, who was badly outcoached by the other genius — Bill Belichick — in the Big Game.

But cheer up, Rams’ fans. The “Greatest Show on Grass” still should be highly entertaining to watch, as Goff has many weapons on offense led by dynamic receivers Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. Defensively, the Rams shine with star power as well, featuring fierce pass rusher and MVP candidate Aaron Donald. Yet the big question remains the health of top running back Todd Gurley, who saw only limited action last post-season due to a knee injury. Just how effective the 25-year-old superstar rushing leader will be this season and beyond remains a key issue in regards to winning a Super Bowl. Again, the main challenge in the NFC looks to come out of New Orleans and perhaps Philadelphia. A rematch between the Rams and Saints in the post-season would create incredible interest; the controversy over “pass interference” still swirling in the air.

Meanwhile, that other LA team — the Chargers — expect to be contenders as well. Longtime signal-caller Philip (“Old Man”) Rivers, who will turn 38 in December, enjoyed a breakout season for the Bolts in 2019 with 32 TD passes, 12 Int., 4,308 passing yards and a high QB rating of 105.5. Yet early this preseason star running back Melvin Gordon was a holdout during the few weeks of August, so we’ll see if the Chargers can sign him. Regardless, the Chargers will once again need to get past Kansas City and New England to win the AFC. And watch out for the Raiders, a team expected to vastly improve led by charismatic coach Jon Gruden. In the Mile-High City, the Denver Broncos have a new defensive-minded head coach (Vic Faggio) and new quarterback in former Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco. And so, it appears the Chargers’ division really could be the wild, wild AFC West.

This year marks the last time the Chargers and Rams will be playing in separate home stadiums, as both franchises will be moving to the gigantic, beautiful new $5 billion stadium in Inglewood starting in the fall of 2020. The Oakland Raiders, meanwhile, will soon be moving to Las Vegas. The Raiders used to be a very popular NFL team with many Los Angeles sports fans, but that Silver-and-Black glory has faded somewhat. LA loves a winner, and right now that’s the Rams and Chargers. But if the Raiders can “Just Win, Baby,” as the late, great owner Al Davis famously stated, they can certainly grab some of the local spotlight.

Strangely enough, the Lakers haven’t been winners in more than 5 years, but all that is expected to change now that LeBron James is wearing purple-and-gold along with mega-star center Anthony Davis and a new-look roster and coach. “King James” and “A.D.” are two of the top seven players in the NBA, and role players like Kyle Kuzma and newly-acquired Danny Green could help take the Lakers to the top level. It will be up to first-year Lakers coach Frank Vogel, taking over for the much-maligned Luke Walton, to create chemistry and cohesiveness with the roster. The loss of recently-acquired power forward DeMarcus Cousins due to an ACL injury during an off-season workout is a certainly a blow, yet the Lakers recently welcomed center Dwight Howard back to the organization. Other veterans round out this very talented squad.

The Lakers have long owned the city of Los Angeles when it comes to sports interest, but the Clippers are quickly providing a challenge — not only locally but nationally as well. With the seismic signings of free-agent superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, combined with other solid players from veteran coach Doc Rivers’ playoff team last season — the Clippers will battle the Lakers not only for LA supremacy, but the NBA title as well. No doubt, Staples Center will be rocking in 2019-20!

Currently, the Lakers and Clippers are two of the top Las Vegas betting favorites to win it all. Now that scoring machine Kevin Durant has limped away from Golden State to join the Brooklyn Nets, the entire league appears to have much more balance and parity, with a number of teams claiming a legitimate chance to grab the gold trophy next summer.
Suddenly, the Lakers and Clippers are the two hottest tickets in town. The Dodgers are gearing up for a World Series title run, and in football the Rams are Chargers should remain a pair of exciting teams to watch.

For LA sports fans, watching all the fast and furious action will be like a long thrilling ride in a bright red Ferrari. So, enjoy it while it lasts.

Jwstrangis@gmail.com