The Morning Sports Update, Dec. 23

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FOOTBALL

Defending NFC champions Rams eliminated from playoff race

SANTA CLARA (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams had a chance to put aside their Super Bowl hangover, needing one critical stop to remain in playoff contention.
Instead, this up-and-down season got yet another disappointment.
Los Angeles’ defense allowed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to convert twice on third-and-16 to set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning field goal, and the Rams were eliminated from playoff contention with a 34-31 loss Saturday night to the San Francisco 49ers.
“We had our moments,” running back Todd Gurley said. “We just couldn’t figure it out. Sometimes, we figured it out. Today, we came out striking but couldn’t finish. We have to be able to finish in this league. That’s part of winning games and making it to the playoffs. You have to win those little games. We just couldn’t find a way to win a lot of those little games.”
The reigning NFC champion Rams (8-7) won their first three games this season, but a three-game losing streak followed. They never really found their groove again.
Despite all that, they got back into postseason contention with wins over Arizona and Seattle to start December. Their playoff hopes took a hit with a 44-21 loss at Dallas last week and were ended against the 49ers.
Los Angeles needed victories in the final two games, as well as two losses by Minnesota. Instead, they are the fifth team in the past 10 years to miss the playoffs entirely the year after making the Super Bowl.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “You never envision something like this when you start the year. It’s not even close to the standard we want to hold. It’s sickening.”
Goff had a game like his season, a few bright spots with too many negatives. He staked Los Angeles to a 21-10 lead in the second quarter with a 10-yard TD pass to Brandin Cooks and two more drives that ended in TD runs for Gurley.
But he also threw an interception late in the half that Fred Warner returned 46 yards for a score that gave the Niners a 24-21 lead.
Goff threw a go-ahead TD pass to Cooper Kupp in the third quarter and led a tying field goal drive in the fourth quarter. But he also took a key intentional grounding penalty that led to a missed field goal after Los Angeles started its first drive of the second half at the San Francisco 25 following an interception.
Goff said this year’s problems had little to do with last season’s finish with a disappointing Super Bowl loss to New England.
“I think we were in plenty of games and had plenty of chances to win games,” Goff said. “The ball goes here or there a couple of times and we’re having a completely different conversation right now. The ball didn’t go our way this year, and we didn’t execute to our ability. It has absolutely nothing to do with what happened last year.”

Rivers wants to keep playing after Chargers drop home finale

CARSON (AP) — The awkwardness of playing three seasons in a temporary home where visiting fans usually outnumbered their own is finally over for Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Now the discomfort comes from whether Rivers will be back with the Chargers next season to see if they can finally create a home-field advantage when they move into their new stadium in Inglewood, California.
Rivers said he wants to continue playing after the Chargers lost their home finale 24-17 to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but acknowledged the uncertainty regarding his future.
“Yes, I do. I want to play football,” Rivers said when asked if he currently plans on playing a 17th season. However, Rivers later added the caveat of “that’s what I feel deep down as I stand right here.”
Rivers, 38, is in the final season of a four-year contract. He has 4,334 yards passing with 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions this season. Add in the Chargers’ regression following a 12-4 campaign in 2018, the possibility exists the team could move on from the quarterback that has started 223 consecutive games for them.
For his part, Rivers believes he can still compete physically at the level necessary for the Chargers to win and that he still feels up to putting in the work required of a starting quarterback.
“And that doesn’t mean that that’s good enough for someone to want you to keep playing, because you got to maintain that consistency throughout games and do enough to win football games, which we haven’t done and I haven’t done well enough this year,” Rivers said. “But am I capable of it physically and mentally? There’s no question.”

BASKETBALL

Nuggets beat LeBron-less Lakers 128-104 for 6th win in row

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Buoyed by a perfect five-game homestand, the Denver Nuggets hit the road and kept on winning.
Paul Millsap scored 21 points and the Nuggets dominated the second half in defeating the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without LeBron James, 128-104 on Sunday night for their sixth win in a row.
“Our last homestand gave us confidence to come on the road and win,” Millsap said. “We have so many weapons.”
The Nuggets had six players in double figures. Gary Harris added 19 points, Nikola Jokic had 18 points, Malik Beasley had 16 points and Will Barton III had 14 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds for the Nuggets, who pulled away to a 23-point lead early in the fourth.
“It feels good to get a win in L.A. even if LeBron wasn’t playing,” Jokic said.
James missed his first game of the season because of a thoracic muscle strain. That left the Lakers without his 25.8 point average and 10.6 assists.
“It’s kind of hard to next-man-up LeBron,” said Kyle Kuzma, the only other Laker in double figures with 16 points. “He does so much. Shots come easier when he’s on the floor because everyone just looks at him.”
With James looking on in street clothes, Anthony Davis did his best to make up for it with 32 points and 11 rebounds. He scored 11 points playing all 12 minutes of the first quarter.
“It’s tough when he’s out but we still got to find ways to win,” Davis said. “We lost our energy defensively. We got to continue to defend and once we get that edge back we’ll be fine.”

Gilgeous-Alexander helps Thunder beat Clippers 118-112

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George’s return to Oklahoma City was spoiled by a player the Thunder got back when they traded him.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander matched his career high with 32 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 118-112 on Sunday night.
George, who finished third in the MVP voting last season, was sent to the Clippers for Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari in a deal that began the restructuring of the Thunder roster. George was cheered when he was introduced during the starting lineups.
“It was great,” he said. “It made me feel appreciated, just being here. I enjoyed my time here.”
George scored 18 points, but he made just 6 of 17 shots and had five turnovers. Gilgeous-Alexander made 12 of 25 field goals.
Oklahoma City trailed by 18 points in the second quarter, making it the third time in seven days the Thunder overcame a deficit that big to win. This time, the victory came against the No. 2 team in the Western Conference standings.
“That’s a really good team over there,” Thunder guard Chris Paul said. “Obviously, they’ve been in all type of different situations. It’s good. It’s really good, especially they way we were down in the first half.”
Los Angeles scoring leader Kawhi Leonard sat out because of left knee soreness.
Dennis Schroder scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and Steven Adams added 20 points and 17 rebounds to help the Thunder win their fourth straight. Oklahoma City has won nine of 12 to move above .500 for the first time this season.

UC Riverside adds to San Jose State’s woes with 80-65 win

SAN JOSE (AP) — Arinze Chidom scored 17 points and Dikymbe Martin scored 15 and UC Riverside beat San Jose State 80-65 on Sunday.
Chidom added eight rebounds, Zyon Pullin scored 14 points with six assists and George Willborn III had 12 points and six rebounds for the road team.
UC Riverside (8-5) put up 39 first-half points, a season best for the team.
Ralph Agee had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Spartans (3-10), who have now lost eight straight games. Seneca Knight added 14 points.
Richard Washington, the Spartans’ second leading scorer coming into the contest at eight points per game, shot only 20% for the game (1 of 5).
UC Riverside plays Fresno State on the road on Saturday. San Jose State faces Pepperdine at home on Saturday.

BASEBALL

AP source: Ryu, Blue Jays agree to $80 million, 4-year deal

Hyun-Jin Ryu is headed north of the border to a Toronto Blue Jays team in dire need of starting pitching.
One that was willing to pay for it, too.
Ryu and the Blue Jays agreed to an $80 million, four-year contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. The person spoke late Sunday night on condition of anonymity because the deal was pending a physical after Christmas and had not been announced.
Ryu was 14-5 with a major league-best 2.32 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He started for the National League in his first All-Star Game and finished second in Cy Young Award voting to New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom.
The 32-year-old left-hander from South Korea receives a $20 million salary each of the next four years, with no signing bonus. His deal raised agent Scott Boras’ total to more than a billion dollars in guaranteed contracts — $1,016,500,000 to be exact — for seven players eligible for free agency since the start of November, agreements extending as many as nine seasons.
Boras previously negotiated deals for pitchers Gerrit Cole ($324 million), Stephen Strasburg ($245 million), Dallas Keuchel ($55.5 million) and Tony Watson ($3 million); third baseman Anthony Rendon ($245 million) and infielder Mike Moustakas ($64 million).