Paul George leads Kawhi-less Clippers to win in Utah, 3-2 series lead

  • Clippers guard Reggie Jackson gets past Jazz center Rudy Gobert on his way to the basket during the first half of Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday night in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) drives as Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann (14) defends during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) shoots as Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) defends during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale, rear, defends against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic reacts after missing a 3-pointer against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Clippers guard Terance Mann tries to drive past Utah Jazz guard Joe Ingles during the first half of Game 5 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday, night in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, right, fouls Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz defends Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) defends against Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale (23) during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the LA Clippers shoots over Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Marcus Morris Sr. #8 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots against Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, rear, wait for a rebound wldduring the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann goes to the basket during the first half of Game 5 of the team’s second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots against Royce O’Neale #23 of the Utah Jazz in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Joe Ingles #2 of the Utah Jazz in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert reacts after a foul during the first half of Game 5 of the team’s second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – JUNE 16: Paul George #13 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots against Donovan Mitchell #45 and Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz in Game Five of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Vivint Smart Home Arena on June 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) flexes his muscles after scoring against the Utah Jazz during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (44) reacts after missing a 3-pointer against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Utah Jazz’s Royce O’Neale, second from left, Donovan Mitchell (45) and Jordan Clarkson (00) defend against Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. (8) reacts after being called for a technical foul during the first half of Game 5 of the team’s second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson (1) argues with referee Josh Tiven (58) during the first half of Game 5 of the team’s second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Clippers did Kawhi Leonard proud.

Without their All-NBA first-teamer, Paul George and Co. sent most of the 18,007 Jazz fans to the exits before the final buzzer at Vivint Arena on Wednesday night in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

The night after learning they’d lost Leonard indefinitely with a right knee injury he suffered late in Game 4, the Clippers put Utah on the ropes, beating the top-seeded Jazz, 119-111, and delivering them a third consecutive loss for the first time this season.

The odds now are on the Clippers’ side that they’ll be able to advance – for the first time in franchise history – to the conference finals: the team that wins Game 5 in best-of-seven series moves on 83% of the time.

The Clippers take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on Friday night at Staples Center – where, for the first time this season, COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed enough that a capacity crowd will be permitted to watch them take a shot at team history.

The Clippers surely missed their decorated teammate on Wednesday, but they managed admirably without him.

It helps that Paul George, the seven-time All-Star and third-team All-NBA selection this season, is a pretty fantastic hooper too.

“He’s special,” Clippers guard Reggie Jackson said of his friend. “He gave us everything we needed and then some.”

George stayed aggressive Wednesday, finishing with 37 points on 11-for-17 shooting, in addition to grabbing 16 rebounds and five assists.

It was George’s third consecutive 30-some-point game and also his 12th consecutive playoff game with at least 20 – a Clippers record.

What it was: Exactly what the Clippers needed.

As he has so often this season, Reggie Jackson continued to step up in important moments. On Wednesday that meant delivering in the fourth quarter, when he had 10 of his 20 points and went 4 for 6 from the field.

“Reggie loves this moment, he loves the big stage,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “He’s not going to shy away from the moment and that’s what we need out on the floor tonight.”

The Jazz took a 65-60 lead into halftime thanks to a 3-point extravaganza in the first half. Led by Bojan Bogdanovic’s seven first-half 3s, Utah went 17 for 30 from behind the arc before intermission – one shy of an NBA record for made 3s in a half, but a franchise record nonetheless, by five.

It was an impressive assault, but the Clippers weathered it, foreshadowing what lay ahead.

L.A. never lost contact, continually pulling close – and a couple of times, in front – thanks largely to quick hands and a determined dose of George.

Of Utah’s 11 first-half turnovers (which translated into 17 points for the Clippers), 10 of them were steals – more than any other team had recorded in a half this postseason.

George eclipsed his 21.5 points per game Games 1 and 2 scoring average before the break, entering halftime with 22 points in 18 minutes on 9-for-14 shooting, plus eight rebounds.

The Jazz continued to miss the calming presence of Mike Conley at point guard. The All-Star has missed every game this series with a strained hamstring. Without him, they cooled all the way off after the break, going 0 for 10 from behind the arc in the third period and just 6 for 22 from the field – with Gobert responsible for three of those buckets. Utah made only three 3-pointers in the second half.

Meanwhile, Marcus Morris Sr. turned up the heat for the Clippers, playing all 12 minutes of the third period and going 5 for 6 from the field for 12 points that helped L.A. gain control.

Bogdanovic led the Jazz with 32 points and Donovan Mitchell finished with 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting, the fewest of this postseason.

More to come on this story.

To increase Metro’s ridership, we have to increase the service

Los Angeles’ Metro transit system is not the system that transit riders — a majority who earn less than $30,000 a year — want and deserve. For the 900,000 plus Angelenos who depend on our buses to get around every day, this is not news. For them, our buses are too slow, too infrequent, and too unreliable.

Brisa Aviles, a Metro bus rider from unincorporated East Los Angeles, knows this well. “I take public transit everywhere I go — work, grocery runs, doctor’s appointments, etc.,” Brisa said. “But long wait times and unreliable buses make it hard for me to get where I’m going quickly, and sometimes force me to walk long distances.”

When bus service is slow and constituents in my district like Brisa have to wait too long, they look for other ways to get to where they’re going. And fewer riders leads to less fare revenue being collected, which leads to cuts in service, and even longer wait times. It’s an unsustainable cycle.

It is a cycle that was exacerbated during the pandemic, highlighting deep inequities that disproportionately impacted low-income communities of color. Slower and fewer buses meant that residents like Brisa were having trouble gaining access to everyday needs like food and healthcare. This made public transportation an unreliable mode of transport, forcing many to seek alternatives.

Metro’s ridership was already declining before the pandemic — and then it took a nosedive. Currently, our ridership is around 50 percent of what it was before the pandemic. That is why back in September, Metro announced a 20 percent cut to its service — as less fare revenue was coming in.

As we settle into our new normal, we need to not only restore ridership, but also build an equitable and expansive public transit system that works for everyone. We need to invest in frequent transit that Angelenos can rely on without having to wait 20 to 30 minutes for the next bus.

How do we do that? Metro rider Elizabeth Medrano explains, “If you want to increase ridership, increase the service.” As the incoming Chair of the Metro Board, I plan to lead with equity at the forefront, working to increase services and resources among our most vulnerable residents during my tenure.

The American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden, and introduced recently in the House as the INVEST in America Act, includes much needed investments in transit infrastructure — funding that is critical for key lines like the West Santa Ana Branch and the East Los Angeles Gold Line Extension. It also includes significant funding for the electrification of the bus fleet, which will continue this year with the Silver Line and at El Monte Station.

But it’s not enough. While it increases funding for public transit overall, it falls far short of what’s needed for transit operations. Transit is more than just building rail lines and installing electric bus chargers. Metro needs funding support on all aspects of its operations, especially among under-resourced communities.

A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Stronger Communities through Better Transit Act, would be a significant step in this direction, committing $20 billion in annual federal funding for transit operations, which is in line with asks from transit advocacy organizations like Move LA and the National Campaign for Transit Justice. In LA, this could mean one billion in new funding for the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area, according to an estimate by the Transit Center.

In addition to improving existing services, federal investment in transit operations could open new doors for Metro. With new funding, Metro can expand the region’s bus rapid transit and bus lane network, offering “light rail on wheels” to even more riders. Bus lane enforcement — a critical component of well-run bus rapid transit — could use some support too.

Federal operations dollars could also make more funding available to support our unhoused neighbors who often seek shelter on the Metro system. This can mean more transit ambassador programs and mental health outreach services on bus and rail. Part of the funding challenge in accelerating completion of mega-transit projects lies in securing operations dollars ahead of Measure R and Measure M schedules. Federal operations dollars can fill in that funding gap.

High quality public transit is a necessity to many, but an afterthought to most Los Angeles County residents where 78 percent drive alone to work. Transit riders are typically people of color, come from low-income neighborhoods, and often experience severe housing insecurity. When we support transit, we are supporting our most vulnerable. Investing in public transit service is an equitable approach that would help ensure that riders like Brisa and Elizabeth always have access to jobs, education, and their communities.

Hilda Solis is chair of the LA County Board of Supervisors and incoming chair of the Metro Board.

Sparks hold off Phoenix rally

The Sparks (5-5) outworked rival Phoenix Mercury (5-7) and star center Brittney Griner Wednesday night behind a balanced effort of energy.

Sparks staved off a fourth-quarter Mercury run, finishing them off 85-80 in front of a slightly extended home crowd at Los Angeles Convention Center.

With 14 offensive rebounds and six blocks, the Sparks’ defensive activity lifted them past their Western Conference rival. Guard Brittney Sykes embodied the team’s fire, contributing six offensive rebounds, including one in the final minute that helped to seal the victory.

Sparks’ guard Erica Wheeler (18) led the way offensively scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, bringing the crowd to its feet with a go-ahead basket with 5 with seconds left on the clock. Amanda Zahui B., tasked with guarding Griner, finished with 15 points and Sykes had 14.

Griner, towering over the Sparks’ front court, effectively got what she wanted on the block scoring 30, including 17 in the first half, while recording 10 rebounds.

“We’re not going to grow to the same size as [Griner],” Sparks’ coach Derek Fisher said before the matchup. “I think the advantage for us is to be disruptive with our speed and versatility.”

The Mercury who lead the WNBA in blocks (6.7) only had one block in the game.

The Sparks again played without both Ogwumike sisters. Chiney (knee) missed her seventh straight game, Nneka (knee sprain) missed her fourth straight.

Diana Taurasi (sternum) traveled with Phoenix but didn’t play. The WNBA all-time leading scorer warmed up with the team before the tip.

Sparks’ guard Te’a Cooper served her one-game suspension in the first game versus Phoenix. The WNBA reprimanded Cooper for leaving the sideline during an altercation in the fourth-quarter loss to the Minnesota Lynx.

“At this point it’s kind of everybody, that when one more person goes out it kind of lifts everybody up,” Fisher said.

The Sparks will get another crack at another victory as they host the Mercury again Friday night.

Hornets’ LaMelo Ball selected NBA Rookie of the Year

By STEVE REED

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — LaMelo Ball thought he would become NBA Rookie of the Year long before he joined the league.

That belief became a reality Wednesday night as Ball’s versatility as a passer, scorer and rebounder earned the Charlotte Hornets point guard the honor despite missing 21 games with a fractured wrist.

Ball, who grew up in Chino Hills and played at Chino Hills High School before an unusual journey to the NBA,  was the runaway winner, receiving 84 of the 99 first-place votes to beat out finalists Anthony Edwards from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tyrese Haliburton from the Sacramento Kings. Edwards received the other 15 first-place votes. The award was determined by a global panel of 100 writers and broadcasters who cover the league.

“Honestly, way before the league when I was playing basketball and they were talking about the NBA stuff, that is when I knew when I’m a rookie that is one of the accomplishments I can get,” Ball said.

His teammates took to social media to congratulate him with Gordon Hayward tweeting “Rookie of the year, and well deserved. Huge congrats @MELOD1P ! Can’t wait to get out on the court with you again. Just the beginning!”

The 6-foot-7 Ball was selected third overall in 2020 after playing professional ball in Lithuania and Australia.

He led all rookies with averages of 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game and was third with 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.

He made an immediate impact with the Hornets, becoming the youngest player in the NBA history to have a triple-double with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in just his 10th career game on Jan. 9 against the Atlanta Hawks.

“A 19-year-old rookie does not look like this,” Hornets coach James Borrego said after the game. “This is rare what you’re seeing.”

Ball continued to shine after that.

He went on to claim the NBA Rookie of the Month honors three times before injuring his wrist on March 20. The Hornets initially thought he would miss the remainder of the year, but Ball returned to finish the season and help the Hornets earn a spot in the play-in tournament.

Edwards, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, was tops among rookies in scoring at 19.3 points per game including 23.8 points per game after the All-Star break.

Ball’s stellar court vision was on display early on with some highlight reel alley-oop passes to Miles Bridges, and it only took 20 games before he was inserted into the starting lineup for good.

From there, he established himself as a major piece that owner Michael Jordan can build around in Charlotte.

“I think Melo has adjusted to the NBA game better than any of us ever thought this early in his career,” Jordan told The Associated Press in March via email in March. “He has exceeded our expectations.”

Ball said he spoke to Jordan after learning he’d won the award, but declined to comment on his conversation with the six-time NBA champion.

During February, Ball averaged 20.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 13 games, joining LeBron James and Luka Doncic as the only teenagers to average at least 20 points, six rebounds and six assists in at least 10 games over a calendar month.

Ball is the third player in Charlotte history to win Rookie of the Year honors, joining Emeka Okafor and Larry Johnson.

Ball said he didn’t worry about his shortened season affecting his chances of winning the award.

“I feel like if you have seen somebody for 51 games you know what you are getting at the end of day,” Ball said.

General manager Mitch Kupchak said he’d like to see Ball add more size this offseason to keep up with more physically imposing players. He said he has no doubt Ball will put in the work, calling him a “gym rat.”

“I’m looking forward to next season and trying to get better,” Ball said.

Ball said his ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship and become a Hall of Famer.

Lynwood man convicted of stealing painkillers in robberies of Southern California pharmacies

A Lynwood man was found guilty Wednesday of federal robbery charges for organizing and leading a crew that committed 15 armed robberies of independent, mom-and-pop pharmacies across Southern California, with the intent of illegally selling the stolen prescription medication.

Tyrome “Boobie” Lewis, 26, was found guilty of all eight felony charges he faced. Lewis has been in federal custody since his arrest in July 2019, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In a ruling issued Wednesday, following a two-day bench trial that was held in April, U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt found Lewis guilty of one count each of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and two counts each of interference with commerce by robbery, possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and knowingly using and brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence.

According to the evidence presented at the trial, Lewis conspired with others to commit 15 armed robberies from May 2018 to July 2019. He selected the pharmacies to be robbed, targeting smaller pharmacies to steal oxycodone and other prescription painkillers, prosecutors said.

Lewis also assigned the roles of the crew members, and then served as a lookout while they committed the robberies. Following the pharmacy robberies, Lewis and others would sell the stolen prescription drugs on the black market.

The Lewis-led crew — dubbed the “Oxy Bandits” by law enforcement — robbed pharmacies in Glendale, Bellflower, Paramount, Cerritos, Hawthorne, South Los Angeles, Pico Rivera, Huntington Park, Claremont, Westminster, Fullerton, Anaheim and Riverside, according to prosecutors.

Each of the robberies shared a common practice, including targeting smaller pharmacies, placing the stolen prescription drugs into the pharmacy’s trash bags or trash cans, using a black semi-automatic handgun to threaten and intimidate store employees, and forcing employees to open the medication vault.

The guilty verdict stems from a broader investigation of armed pharmacy robberies resulting from a partnership between the FBI and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Through the partnership, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged 21 individuals for their roles in various drug store heists. Since the investigation began in 2019, 19 individuals, including Lewis, have been convicted for their participation in pharmacy robberies, while two defendants await trial.

Kronstadt scheduled a Sept. 23 sentencing hearing for Lewis, who face up to life in federal prison, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors: Suspect in freeway shooting death of boy in Orange later brandished gun in another traffic altercation

SANTA ANA — Days after the killing of a 6-year-old boy in a road-rage shooting on the 55 Freeway in Orange, the suspects got into another traffic altercation in which the alleged shooter waved a gun at another motorist, prosecutors said in court papers filed Wednesday.

Marcus Anthony Eriz, 24, and Wynne Lee, 23, are scheduled to be arraigned on Friday when Orange County Superior Court Judge Larry Yellin will consider a request from prosecutors to set bails at higher-than-usual levels.

The victim, Aiden Leos, was fatally shot May 21 as his mother, Joanna Cloonan, was driving him to kindergarten in her Chevrolet Sonic on the freeway.

About 8 a.m. that day, the two were cut off by the defendants, who were in a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen, according to prosecutors.

Lee was behind Cloonan in the diamond lane before swinging over to the fast lane and then accelerating at an “extremely high rate of speed” to get in front of Cloonan, prosecutors said in the motion.

“Wynne Lee motioned to the victim vehicle a `peace sign’ with her hand and continued driving,” prosecutors said in the motion for higher bail.

A few miles later as Cloonan was attempting to merge over to the Riverside (91) Freeway east she passed the defendants and was “still angry about being cutoff and she put up her middle finger at the two as she passed,” prosecutors said.

“She then heard a loud bang to the rear of her vehicle and heard her little boy in the backseat say, `Ow,’ ” prosecutors said.

Cloonan immediately pulled over and saw Aiden suffered a chest wound, prosecutors said. Aiden was pronounced dead at 8:39 a.m. at Children’s Hospital Orange County.

In an interview with investigators on June 6, Eriz said he “was angry after being `flipped off’ by Ms. Cloonan, so he grabbed his loaded Glock 17 9mm and racked a round,” according to the motion.

“He then rolled the passenger window down and took a shot at her vehicle. After shooting the victim, the defendants continued on to the 91 eastbound and on to work in the city of Highland.”

They worked a full day and the couple returned home.

During the week of May 24-28, the two got into another “altercation on the freeway,” prosecutors said.

“As Wynne Lee was driving on the 91 eastbound on the way to work with defendant Eriz as her front passenger, a driver in a blue Tesla did something to make defendant Eriz angry, acting aggressively,” prosecutors alleged.

“Defendant Eriz again took out his gun and brandished it to the driver of the Tesla. That driver told the defendants that he had called the police and then he drove away.”

A co-worker of Eriz told him on May 28 that it looked like their car was the suspect vehicle police were seeking, prosecutors said.

Eriz “claims that at that time, he looked on the internet and saw the story about Aiden Leos’ death,” prosecutors alleged. “He said he `immediately’ knew he was responsible for the boy’s death. He then told Wynne Lee about his revelation.”

Prosecutors allege that after May 28 Eriz hid the Volkswagen at a family member’s garage and did not drive it again, instead driving his red truck to and from work.

Eriz shaved his “substantial beard” on June 3 and “started to wear his long hair back in a tie,” prosecutors said.

The couple also applied for a new job after May 28, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors argue that Eriz is an “extreme danger to the community” who has “shown that he cannot control his temper and he goes to extremes in the snap of a finger when he is angered.”

Eriz has “multiple firearms in his possession,” including an “AR, a revolver and the Glock 17 that was used in this murder,” prosecutors argued.

“He has various photos and videos on his social media that show him shooting different kinds of guns,” prosecutors said. “He is also a skilled shooter as evidenced by those same videos. He admittedly and regularly carried his loaded Glock with him on his person and in Ms. Lee’s vehicle while they drove to work.”

Taking his guns away would not deter the defendant from using another weapon, prosecutors argued. Also, putting him on GPS monitoring would only tell investigators where he was when he “commits his next crime of violence,” prosecutors argued.

Lee is also a danger to the public because she knew Eriz had his loaded gun in her vehicle and never pulled over to check on Cloonan following the shooting, prosecutors argued. She also failed to call 911 “or do anything to follow up about what her passenger had done,” prosecutors said.

She was driving during the next altercation on the freeway as well, prosecutors said.

The two were also considered risks to flee prosecution, prosecutors argued.

Eriz is charged with murder and a felony count of discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling, with sentencing enhancements for discharge of a firearm causing death. He faces up to 40 years to life in prison if convicted at trial.

Lee is charged with a felony count of being an accessory after the fact and a misdemeanor count of having a concealed firearm in a vehicle. Lee faces up to four years behind bars if convicted at trial of all charges. Three of those years would be prison and one in jail.

Both defendants were originally being held on $1 million bail, but Yellin tentatively increased Eriz’s bail to $2 million, and dropped Lee’s bail to $500,000.

Those bail amounts, which were requested by prosecutors, will remain in place until Friday’s arraignment, when attorneys will present their arguments to keep the bails at $2 million and $500,000.

Bail could potentially be reduced further for Lee, who was originally booked on suspicion of murder but was only charged with being an accessory, Yellin said.

Dodgers’ patient approach with Steven Souza Jr. pays off

LOS ANGELES — When the Houston Astros released Steven Souza Jr. from his minor-league contract in March, the 32-year-old outfielder thought his baseball playing days might be over. He had batted .095 in spring training. He started to wonder what might be next.

The Dodgers didn’t give Souza enough time to switch careers. They reached out the next day, scheduled a conference call with Souza, and before long came to agreement on a minor league contract. After getting back to basics in the batter’s box, and spending six weeks at Triple-A to start the regular season, Souza got the official word early Wednesday morning from assistant general manager Brandon Gomes: he was coming back to the big leagues.

The Dodgers selected Souza’s contract prior to the series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies. He started in right field, his eighth big league start since the end of the 2018 season.

“We had other offers to go on minor league stuff and fringe big league stuff,” Souza said. “I wanted this. I wanted somebody who believed in me and took the time to get me back.”

Souza had a .238 batting average, a .327 on-base percentage, and a .426 slugging percentage from 2015-17 with the Tampa Bay Rays. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in February 2018 as part of a three-team swap. Quickly, his career stalled.

A pectoral strain limited Souza to 72 games in 2018. A freak injury in March 2019, when Souza’s knee buckled as he crossed home plate, left him with an ACL tear, an LCL tear, a partial PCL tear, and a posterior lateral capsule tear. He had surgery and missed the entire regular season.

Souza said he has never seen a video of the injury since it happened and has no intentions to do so.

“I can visualize it in my head plenty, being there and experiencing it,” Souza said. “Every time I cross home plate I can feel it a little bit.”

Since the injury, Souza’s big league experience consists of an 11-game cameo with the Cubs last year. He batted a disappointing .148.

Though his knee has healed, Souza struggled to convince his body otherwise and eradicate the bad habits that seeped into his mechanics. That’s why the Dodgers’ slowed-down approach was easy to embrace. Souza reported to minor league camp after signing. He repeatedly watched video of his swing. He waited to build his confidence before moving to the alternate site camp.

“I think my body was naturally trying to protect itself at times,” he said. “(The Dodgers) just kept reassuring me, ‘your knee is fine, look at the swing, watch how the knee’s working.’”

At Triple-A, Souza batted .279 with a robust .444 on-base percentage and .603 slugging percentage. Manager Dave Roberts said he envisioned Souza playing both corner outfield positions. Mookie Betts will be the Dodgers’ primary center fielder while Cody Bellinger recovers from tightness in his left hamstring.

INJURY UPDATES

Relief pitcher Scott Alexander said he expects to head out on a minor league rehabilitation assignment soon after throwing two live batting practice sessions to teammates in the last week.

Alexander hasn’t pitched in a game for the Dodgers since May 1, when he was shut down with shoulder inflammation. The left-hander was placed on the 60-day injured list and isn’t eligible to return until July 2.

“I’m excited to get out in a game somewhere and hopefully get back to Dodger Stadium pretty soon,” he said.

Infielder Max Muncy (oblique), shortstop Corey Seager (fractured hand) and Bellinger (hamstring) will travel with the team on their upcoming road trip to Arizona and San Diego, Roberts said.

Bellinger and Muncy ran in the outfield prior to Wednesday’s game, while Seager took ground balls at shortstop. Muncy also played catch but hasn’t progressed to swinging a bat.

“I don’t know when we’re going to get into the front toss, batting practice,” Roberts said. “Once that happens we’ll know more as far as (a) timeline.”

ALSO

To make room for Souza, the Dodgers designated pitcher Nate Jones for assignment. In eight appearances out of the bullpen, the right-hander allowed eight earned runs across 8⅔ innings, an 8.31 earned-run average. … The Dodgers’ games against the Padres next Monday and Wednesday in San Diego were selected for national broadcasts by ESPN. The games will not be blacked out locally on SportsNet LA. … Utility man Yoshi Tsutsugo (right calf strain) is now expected to begin his rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Thursday, Roberts said, after his luggage was delayed in transit. … Third baseman Justin Turner was given a scheduled day off.

UP NEXT

The Dodgers have a day off Thursday

El Camino Real baseball rallies second time to top Cleveland in drama-filled City semifinal


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RESEDA – Drama is impossible to avoid on the road to the City Section’s Open Division baseball final. El Camino Real and Cleveland both experienced it Wednesday afternoon.

El Camino Real needed to rally a second time in the eighth inning to put Cleveland away for good in an 11-9, drama-filled semifinal victory that punched a ticket to the championship game on Saturday against San Pedro, a 7-0 winner over Birmingham Charter.

The final will be played at San Pedro on Saturday at 11 a.m.

ECR’s improbable postseason run as the 11th-seeded team out of 12 was in danger after it squandered a 7-1 lead Wednesday.

The Conquistadores scored three runs in the fourth and four runs in the fifth, highlighted by hits from Joseph Schneider, Ben Montag and a two-RBI single by Luis Torres. Starting pitcher Josh Wood was taken out of the game with a pitch count that would allow him to pitch in Saturday’s final.

“That wasn’t our thinking at all,” El Camino Real coach Josh Lienhard said. “He was getting hit and it was his time to come out.”

In came Edric Rodriguez, who Lienhard said had been lights out from the mound recently, but No. 2-seeded Cleveland (14-4) saw it as an opportunity.

The Cavs rallied to tie the score with a six-run fifth inning. Andrew Howe hit a single to shallow center that scored three runs before Braden Lowe singled to score Howe and tie the game 7-7.

In the blink of an eye, all the momentum had switched over to Cleveland.

“We were in the dugout feeling defeated,” Schneider said. “But we found a way to turn it around.”

The largest swing of the game came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Cleveland had the bases loaded with one out. But errors on the base paths cost the Cavs the go-ahead opportunity. El Camino Real (15-16) picked off two Cleveland runners for the second and third outs. Catcher Josh Klein threw a runner out at third base before pitcher Tyler Sileo spun around and picked off the runner on second base.

“That killed us,” Cleveland coach Sid Lopez said of the way the inning ended.

What seemed to be a storybook comeback for Cleveland, quickly turned into El Camino Real finding a way to steal the game back in the eighth inning. Schneider hit a sacrifice fly to right field to make it 8-7 before back-to-back hits from Montag (two-RBI single) and Wyatt Babcock (RBI single) made it 11-7.

El Camino Real’s berth in the Open Division final will mark the lowest seed to ever reach the championship game since the Open Division was created in 2018. The previous lowest seed was No. 8 Birmingham in 2019.

“I’ve always been one to root for the underdog,” Schneider said.

Cleveland had a small burst in the bottom of the eighth, scoring two runs, but its final effort fell short.

“You can’t fall behind on mistakes twice and expect to win the game,” Lopez said.

Final numbers

El Camino Real’s Wyatt Babcock finished 4 for 5 with two RBIs, Luis Torres went 3 for 4 with three RBIs, and relief pitcher Tyler Sileo earned the win for ECR with his 3 1/3 innings. Starting pitcher Josh Wood threw four innings and had two strikeouts.

Cleveland’s Braden Lowe was the losing pitcher. He went four innings and allowed seven hits. Andrew Howe threw four innings in relief and had one hit with three RBIs. Gabe Juarez, Christopher Carbajal and Orlando Rodriguez each had two hits.

San Pedro baseball defeats Birmingham to advance to City Section Open Division final

SAN PEDRO — Junior pitcher Zack Geiss started strong Wednesday and never let up, throwing a two-hit shutout in a 7-0 victory over Birmingham in the L.A. City Section Open Division semifinals.

The victory sends the No. 4-seeded Pirates to the championship game on Saturday. They will host No. 11-seeded El Camino Real, which defeated Cleveland in eight innings in the other semifinal.

The Pirates will be making their first appearance in a final since 2010 and will be in search of their first City championship since 1992.

Dom Porter led the Pirates’ offense with three hits and three RBIs in the victory over Birmingham (12-21), the three-time defending City Section championships.

“I just hope it (winning CIF) happens,” Porter said. “We have been putting a lot of work in the past four years to at least go there (the finals).

“It would be the best feeling in the world to win it and I think we can. Today was a great team win. Even when we make a bad play we back each other up and make the next one. It’s a brotherhood we have here. This has been amazing.”

Porter got the Pirates (16-8) going in the second inning by leading off with a single. He proceeded to steal second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Designated hitter Simon Rodriguez brought him home with a groundout.

In the third inning, the Pirates scored three runs, all with two outs against Birmingham starter Ricky Martinez. The rally started when senior Jake Harper reached on a bunt single. Catcher Mikey Brucelas laced a double to right-center that scored Harper to make it 2-0. Dylan Kordic and Porter followed with RBI singles to push the Pirates’ lead to 4-0.

That was more than enough run support for Geiss.  He struck out four batters in the first two innings, and he kept Birmingham from scoring despite three Pirates errors and hitting two batters.

His only real trouble came in the top of the fifth. With one out, Julian Gonzalez reached on an error, which was followed by a Dominick Cervantes single. Gavin Taylor hit a chopper up the middle that Geiss leaped up and grabbed and then he threw a perfect strike to senior shortstop Cain Lusic for a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.

San Pedro added two runs in the bottom of the fifth as Porter drove in Brucelas and Kordic with a single to left-center to make it 6-0.

“It’s not just me that had a good game,” Geiss said. “It was a team win all-around. The defense was really solid. Our hitting started out slow, but once they caught up and started hitting off the first guy they were throwing, we were just in a groove and there was no stopping us.

“It is much easier for me to pitch if we have a good lead. Even if we have only a one-run lead, it’s easier to pitch and go out there (and) keep shoving.”

Birmingham coach Matt Mowry was still pleased with how his team fought throughout the season.

“It was a tough year. I’m happy that my seniors got to finish out and play a full year,” he said. “Not everybody gets to the CIF semifinals like this. We had a really good run of doing it.

“You know San Pedro was on it today. They came out and hit the ball well and pitched really well. Overall they did a good job. We battled all year. We had one of the toughest schedules in all of Southern California. We put the kids through a gauntlet, but they responded and played well. I think it was a great season for these kids. It’s tough to lose (before the final). We are not used to that. It’s something we will have to come back and adjust next year.”

Clippers disappointed to be without Kawhi Leonard, determined to stay the course

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not a happy time in Clipperdom.

Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers’ leading man, is out indefinitely with a knee injury that the team is characterizing as a sprain, for now. There have been reports that the Clippers are fearful their star might be dealing with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

“No potential return,” Coach Tyronn Lue said Wednesday before Game 5 of their second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena. “We’re not sure about that. We just know that we’re optimistic, trying to wait for everything to clear up, get the testing back in the next day or so and kind of go from there.”

On a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter of Monday’s game, the five-time All-Star from Moreno Valley planted awkwardly and got a nudge from Joe Ingles. He grimaced and grabbed the knee following the play but remained in the game, shooting four free throws before leaving the floor with 4:35 to play and the Clippers leading 107-91 – on their way to evening the best-of-seven series.

Although Leonard watched the remainder of the game from the bench, he wasn’t attended to on the sideline by any Clippers medical staffers, said he was “good” postgame and wasn’t included on the Clippers’ injury report Tuesday.

Naturally, Lue said, the development has everyone associated with the team feeling dejected, including Leonard, who the coach said traveled with the team to Utah but then returned to L.A.

“He’s a little down because he wanted to be here,” Lue said. “It’s part of the game, he understands that but he wants to be here for his teammates.”

And those teammates – set to take on the top-seeded Jazz in Game 5 on Wednesday – are all disappointed to lose Leonard, Lue said.

“It’s going to affect you,” Lue said. “It’s your brother and you don’t want to see your brother go down, whether it’s your best player or 16th, 17th player. You never want to see anyone go gown and we understand that. So, yeah, of course guys are going to feel a certain way.”

Alas, the show must go on – and on just about the biggest stage a basketball team could find, the NBA playoffs.

The Clippers returned to Utah with the wind at their backs after wins in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center. But that momentum was sapped by the realization that Leonard – who is averaging 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals this postseason – could very likely be lost for the series.

The Clippers went 36-16 in games Leonard played in during the regular season; without him, they weren’t much better than .500 – 11-9.

But Lue said he asked his players to tap into the resilience they’ve shown often this season when he addressed them Wednesday morning before the Clippers’ film session.

“Guys just stepping up and doing what they have been doing all season long,” Lue said. “Nothing has changed, we’ve played without Kawhi. We’ve played without PG (Paul George). We’ve played without a lot of guys, and guys have stepped up and we just found ways to win.

“Nothing’s any different tonight.”

Lue said he wouldn’t pressure the Clippers’ other All-Star to do more in order to fill Leonard’s sizable void.

George earned third-team All-NBA recognition Tuesday, making the Clippers the only team with two selections among the 15 honorees this season, but Lue said he wants the Palmdale native to keep doing what he’s been doing the past two games.

He wants him to attack when Derrick Favors is in at center, look for to hit from 3-point range when it’s Rudy Gobert guarding the paint – a philosophy that has George averaging 31 points in his past two games, victories in which he’s shot 50% from 3-point range (10 for 20).

“Just playing the way he’s been playing, nothing any different,” Lue said. “We want to attack the same way. Of course, Kawhi’s out of the game, so we got to do a little bit more movement sets to try to keep them off guard and keep them off balance. But not any more pressure on PG. He’s been playing great, I like where he’s at right now and now we need the other guys to step up and play well.

“It’s about our whole team stepping up and preparing for this game,” Lue added. “Myself, my coaching staff and all the players. So it’s not just on PG. PG wants to play well, of course, but we are going to need contributions from everyone who plays tonight.”

Everyone including second-year wing Terance Mann, who got the start in Leonard’s place Wednesday – two games after Lue said the former Florida State standout was “out of the rotation.”

“We’ve seen in Game 7 versus Dallas that he stepped up and had a big game,” Lue said, noting Mann gave the Clippers 13 points and five rebounds in 26 effective minutes in that victory. “Wasn’t scared of the moment at all.”

Another big moment awaited him – and all of his Clippers brothers – Wednesday.


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