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LA Phil’s Dudamel to become music director of Paris Opera

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Gustavo Dudamel will become music director of the Paris Opera while continuing his commitment to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Paris Opera and the Venezuelan director announced the appointment Friday.

“Opera has long played a seminal role in my life — from sitting in my youth for untold hours at the feet of my Maestro José Antonio Abreu and my idols in Milan, Berlin and Vienna, to making this beautiful artform a staple in our programming in Los Angeles — and I couldn’t be more overjoyed to have found, in Paris, my spiritual home for opera,” Dudamel wrote.

Alexander Neef, general manager of the Paris Opera, described Dudamel as one of the world’s most talented and prestigious conductors.

“In the course of our numerous exchanges, I realised the extent to which he was the one who could share and transmit his love of opera to the widest possible audience,” Neef said in a statement.

The appointment begins Aug. 1 and will last for six seasons.

“Alongside my continued commitment to the LA Phil and to the beloved musicians of El Sistema in Venezuela and around the world, I want to devote all my energy toward creating extraordinary musical moments for our audiences, and to make the Paris Opera ever more connected to the soul of the city and country that surrounds it, with inclusion and access firmly at the core of everything we do together,” he said.

Dudamel has been artistic and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009.

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AP Interview: Beijing says US ‘too negative’ toward China

BEIJING (AP) – A top Chinese diplomat said Friday that U.S. policy toward China is “too negative” and that cooperation could be critically important as the Biden administration focuses on combatting COVID-19 and promoting economic recovery.

The U.S. appears to be highlighting confrontation and playing down cooperation, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

“Such an approach, I must say, is too negative,” he said, adding that it lacks “a forward-looking spirit.”

Le also signaled that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at a climate change meeting called by President Joe Biden for next week. He spoke as Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, was discussing the issue on the second day of closed-door meetings with Chinese counterparts in Shanghai.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced last year that China would be carbon-neutral by 2060 and aim to reach a peak in its emissions by 2030.

“For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered,” Le said. “Some countries are asking China to do more on climate change. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”

Le said he had no details on the Kerry meetings in Shanghai.

Biden has invited 40 world leaders, including Xi, to an April 22-23 virtual climate summit. The U.S. and other countries are expected to announce more ambitious national targets for cutting carbon emissions and pledge financial help for climate efforts by less wealthy nations.

Le said that China would convey a positive message at the meeting, but added that China is responding to climate change on its own initiative, not because others asked it to. On whether Xi would join the summit, Le said “the Chinese side is actively studying the matter.”

The U.S. and China have become increasingly at odds over a range of issues, including accusations of human rights abuses in Tibet and the Xinjiang region, a crackdown on protest and political freedom in Hong Kong, China’s assertion of its territorial claims toward Taiwan and in the South China Sea and accusations Beijing was slow to inform the world about the COVID-19 outbreak that became a devastating global pandemic.

China hoped for an improvement in relations under Biden, who succeeded President Donald Trump in January, but Biden’s administration has shown no sign of backing down on hardline policies toward China. The two sides traded sharp and unusually public barbs at the start of talks in Alaska last month.

Le said that after the opening of the Alaska talks, the dialogue was constructive and useful and that both sides are following up on the issues discussed.

The two countries could team up on coronavirus response, he said, but that cooperation must be on an equal basis, an apparent reference to the U.S. pressure on China on multiple fronts.

“It is not one side drawing up a laundry list of demands to the other side,” Le said. “In cooperation, one should not be selfish and care only about one’s own interests with no regard for the well-being of the other side.”

On the same day that a number of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced, Le defended China’s crackdown on protest in the semi-autonomous territory. He described the convicted as rioters and said “they deserve what they get.”

He added, “I don’t think it is anything strange if Hong Kong somehow becomes more like a Chinese city because after all Hong Kong is part of China.”

The U.K., U.S. and others have accused Beijing of reneging on a commitment to run the former British colony under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years after its 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

Le brushed aside such critiques, saying, “Hong Kong is always China’s Hong Kong and this is something that will not change.”

The vice minister also condemned U.S. and other Western sanctions against companies accused of human rights and labor abuses in Xinjiang.

“The claimed that they protect human rights in Xinjiang and oppose forced labor, but the consequence of the sanctions has damaged human rights in Xinjiang, resulting in forced unemployment and forced poverty in Xinjiang,” Le said.

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Muslims mark 1st Ramadan Friday prayers in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AP) – Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered at a sacred Jerusalem plaza for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan after coronavirus lockdowns kept the site off-limits last year.

About 70,000 faithful, most of them Arab citizens of Israel, prayed at al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, said an official from the Islamic Waqf authority overseeing the Islamic section of the compound. Muslims know the area as the Noble Sanctuary, while Jews call it the Temple Mount.

In normal times, Ramadan Friday prayers usually draw larger crowds that can reach up to 200,000 at al-Aqsa.

Israeli police tightened security at the flashpoint site, but prayers passed peacefully.

This year, Israel also restricted entry of Palestinians from the West Bank, allowing only 10,000 of those holding permits into Jerusalem, and only if they were fully vaccinated.

Mohammed Barghouti, 65, said he was “very happy despite hot weather” to reach the al-Aqsa mosque for the first time in over a year. The retired resident of Ramallah noted he received the two vaccine doses.

Other Palestinians prayed at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank in protest after they were blocked from entering.

Israel is largely easing restrictions after a rapid vaccination drive. In contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are scrambling with slow vaccine rollout amid limited supplies and raging infection rates that triggered tougher lockdowns.

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Sevilla could be alternative to Bilbao to host Euro 2020

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – The Spanish soccer federation has offered Sevilla as an alternative host city for the European Championship if UEFA rules out using Bilbao as planned.

The federation confirmed local media reports to The Associated Press on Friday that it has put forward Sevilla’s La Cartuja Stadium as an alternative to Bilbao’s San Mamés.

Last week, the federation announced that the current pandemic situation in Bilbao made it impossible for fans to be allowed into the matches based on the regulations established by health authorities in the northern Basque Country region.

The federation told the AP that it would be up to regional authorities in southern Andalusia to decide whether fans could potentially be allowed into games in Seville.

Currently, there are no fans allowed into league or national team matches anywhere in Spain.

Other hosts for the tournament to be held around Europe between June 11 and July 11 have given assurances to UEFA that spectators will be allowed into stadiums.

A UEFA decision on Bilbao is expected soon.

Seville’s La Cartuja Stadium is a publicly owned stadium run by Andalusia’s regional government. The stadium, which has an athletic track around the field, can hold 60,000 fans.

La Cartuja Stadium is set to host a second Copa del Rey final this month when Barcelona plays Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. It also hosted the delayed 2020 cup final two weeks ago, when Real Sociedad beat Athletic Bilbao. No fans have been allowed to attend either final.

Bilbao’s San Mamés Stadium is scheduled to host Spain’s Group E games against Sweden, Poland and Slovakia as well as one round-of-16 game.

The Basque Country region around Bilbao has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic in Spain. On Thursday, the region reported 358 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, compared to 225 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in Sevilla’s Andalusia region. Above 200 cases per 100,000 is considered high risk by authorities.

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3 resign from Auschwitz council after politician appointed

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Three members of an advisory council for the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum in Poland have resigned after the government appointed former Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a top member of the country’s right-wing ruling party, to serve on the council.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski recently appointed Szydlo to a four-year term on the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Council, a nine-member body made up of Poles who meet once a year to advise the museum’s director. It is separate from the International Auschwitz Council, which is made up of Holocaust survivors and international experts.

The first advisory council member to resign was philosopher Stanislaw Krajewski, who said he took the step Tuesday to protest what he called the “politicization” of a group that so far had been made up of experts. He was followed by historians Marek Lasota, who also belongs to the ruling party, and Krystyna Oleksy, a former deputy director of the Auschwitz Museum.

Krajewski, who was about to begin his third four-year term, told The Associated Press on Friday that he does not remember a politician ever being named to the council and he did not feel comfortable with the step, particularly given the policies of the populist and nationalist Law and Justice Party.

“It’s hard to say what would happen, but it would change the nature of the body very considerably,” Krajewski said. “I don’t want to be on the same council with a major politician of the ruling party today.”

Krajewski is a co-creator of a post-World War II history section at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw and a co-founder of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. He is also a leading member of Warsaw’s Jewish community who since the 1970s has worked to revive the Jewish life in Poland that was nearly wiped out by the Holocaust.

After Law and Justice took power in 2015, its leaders launched what they described as a “historical policy offensive” aimed at building national pride in the nation’s past. The party has used museums, state media and other tools to push a patriotic vision of Poland which critics say has veered into an abuse of history and distortion.

Poles are extremely proud of the nation’s role in resisting the German occupation during nearly six years of World War II, both at home and abroad. The government has sought to focus on that aspect of Polish behavior during the war, including the Poles who saved Jews, while seeking to discourage examinations of the role some Poles had in helping occupying German forces in their roundup and mass killing of Jews.

The strategy has led to accusations of historical whitewashing and created international controversies in recent years.

“The fear is that this would be another move in the direction of making also the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum part of their historical policy,” Krajewski said.

Szydlo, who was prime minister from 2015-2017, made comments at a memorial observance at Auschwitz in 2017 that many understood as a defense of her government’s tough anti-refugee policies. Szydlo later denied that her comments were about migration.

Szydlo is now is a member of the European Parliament for the Law and Justice party. She has studied ethnography and history, and is from the area of Oswiecim, the Polish town where the site of the former Auschwitz death camp is located.

Earlier this week, she called her appointment “an honor and a great duty for me, an inhabitant of the Oswiecim region.”

Emails to her office and the Culture Ministry seeking comment on the council resignations went unanswered.

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US has been wracked with several mass shootings in 2021

After a significant drop in mass shootings in the United States during a pandemic-hit 2020, this year has already seen several deadly cases.

Police in Indianapolis say eight people were shot and killed in a shooting late Thursday at a FedEx facility. The shooter also killed himself.

The Gun Violence Archive says 147 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2021. Their definition of mass shooting is a minimum of four gunshot victims.

President Joe Biden last week announced a half-dozen executive actions to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America. But he said much more is needed.

Here are a few recent mass shootings.

ATLANTA

Eight people were killed by a gunman at three Atlanta-area massage businesses in March. Seven of the slain were women, and six were of Asian descent. Police charged a 21-year-old white man with the killings. There was deep skepticism over the shooter’s claim his motive was sex addiction. There was public clamoring for hate crime charges, especially among the Asian American community, which has faced rising numbers of attacks since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

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BOULDER, COLORADO

A week later, a shooter at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, killed 10 people, including a police officer who was the first to respond to the scene. The suspect bought a firearm at a local gun store after passing a background check. Investigators are working to determine the motive for the shooting and why the suspect chose the King Soopers grocery store.

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ORANGE, CALFORNIA

A few days later, a gunman killed four people and critically wounded a fifth at a Southern California office building. He knew all the victims. Apparently before opening fire, he chained shut the gates to two entrances, delaying police from getting inside. Among the victims was a 9-year-old boy who was found cradled in the arms of a woman believed to be his mother. The woman was the only survivor among those shot. The others killed were a man and two women.

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Pakistan blocks social media access amid anti-France rallies

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan blocked access to all social media on Friday, after days of anti-French protests across the country by radical Islamists opposed to cartoons they consider blasphemous.

Sites temporarily blocked on orders from the country’s interior ministry included Twitter and Facebook, said Khurram Mehran, a spokesman for Pakistan’s media regulatory agency. He gave no further details.

The move comes as police officials prepare to clear a large demonstration in the eastern city of Lahore, and just hours after the government said the leader of the outlawed Islamist political party at the forefront of the protests had urged his supporters to stand down.

By releasing a note they say was handwritten by Saad Rizvi, the government hopes to calm tensions after his Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party stirred up the violent protests, in which two police officers were killed and 580 injured. France urged its citizens to leave the country as a result.

Three demonstrators also died in the clashes with security agencies, and the government has imposed a ban on the party.

A photo of the statement was released earlier by an advisor to the prime minister on Twitter, but neither Rizvi himself or any of his party leadership was immediately available for comment. Some of his followers insisted they hear or see the words come from Rizvi himself before stopping, and the Lahore protest continued after Friday prayers.

On Thursday, the French embassy in Pakistan advised all of its nationals and companies to temporarily leave the Islamic country, after violence erupted over Rizvi’s arrest.

Violent protests have been going on in Lahore since Monday, damaging private and public property and disrupting the much-need supply of oxygen to hospitals. Some of the affected included COVID-19 patients, who were on oxygen support.

In the statement, Rizvi asked his supporters to peacefully disperse for the good of the country and end their main sit-in that began Monday, when police arrested the radical cleric for threatening protests if the government did not expel the French ambassador before April 20.

Rizvi’s arrest sparked violent protests by his followers, who disrupted traffic by staging sit-ins across the country. Although security forces cleared almost all of the rallies, thousands of Rizvi’s followers are still assembled in Lahore, vowing to die in order to protect the honor of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Rizvi became the leader of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party in November after the sudden death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi. His party also wants the government to boycott French products.

Rizvi’s outlawed party has denounced French President Emmanuel Macron since October last year, saying he tried to defend blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as freedom of expression. Macron had spoken after a young Muslim beheaded a French school teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

The images had been republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial over the deadly 2015 attack against the publication for the original caricatures.

That enraged many Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere who believe those depictions were blasphemous. Rizvi’s group in recent years became known for opposing any change to the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, under which anyone accused of insulting Islam or other religious figures can be sentenced to death if found guilty.

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MLS 2021: Austin FC built in pandemic and ready to play

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas’ capital city finally has a major league sports franchise to call its own.

All it took was a fight with another city over an attempted Major League Soccer team move before the granting of an expansion franchise, a bruising spat among Austin city council members over land for a new stadium, and navigating the unknowns of an economy-crushing pandemic to build the facility and a roster of players.

Mission accomplished.

Sprinkle in a dose of celebrity Zen and sizzle from Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey, who is part of the investor group behind Austin FC, and the club is ready to roll into MLS as the league’s 27th and newest franchise. The team’s first match is Saturday night at Los Angeles FC.

“It’s been a long process to get here, and we just want to get it right,” said principal owner Anthony Precourt, who first attempted to move his previous team, the Columbus Crew, then was granted an expansion club in early 2019.

Looking back, the first year after that announcement represented the halcyon days of a soccer startup. The stadium broke ground, the business sponsorships starting lining up and Precourt brought in former U.S. soccer greats Claudio Reyna as sporting director and Josh Wolff as head coach.

Reyna had been the sporting director for NYCFC and Wolff had been an assistant coach in Columbus and with the U.S. national team.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. While the construction crews forged ahead, Reyna had to cobble together a roster with a scouting department that couldn’t attend matches or meet in person with players and agents.

The team that hits the field Saturday will feature a lineup built with a mix of players collected from throughout MLS and anchored by two designated players from South America: Tomas Pochettino of Argentina, a midfielder from Cordoba-based club Talleres, and Decilio Dominguez, a Paraguayan national team forward who had been with Argentina’s Independiente.

The hard part was doing it all in year of video interviews and chats with players with almost no personal connection.

“You can watch just about every game around the world,” Reyna said. “What you can’t see is how a player warms up, what he does when he’s out of frame. … It’s the informal part when you get to know the players better. You get to meet the fathers, sometimes the girlfriends, the wives. This also gives you a good understanding of what this player is about.

“You can get a good idea of what a player is about over Zoom, but it turns a little bit into an interview,” Reyna said. “Like all industries, we are missing that interaction with players.”

The club was always going to build its initial roster mostly with players from around MLS, Reyna said. Austin still has one spot remaining for a designated player, which could be filled by summer.

Austin won’t get to play at its new 20,500-seat, $260 million home until June. But that long road slog at the beginning of the season means lots of home matches on the back end that could prove helpful if the club is chasing a spot in the postseason.

MLS had long eyed Austin, a market dominated by the University of Texas and Longhorns athletics. The league had trademarked Austin FC for a franchise name well before the city entered expansion talks. Precourt’s initial purchase deal for the Crew included a promise to keep the team in Ohio for at least 10 years, but it also had a clause to let him move it to Austin.

It’s easy to see why the league saw big potential in Texas.

Sandwiched between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, Austin had no major professional sports franchise. But the Texas capital has been on a boom cycle for decades, as technology companies started here or relocated offices and workers.

And as the area’s population surges toward 2.5 million, the dominant Longhorn footprint is slowly starting to shrink. That means more fans looking for new and more teams to follow.

MLS slid in to provide the team, and Commissioner Don Garber said Austin‘s ownership has “overdelivered” in the buildup of the franchise and its brand. He noted the club’s 15,000 season tickets already sold with another 15,000 on a waiting list.

“This is a city on the rise, that marries perfectly with a league on the rise,” Garber said, while also sounding a warning that there’s no guarantee it will produce immediate positive results on the field.

“I tell all new owners it is very difficult to crack the code,” Garber said. “You have to expect that you can’t just come in here and snap your fingers and expect to be MLS Cup champion.”

As part of the ownership group, McConaughey has the title minister of culture and has been busy promoting the team as a big new step for a city that has long been defined by politics and the Longhorns.

“It is so ripe,” McConaughey said. “Soccer is the ideal sport to have for our city. We can now go have conversations as Austin FC fans with that banker in London, that cabdriver in Timbuktu. We have a home team we can talk about.”

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The Latest: Duterte: ‘Worst’ to come before vaccines arrive

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said it’s uncertain when the Philippines can get adequate COVID-19 vaccines while warning more people will die and “the worst of times” is yet to come.

Duterte said his administration has done its best despite criticism and he could use emergency power, for example, to take over hotels if hospital room shortages worsen. But he said wealthy nations control the vaccine supply and other countries could hardly do anything but wait.

“When will we have that stocks sufficient to vaccinate the people? I really do not know. Nobody knows,” Duterte said in a televised meeting Thursday night with key Cabinet members. “I think before it gets better, we’ll have to go to the worst of times.”

“There’s no sufficient supply to inoculate the world. This will take a long time. I’m telling you many more will die here.”

The Philippines has received more than 3 million doses of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, most of it donated by China and through the COVAX arrangement by the World Health Organization. At least 1.2 million people have been given initial doses. The government aims to purchase at least 148 million doses to inoculate about 70 million adult Filipinos but the plan has faced supply problems and delays.

The vaccination delays have coincided with an alarming surge in coronavirus infections that the government has been scrambling to ease in the hard-hit capital and four outlying provinces.

The Philippines has long been a coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia with more than 904,000 infections and 15,594 deaths.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– China’s success at controlling the coronavirus outbreak leaves its public reluctant to get vaccinated

– Shortage of intubation drugs is the latest problem the pandemic has brought in Brazil

– China’s economic growth surged to 18.3% in 1st quarter, but the post-outbreak rebound is leveling off

– Louisiana is making a full-court press to get shots in arms, with creative outreach to make it easy to get vaccinated

– Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Gov. Gavin Newsom says nearly half of Californians eligible for vaccination have received at least one shot against the coronavirus.

He is urging more residents to sign up for appointments and not let apprehension get in the way of getting protected against the illness.

The nation’s most populous state on Thursday began vaccinating anyone age 16 and over regardless of occupation or health condition.

The move comes as California and other states have seen vaccine supplies rise in recent weeks. But officials are working to address hesitancy, particularly in some of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

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NEW YORK – New U.S. government data show the country saw around 600,000 more deaths than usual during a 13-month span. COVID-19 was blamed for most of those deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the estimate Thursday. It covers Jan. 26, 2020, to Feb. 27, 2021. COVID-19 was first detected in the U.S. in late January of last year.

CDC researchers said the biggest spikes in the deaths occurred in early April, late July, and the very end of December.

At least 75% of the deaths were directly tied to COVID-19, but the estimate includes deaths from all causes.

This week CDC released provisional data through the end of September 2020 that suggested drug overdose deaths for the year were far exceeding tallies seen in any previous year. The CDC said more than 87,000 deaths were reported over a 12-month period.

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Jaylen Brown scores 40, Celtics beat Lakers 121-113

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Jaylen Brown scored four of his 40 points in the final minute, and the Boston Celtics blew most of a 27-point lead in the fourth quarter before holding on for their fifth straight victory, 121-113 over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Brown made 13 of his first 14 shots and hit three 3-pointers while falling two points shy of his career high for the Celtics, who have won eight of 11 despite an embarrassing finish at Staples Center.

Boston led 113-86 with seven minutes to play, shortly after coach Brad Stevens pulled his starters. But Talen Horton-Tucker and Ben McLemore led a 24-2 run by the Lakers that forced Brown and Boston’s first string back into the game.

Brown hit a floater through contact and added a leaning jumper with 32 seconds left to squelch the Lakers’ rally, and Boston split the season series between these historic rivals.

Payton Pritchard and Marcus Smart added 15 points apiece for the Celtics, who never trailed. Boston won despite just 14 points from Jayson Tatum, whose streak of scoring 20 points in 11 consecutive games ended.

Horton-Tucker scored 19 points and Marc Gasol had 18 for Los Angeles, which has alternated wins and losses since March 28.

The Lakers were welcomed back from a seven-game road trip by about 1,915 fans in the Staples Center stands in the building’s first significant sports crowd since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Along with the long-term absences of superstars Anthony Davis and LeBron James, the Lakers faced Boston without new center Andre Drummond, who has a bruised right big toe, and Markieff Morris, who has a sprained left ankle.

Dennis Schröder nearly sat out with an infection on the ball of his right foot, but contributed eight points and eight assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also played through mid-game back spasms, and Gasol stayed in after appearing to injure his pinky finger significantly.

Thanks to injuries, both teams sent out starting lineups they had never used previously this season.

Boston carved up the Lakers’ starters in the first half while taking a 14-point lead. The Celtics hit 56% of their shots against the NBA’s No. 1 defense, with Brown scoring his 21 points particularly easily.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Robert Williams III missed the game with left knee soreness and swelling. Boston was 8-2 since he joined the starting lineup at the trade deadline after Daniel Theis was moved to Chicago. … Evan Fournier missed his fifth straight game under the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Lakers: Davis has been cleared for full on-court activities, and coach Frank Vogel is hopeful he can play next week. He hasn’t played since Feb. 14. “He’s tired of being a patient and ready to be a player again,” Vogel said.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Host Warriors on Saturday.

Lakers: Host Jazz on Saturday.

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