Brian Golden

Brian Golden/Valley Press

A new ray of hope has broken through the gloom of the wasteland that is our current Southern California sportscape.

It involves turning the NBA standings upside down.

Every game the Lakers lose moves them that much closer to landing Duke manchild Zion Williamson as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Of course they’ll have to really tank, engage in epic offshore drilling, to outdo the hapless New York Knickerbockers and the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix could go 82-0 and it wouldn’t move the NBA needle much.

But the Lakers and the Knicks are flagship franchises of the sport who have been known in the past to get a boost from the league from time to time.

Witness the turned-up corner on the old envelope system that gifted the Knicks with Patrick Ewing once upon a time.

It’s an established canon of NBA business that the Association does better when the Lakers, Knicks and Celtics are all good.

The NBA will be better off, much better off, when Kawhi Leonard comes home to Southern California with the Clippers as a free agent next summer.

His Toronto Raptors may have trouble getting out of the hockey Maple Leafs’ shadow if they make a run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It’s been an unusually bleak sports winter in these parts.

Thank goodness for University of Antelope Valley and its run to the NAIA National Tournament.

Major League Soccer is stepping into the breach, with thrilling finishes from LAFC and the LA Galaxy.

Lancaster native Miguel Ibarra makes a homecoming with Minnesota United against the Galaxy Saturday night in Carson.

Then there’s Auto Club Speedway.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series makes its annual spring visit to the Inland Empire this weekend.

It finds a NASCAR hotspot regaining its heat after years of mismanagement by Gillian Zucker, the former Speedway president.

The reduction of the race distance to 400 miles has made for some thrilling finishes.

The refocusing of the Speedway’s emphasis to race fans, not celebrity race fans, has steadily repacked the grandstands.

There was a recent time in Fontana when Wolfgang Puck making pizzas was more important than NASCAR fans eating pizzas.

Those were the days when previous management thought of Auto Club Speedway as The Kodak Theater with pit stalls.

Enough authentic fans were driven off to create embarrassing acres of empty seats, and the eventual loss of a second weekend in the NASCAR Cup Chase.

Speedway President Dave Allen has done an incredible job of bringing one of NASCAR’s most gorgeous tracks back to life.

Celebrities are still more than welcome; it’s just no longer at the expense of the lifer fans.

Clippers Hall of Fame broadcaster Ralph Lawler will hearken back to his days as the Voice of Riverside Raceway when he introduces the drivers Sunday.

Toward the end of her reign of error at Fontana, Gillian Zucker heard Auto Club Speedway referred to as “Gillian’s Island,” for the vast emptiness that surrounded everything.

Sunday will be anything by a three-hour tour.

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