Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
NBA regular-season openers, Sunday: Lakers vs. Chicago, Staples Center, 2 p.m., Channel 7; Clippers at Golden State, 7:30 p.m., ESPN:
Do not open the NBA season until Christmas. That’s the result of the extended lockout, a rush-job to get everyone in training camp and a bizarre set of circumstances that has resulted in Chris Paul wearing a Clippers uniform instead of one for the Lakers on the belated Opening Day. Signals are also mixed as to whether the Lakers should even be dreaming of a Dwight Howard Christmas delivery, but no roster seems safe from chaos at this point. With that, it’s a Route 66 roadmap — 66 games in 120-something days, with all kinds of injuries bound to happen. If only someone was smart enough to schedule a Lakers-Clippers doubleheader at Staples Center to celebrate the holiday. Nonetheless, the two L.A. franchises will work their way up to this anticipated moment with exhibition meetings at Staples Center on Monday (7:30 p.m., FSW and Prime) and Wednesday (7:30 p.m., Channel 9 and Prime). The rest of the Christmas Day docket has a 2011 Finals rematch featuring LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Lamar Odom (for real?) when Miami goes to Dallas (11:30 a.m., Channel 7). That’ll be preceded by more starpower with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett against Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire (Boston at New York, 9 a.m., TNT) and followed up by Howard against Kevin Durant (Orlando at Oklahoma City, 5 p.m., ESPN). Shaquille O’Neal also makes his debut — as a TNT studio host. Prepare to be critiqued, Kobe.
NHL: Kings at Toronto, 4 p.m., FSW:
Having lost two of three on the current road trip, six of seven overall, still last in the league in goals scored per game and smarting from surrendering eight goals to Detroit on Saturday, the Kings are supposed to give interim head coach John Stevens one last game in charge before he’s back to an assistant for new head coach Darryl Sutter.
College basketball: USC vs. Texas Christian, Galen Center, 7:30 p.m., USCTrojans.com:
In the eight-team Mountain West Conference, everyone has a record above .500, including the 7-3 Horned Frogs. In the Pac-12, USC (4-7) is one of three who would love to be at least break-even at this point.
NFL: Pittsburgh at San Francisco, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
The network has been pointing out on its scroll that this is the fourth time that two teams are playing on Monday Night Football with 10-plus wins and at least a .750 winning percentage (and the first time since 1997 — when San Francisco improved to 13-2 and Denver went to 11-4 after the 49ers’ 34-17 win). Actually, the last three times this happened, the game was in San Francisco, and the 49ers won each of them. This year, San Fran (10-3) has already won the NFC West, and Pittsburgh (10-3) is tied for the AFC North lead.
College basketball: UCLA vs. UC Irvine, Sports Arena, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
Since Ben Howland tossed Reeves Nelson off the squad, the Bruins basketball team has won three in a row, the women’s volleyball team won a national title, and the football team found a new head coach. Although, even with Nelson, that recent 48-point route over UC Davis would have been just as easy.
College football: Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburgh Bowl: Florida International vs. Marshall, 5 p.m., ESPN:
Somehow, Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday should have his 6-6 team in the Holiday Bowl.
College football: Poinsettia Bowl: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech, 5 p.m., ESPN:
Gary Patterson’s 10-2 squad justifiably qualified for the Fiesta and Rose Bowl games the last two seasons, but it missed out on a third straight BCS appearance because its final overall ranking was 18th — it needed to be at least 16th. Before leaving the Mountain West for the Big 12, they’ll hop over to San Diego. At least they could have played this on an aircraft carrier.
NHL: Kings vs. Ducks, Staples Center, 7 p.m., FSW:
If not for the Ducks, the Kings would have sunk to the bottom of the Pacific Division. One thing’s certain: The two guys who started as head coaches for these two teams when the season began aren’t there any longer. The Kings’ 3-2 loss to the Ducks on Dec. 6 came on that ugly shot that Bobby Ryan put past Jonathan Quick with 48.8 seconds left, giving Bruce Boudreau his first win as Anaheim’s coach. The Ducks have won only one other time in the eight games since Boudreau took over on Dec. 1.
College football: Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State vs. Boise State, 5 p.m., ESPN:
On ESPN.com’s AccuScore forecasting software, the predicted outcome was a 47-28 Boise State win, with Kellen Moore throwing for 367 yards and three TDs. So that’s that.
College basketball: USC vs. Kansas, Galen Center, 8 p.m., FSW:
Ranked No. 12 with a 7-2 mark coming into the week, the visiting Jayhawks are getting a team-high 17.8 points and 11.4 rebounds from 6-foot-9 junior forward Thomas Robinson. Kansas’ only two losses so far are to Kentucky (No. 2 at the time) and Duke (No. 6 then), but they’re hot off a win over No. 2 Ohio State on Dec. 10.
NFL: Houston at Indianapolis, 5:20 p.m., NFL Network:
The 2012 Super Bowl will still be here in the Lucas Oil Stadium inflatable tent, no matter how perfectly horrible the Colts could have finished. Now, with one win, they’re just uninteresting.
NHL: Kings at San Jose, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
The Sharks’ coach with the most games behind the bench in franchise history? Darryl Sutter (434, plus 42 more in the playoffs). Wonder if they’ll recognize him.
College basketball: UCLA vs. Richmond, Sports Arena, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
Last call before the Pac-12 schedule begins. Anyone suffering from arachnophobia?
NFL: N.Y. Giants at N.Y. Jets, 10 a.m., Channel 11:
They haven’t meet officially in the regular season since Week 5 of 2007, when the Giants took a 35-24 decision. That was so pre-Sanchez it’s not even funny. The Giants have won the last four meetings when it counts. This is one of 13 NFL games played on a Saturday because, you know, they can’t do it on Sunday morning..
College football: Hawaii Bowl: Nevada vs. Southern Mississippi, 5 p.m., ESPN:
If a player from either school complains about having to fly to Honolulu and play on Christmas Eve, take away their goodie bags.
NFL: Chicago at Green Bay, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4:
The Bears lost the first meeting back in Week 3 by just 10 points, despite rushing for a total of 13 yards on 12 attempts. Reports are that there’s an “outside” chance that Jay Cutler could come back to play here on Christmas Day. The Packers (13-1) could have made this a perfect day if they’d just woke up in Kansas City.