Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
(AP Photo/Curtis Compton – Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Dwyane Wade, left, and LeBron James, center, who did not play because of injuries, react while on the bench as the Miami Heat defeat the Atlanta Hawks in triple overtime last Thursday in Atlanta.
NBA: Clippers vs. Miami, Wednesday at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime, ESPN:
In a rivalry week where the Clippers clash with the Lakers, USC reunites with UCLA and even Pepperdine posts up against Loyola Marymount, sorry, but this one has more curb appeal. Even though Dwayne Wade (foot) and LeBron James (ankle) have been questionable on a game-to-game basis lately, the fact that both will likely rise to the occasion to give Chris Paul and Blake Griffin their first real test under the spotlight gives all of reason to pay attention. Of course, the 8-1 Heat, also 5-0 on the road and leading the league in points and assists per game, will be back in L.A. one more time, facing the Lakers on Sunday, March 4. But why wait? This is where it pays to have two NBA teams in one city, especially in a shortened season.
College football: BCS title game in New Orleans: LSU vs. Alabama, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson has gone on the record that if the top-ranked Tigers outlast the second-ranked Crimson Tide to finish 14-0, “I think we will go down as the greatest team.” Ever. In college football history. The USC team of 1972, Nebraska’s teams of 1971 and ’95, and a couple other Alabama teams might have an argument. LSU tailback Michael Ford adds they can be regarded as “arguably the greatest team in college history.”
They’ve beaten eight Top 25 teams, and six of them away from home, including the 9-6 overtime win at Alabama. Since neither team scored a touchdown in that meeting, why wouldn’t another fateful kick be in the makings this time? Alabama’s Cade Foster (right) missed three of his four attempts last time, including a 52-yarder in OT; LSU won it on a 25-yard field goal by Drew Alleman. We’ll see if Alabama coach Nick Saban sticks to his plan to use Foster on kicks of 42 yards or longer and Jeremy Shelley, who had a kick blocked against LSU, on shorter tries. Foster is 2 for 9 this season; Shelley is 16 for 20. LSU coach Les Miles, meanwhile, says that he expects the game to be “big boy football. And I’d expect it to be very, very physical.”
NHL: Kings vs. Washington, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
Alex Ovechkin makes his only So Cal appearance of the season, having had a seven-game point streak snapped during a loss in San Jose on Saturday night, where he ended up with a minus-3 rating. If the Kings’ defense thinks it can do an equally swift job on containing the All-Star Cap, that’s fine. But the Kings’ offense must do better than 0-for-8 on the power play as it did in the 1-0 loss Saturday against Columbus.
Golf: Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kapalua, Hawaii, final round, 1 p.m., Golf Channel:
How about Bubba Watson pull himself together and chase down Stricker? All he has to do is make up 15 strokes.
Baseball: Hall of Fame announcement, 11 a.m., The Baseball Network:
Barry Larkin, Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Jeff Bagwell are waiting by the phone. Maybe it’s best they find something else to do. Larkin lines up as the leading candidate to gain election to the Cooperstown this time around, having come close a year ago (receiving 62.1 percent of the needed 75 percent, an improvement over 51.6 percent in his first year of eligibility in 2010). While he spent his entire major league career with the Cincinnati Reds from 1986-04, Larkin hit .295 with 198 home runs, 960 RBIs, 2,340 hits and 379 stolen bases. Nice, solid numbers. But Hall worthy? Add in that he won three Gold Gloves and was part of the 1990 championship team. Maybe not. If he is elected, he would be inducted on July 22 with the late Ron Santo, voted in last month by the Veterans Committee. The real intrigue comes in 2013 — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are eligible for the first time along with Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa.
NBA: Lakers vs. Phoenix, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
What’s up with this new round of Steve Nash trade rumors? Because the Suns aren’t up to par for him anymore? Phoenix is only averaging just 92.9 points a game, 19th best in the league. The team hasn’t averaged last than 105 points a game over the last four previous seasons.
NBA: Clippers at Portland, 7 p.m., Prime:
The Clippers are last in the league at 35.3 rebounds a game, about seven more a contest that they’re allowing to their opponents. The Blazers are in the top eight at 44.7 boards a game.
NBA: Lakers at Utah, 6 p.m., Channel 9:
The Jazz are 4-0 at home already, a lot of it based on the strength of their bench. Which, remarkably, is led by former UCLA point guard Earl Watson. Yes, he’s still around (that’s him, right, trying to guard Denver’s Andre Miller).
College basketball: Loyola Marymount at Pepperdine, 7 p.m., ESPNU:
The Lions (9-7, 2-1 in the WCC) and Waves (7-8, 1-3) split their two meetings last year — each winning at home, each game decided by three points. They’re calling this the PCH Cup series now. Sponsored by a local bank. Bank on a tight one.
NBA: Kings vs. Dallas, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
One of Jonathan Quick’s league-best six shutouts was against the Stars, but that was back on Oct. 22. Since then, he’s given up three goals on two occasions to Dallas, and the Stars have split the previous four meetings.
Golf: PGA Tour Sony Open, Honolulu, first round, 2 p.m., Golf Channel:
The first full-field event of the season should make for some more intriguing results, especially since the Tour moves to Palm Springs after this one.
NBA: Lakers vs. Cleveland, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
Kyrie Irving, the Cavs’ 19-year-old rookie point guard out of Duke, has put up about 14 points, five assists and four rebounds a game so far. So Baron Davis was apparently expendable?
NBA: Lakers at Clippers, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Channel 9, Prime:
If you want the two exhibition games last month to mean something, then the Clippers’ 19- and five-point “victories” force the Lakers to do some catching up. The only real news those two meetings produced was Kobe Bryant’s wrist injury, which kept him out of the second game and has bothered him since, even though he’s averaging 27.8 points, second best in the league. Their only other head-to-head matchups from here: Jan. 25 and April 4.
NFL playoffs: New Orleans at San Francisco, 1:30 p.m., Channel 11; Denver at New England, 5 p.m., Channel 2:
The 49ers’ 13-3 finish under new coach Jim Harbaugh is their best since another 13-win season in 1997 under another rookie coach, Steve Mariucci. That team 14 years ago made it to the conference title game before losing to Green Bay, 23-10, at Candlestick Park. The Niners are best in the NFL against the run but rank 16th against the pass, so no matter what rep the Saints have as a road team, they can find an opening here. As for the Patriots defending the No. 1 seed in the AFC against the power of Tim Tebo: Best of luck to no matter what team has to match up against Tom Brady in frosty New England. As “Jesus”/Jason Sudeikis said in that “Saturday Night Live” sketch a month ago when he was trying to tell Tebow to tone it down a little bit: Brady is, if not the son of God, at least his nephew. That was right before the Patriots’ Week 15 win over the Broncos, 41-23, in Denver.
NHL: Kings at Calgary, 7 p.m., FSW:
These two teams didn’t even face each other at all in the first half of the season; now they have four meetings in the second half. Jarome Iginla scored his 500th career goal the other night in a win against Minnesota — you think the Kings are still interested in adding his offensive punch to their lineup in some kind of trade?
College basketball: UCLA at USC, Galen Center, 6 p.m., FSW:
On the night that the Trojans honor former star Harold Miner by retiring his No. 23 jersey and handing out bobbleheads in his likeness, it doesn’t hurt that USC has won four of the last five meetings against the Bruins. Miner’s USC teams beat UCLA four times in six tries during his three seasons from 1990-92. As a freshman, he hit a free throw with 30 seconds left to secure a 76-75 upset over the 16th-ranked Bruins. In Feb., ’92, Miner had 29 points and a season-best 13 rebounds as the 13th-ranked Trojans stunned the fourth-ranked Bruins, 83-79, beating them for the second time that season before a sellout of more than 15,000 at the Sports Arena. “UCLA has such a great program, and for our team to beat a team the caliber of UCLA is unbelievable,” Miner said after that second win. “I know it’s a longshot that we would beat them twice, but our team comes out and fights and we always believe we can win in any situation.”
NFL playoffs: Houston at Baltimore, 10 a.m., Channel 2; N.Y. Giants at Green Bay, 1:30 p.m., Channel 11:
The Packers reached the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC last season, then went on the road to Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago, knocking out the conference’s top three seeds en route to their Super Bowl title. They’ve got a completely different trip this time — can the top seed in the conference handle the extra Lambeau Leap pressure every week from here on? Of the last six Super Bowl champions, four of them had to play in the first round of the playoffs. “I was so amused with all the talk about the No. 1 seeds,” said Randy Cross, the former Crespi High and UCLA star who played his entire career with the 49ers. “Who wants to be a No. 1 seed these days? When do they ever win anymore? That just puts a bigger target on you. Do you want to be on a roll or do you want to be rested? Being rested has become more like being rusted.” Meanwhile, rookie Texans QB T.J. Yates should get steamed alive on the road in Crab City.
NHL: Kings at Edmonton, 5 p.m., FSW:
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers’ 18-year-old rookie center who put up 13 goals and 22 assists in the team’s first 38 games, was included in the recent ESPN magazine in their “Next” issue, touting the stars of the future. Meaning, he’s the next big deal in the NHL. Next up: Another trip to the trainers’ room, as he’s expected to miss the next few weeks with a separated shoulder.
Tennis: Australian Open first round, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2:
The “news” scroll on the Aussie Open website notes that “Andy Roddick is in Melbourne with a new Mohawk haircut.” Roddick, who has eight months left in his life before he turns 30, may be having one of those end-of-career crisis situations. In the 2011 event, Roddick registered 76 aces, second most in the whole event. But he lost in the fourth round. Novak Djokovic needed only 51 aces to win it all and go on to finish 70-6 overall with 10 titles and three majors.