Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
College basketball: Pac-12 men’s tournament, Wednesday through Saturday, Staples Center, Fox Sports West and CBS:
Perhaps the new, improved Pac-12 had visions of its first expanded cash-call hoops tournament playing out as epic as “Project X.” You know this could end badly, right? There seems to be more kids laid out on the front lawn with their red plastic cups empty, and the others who didn’t get arrested are hoping they get an e-vite to the NIT. Time to pull the little guy out of the oven and get down to business. There’s time to clean up this mess. Washington had star guard Isaiah Thomas when it won the last two Pac-10 events (over Cal in ’10 and Arizona in ’11) and should be a viable candidate to do it again with conference player of the year candidate, freshman Tony Wroten. Cal, Arizona and Oregon also have favorable seeds and get to skip the first day’s action. But if you’re looking for some longshot to mess things up, just remember that it wasn’t too long ago — 2009 — when sixth-seeded USC came from the farthest back to snatch the bit. With a slight format tweak, there’s four games starting at noon on Wednesday, and the one to focus on should be fifth-seeded UCLA (18-13, 11-7), the pre-season favorites to win the conference, matched up against 12th-seed USC (6-25, 1-17) at 2:30 p.m.. The Trojans have lost nine in a row, including both to the Bruins in the regular season. Washington State faces Oregon State (noon), and Arizona State meets Stanford (6 p.m.) followed by Utah-Colorado (8:30 p.m.) in the other openers Wednesday, which leads to the quarterfinals on Thursday (as the top four seeds have byes; the USC-UCLA winner meets Arizona on 2:30 p.m.). That funnels into Friday’s semifinals at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday’s final is back at 11:30 a.m. on Channel 2.
The women’s 12-team tournament also starts Wednesday at USC’s Galen Center (games are available on the Pac-12′s YouTube channel), leading into the final on Saturday at 11:30 p.m. on FSN. Michael Cooper’s USC squad (18-12, 12-6) goes in as the No. 3 seed and has a first-round bye, opening Thursday at 7:15 p.m. against the Washington State-Oregon State winner; UCLA (14-15, 9-9) is seeded fifth and faces Arizona on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.
College basketball: West Coast Conference men’s tournament final: Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s, 6 p.m., ESPN:
No. 21 Saint Mary’s (26-5) split their regular-season series with Gonzaga (25-5), including a 14-point road loss on Feb. 9. Meanwhile, Loyola Marymount, which lost its first-round game, should be continuing practice as the NIT comes around soon.
MLB exhibition: Dodgers vs. Chicago White Sox, Glendale, Ariz., 12:05 p.m.; Angels vs. Oakland, Phoenix, noon:
Jerry Sands is now wearing No. 23 — Eric Karros’ old number — and taking grounders at first base. Adam Kennedy is wearing No. 3 — Steve Sax’s old number — and turning the double play at second base. Spring has sprung in Arizona, and the practice games are officially taking place. MLB Network also treats this like Opening Day, with the N.Y. Yankees-Philadelphia at 10 a.m., Washington-N.Y. Mets at 3 p.m. and Milwaukee-San Francisco at 6:30 p.m., plus, on delay, Pittsburgh-Baltimore at 10 p.m. and Cleveland-Cincinnati at 3 a.m.
NBA: Clippers at Minnesota, 5 p.m., FSW:
The Clips’ main hope: Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley don’t score 27 apiece again off the bench, and 13 each in the fourth quarter, as they did in a Staples Center guest appearance last week. The T’wolves have 47 wins in their franchise against the Clippers — the most against any opponent.
NBA: Lakers at Detroit, 4:30 p.m., Channel 9:
Let’s see what the residual effect of Sunday’s game against Miami has as the Lakers hit the road. Pistons second-year center Greg Monroe, the 21-year-old out of Georgetown, leads his team in scoring, rebounds and steals. Which explains how Detroit — the team, and the city — has a long way to go for a rebound.
NHL: Kings at Nashville, 5 p.m., FSW:
Weren’t they just here a week ago? Yes, as evidenced by a 2-1 loss. This is the first of four in a row on the road. The Kings have another tough four-game trip at the end of the month, but this could have more of an impact on their playoff prospects. If they’re not careful, they may not be the NHL’s lowest-scoring team any longer.
NBA: Lakers at Washington, 4 p.m., Channel 9:
Wiz center JaVale McGee is one five players to average at least 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocked shots this season – along with Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Josh Smith. But he’s in a class by himself when it comes to making ESPN “SportsCenter” highlights for stupid moves on the court. The son of former USC women’s star Pam McGee insisted to the Washington Post recently that her kid “is not a knucklehead. JaVale is a good kid. My son is special. He has gifts you can’t teach: hands, height, and heart. If I’m the Wizards and I’m really trying to build a franchise, really committed to rebuilding and developing, I would nurture that talent. I would help a kid like JaVale the best I could.”
NBA: Clippers at New Jersey, 5 p.m., Prime:
The Clippers only beat the Nets by 10 in their last Staples Center meeting a few weeks ago, and that was without Chris Paul. The Nets’ Jordan Farmar has been nursing a strained groin and missed a stretch of games last week, but returned in a 107-94 loss against Boston the other night. In that same game, Nets forward Kris Humphries played 25 minutes and had a minus-32 rating, while guard Deron Williams was minus-31. Every starter, to that point, had a minus rating; every member of the bench who played, including Farmar, had a plus rating.
Tennis: BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells:
The absence of any Williams sister doesn’t matter anymore. The event that gives anyone looking for a spring break in the desert through the final on March 18 includes almost all of the sport’s top names — defending men’s champ Djokovic, runner up Nadal, Federer, defending women’s champ Wozniacki, Sharapova — as well as wildcard entrants such as Thousand Oaks’ Sam Querrey (pictured) and Steve Johnson, the reigning NCAA singles champion who has led USC to three straight NCAA team championships and has returned for his senior year. Television coverage begins in the second round Saturday on Tennis Channel.
NHL: Kings at Columbus, 4 p.m., Prime:
Jeff Carter, meet Jack Johnson, face to face. Care to trade any inside information?
NBA: Lakers at Minnesota, 5 p.m., Channel 9:
The Wolves haven’t beaten the Lakers since March 6, 2007 — the 17 games are the longest active streak of victories in an NBA matchup.
NBA: Clippers at San Antonio, 5:30 p.m., Prime:
No matter how you think the balance of power in the west has changed, the old Spurs still have won 10 in a row against the Clippers and 20 of the last 21 meetings. Included in that is the 103-100 win at Staples Center two weeks ago when Gary Neal hit the 3-pointer to tie it in regulation and the go-ahead 3 in OT to put it away. Tony Parker added 30.
NHL: Kings at Detroit, 4:30 p.m., Channel 13:
At Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings are … unstoppable? Almost. After an NHL-record 23-game home win streak was snapped recently, Detroit actually had a two-game losing streak on their home ice before beating Minnesota, 6-0, last Saturday. The Red Wings have scored 12 goals against the Kings in two wins so far this season, including an 8-2 decision in Detroit on Dec. 17 when Jonathan Quick was pulled in the first period. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard (pictured) won both of those games, but he’s been struggling a bit lately since coming back from a broken finger. These two teams will meet again next week at Staples Center.
College basketball: Big West tournament final, 7 p.m, ESPN2; Big East tournament final, 6 p.m., ESPN; Big 12 tournament final, 2:30 p.m., ESPN; WAC tournament final, ESPN2, 9 p.m.; Conference USA tournament final, 8:30 a.m., Channel 2; American East tournament final, 8 a.m., ESPN2; MEAC tournament final, 10 a.m., ESPN2; Southland tournament final, noon, ESPN2; SWAC tournament final, 5 p.m., ESPNU; MAC tournament final, 5 p.m., ESPN2:
Long Beach State, make your case.
MLS: Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Home Depot Center, 7:30 p.m., KDOC Channel 56:
Less than four months after hoisting the MLS Cup, the Galaxy kick start a new season, with David Beckham generously agreeing to return. Everyone who shows up gets a championship banner replica. And, if the oddsmakers are right, expect another. The online betting service Bovada (linked here) has the Galaxy as the 2/1 favorites to repeat, with only Seattle (5/1) and Real Salt Lake (7/1) remotely close (and that includes Chivas USA at 40/1). This is the first of 34 in a slate that stretches all the way to the end of October. The ’12 campaign actually begins with a CONCACAF Champions League match Wednesday at Toronto (5 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel).
College basketball: NCAA men’s tournament bracket announcement, 3 p.m., Channel 2:
After the Atlantic 10 (10 a.m., Channel 2), SEC (10 a.m., Channel 7), Big Ten (12:30 p.m., Channel 2) and ACC (10 a.m., ESPN) figure out their automatic bids, then the charts come out. What if the NCAA selection committee does all its slide-rule formulas and comes up with a reason why the Pac-12 shouldn’t be allowed to send any team to the field of 68? Butler, the Horizon League champs the last two seasons who made it all the way to the Final Four both times, didn’t make it out of their conference tournament this year, but still won 20 games. Any room for the Bulldogs?
NBA: Lakers vs. Boston, Staples Center, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7:
Flash back to Pau Gasol tipping away Ray Allen’s last shot to preserve the Lakers’ 88-87 overtime, playoff-fever triumph in Boston on Feb. 9. “I was in the perfect position,” Allen said, “and he came out of nowhere.” The Lakers’ front court — Gasol had 25 points and 14 boards, while Andrew Bynum had 16 points and 17 rebounds — made the Celtics look even smaller and older than usual. The Lakers had more than half their points (46) in the paint. Kevin Garnett was just 6 for 23 from the field and Paul Pierce was 7 for 18, including a clean-look jumper at the end of overtime, which went instead into Allen’s hands. And was knocked away. Another lasting image: The Lakers were just 1-of-15 from 3-point range in this game. Stats Inc., says that the last time they shot worse than that and won on the road was on December 16, 1999 — a 95-88 win in Atlanta despite going 0-for-5 from three.
NBA: Clippers vs. Golden State, Staples Center, 6:30 p.m., Prime:
With their six-game road trip over, a six-game home streak begins. Everyone watch the doors to make sure Clipper Darrell doesn’t try to barge his way in. He could have been hanging out at the early game and is hiding in a restroom.
NHL: Kings at Chicago, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Channel:
The Blackhawks hope to have captain Jonathan Toews back on the ice after a prolonged upper-body injury that knocked him out of their recent road trip. Dustin Brown’s hat trick sparked a 4-0 Kings’ win over Chicago two weeks ago.
NASCAR: Kolbalt Tools 400 Sprint Cup at Las Vegas, 11:30 a.m., Channel 11:
Denny Hamlin is the Sprint Cup points leader coming to Vegas after winning last week in Phoenix. “This is huge momentum,” Hamlin said. “We’ve never been in this position this early in the season. We’ve always struggled, taken our time (going) five or six races in before we hit our stride.”