Play It Forward: April 2-8 on your sports calendar

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

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The handmade artwork of Mass.-based Chris Speakman, posted on the website SportsPropaganda.com, speaks to the arrival of Albert Pujols in Anaheim and the return of Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp at Chavez Ravine. More on Speakman’s amazing creations (linked here).

MLB season openers: Dodgers at San Diego, Thursday, 4:05 p.m., Prime; Angels vs. Kansas City, Angel Stadium, Friday at 7:05 p.m., FSW:

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Tom Verducci’s Sports Illustrated preview of the 2012 season has the Angels winning the AL West, then the ALDS over Rangers, then the ALCS over the Yankes, then the World Series over the Giants. The Dodgers? Third in the NL West, 83-79, with no wild-card aspirations. Fox and MLB Network reporter Ken Rosenthal also has the Dodgers third in their division. The Angels, he’s got as an AL wildcard, defeating Tampa Bay in the one-game matchup, then losing to Detroit in the ALDS.

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And then there’s Paul Bessire. The ways he does it is through math that he feeds into his own website PredictionMachine.com, as well as WhatIfSports.com. Having played the season 50,000 times on his software, his algorithms have that concluded that the Angels have a 38 percent chance of wining the AL West, a 31 percent chance of getting in via the wildcard, a 16 percent chance of winning the ALDS and a six percent chance of winning it all. The Dodgers’ percentage chances, in the same order, are 22, 16, 4 and 2 (equal to the Arizona Diamondbacks). He’s got Texas and Philadelphia in the World Series. Then again, last year, Bessire’s “Predictalator” had the Phillies over the Red Sox in the World Series. How’d that turn out? Giving the Dodgers and Angels such small percentages must mean something.

NL Cy Youngin’ Clayton Kershaw is back on the mound for the Dodgers in San Diego, and potential AL MVP Albert Pujols starts the real deal in Anaheim as the 2012 season begins to play out as it should — on the field. The Dodgers’ series in San Diego continues Friday (7:05 p.m., Channel 9), Saturday (5:35 p.m. Prime) and Sunday (1:05 p.m., Prime). The Angels’ series continues Saturday (1:05 p.m., Channel 11) and Sunday (12:35 p.m., FSW)

MONDAY

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(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Kansas head coach Bill Self, right, before a television interview in New Orleans on Sunday.

College basketball: Men’s NCAA national championship, New Orleans: Kentucky vs. Kansas, 6 p.m., Channel 2:

Too good to be true: “2 Broke Girls” and “Two and a Half Men” get pushed back into the CBS TV log so that two teams that deserve some prime-time exposure finish off the college basketball season. Camera 2, get a close up on Ms. Judd. Is she “Missing”? Not to mention: What makes anyone think a Wildcats’ victory won’t go missing, either. After coach John Calipari went to Final Fours with UMass and Memphis, those appearances had to be vacated.

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NHL: Kings vs. Edmonton, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

Take that 4-1 Kings’ win in Edmonton the other night as a sign they’ve got their blinders on for the final week of the season. Or, the 4-3 shootout loss to the Wild the next night that they’re getting worn down.

NBA: Clippers at Dallas, 5:30 p.m., Prime:

Are the Clippers serious contenders for the NBA title? The question was asked recently to ESPN “SportsNation,” and 79 percent of the 82,000-plus respondents said, uh, no. In California, it was up to 86 percent. Surely, Reggie Evans has a response to those numbers. The defending NBA champion Mavericks have squashed the Clippers in 10 of their last 11 meetings, including 96-92 in Dallas on Feb. 13.

MLB exhibition: Dodgers at Angels, Angel Stadium, 7:05 p.m.:

The Fake Freeway series will be more an exercise in restraint, continuing at Dodger Stadium with games Tuesday (7:10 p.m., Channel 9) and Wednesday (12:10 p.m., FSW) as Magic Johnson could be coming around to inspect the place. Then we whittle it down to the top 25 and move forward. Let’s be careful out there. The real head-to-head battles come June 11-13 (in L.A.) and June 22-24 (in the other L.A.).

TUESDAY

NBA: Lakers vs. New Jersey, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

The Nets gain from stopping here is that it’s just the third stop in a four-game West Coast swing that will be minus backup guard Jordan Farmer (Taft High, UCLA), who has a groin injury. He missed four games late last month for the same reason.

College basketball: Women’s NCAA national championship, Denver: Baylor vs. Notre Dame, 4:30 p.m., ESPN:

It’s Ladies’ Night in the Mile High City. Green formal wear requested.

Series: “Rome,” 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network:

“My brand — ranting, not pulling punches — hasn’t changed,” Rome told USA Today about his new show after an eight-year run on ESPN. “But the challenge now is that it’s such a battle to be seen and heard these days.” Especially on a network with less than half the audience as his previous employer.

WEDNESDAY

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NBA: Lakers at Clippers, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Channel 9, Prime, ESPN:

Unless the playoff produce one of the most anticipated matchups in L.A. hoops history, this is the last time Blake Griffin will have to worry about Metta World Peace knocking him down on a breakaway, Chris Paul has to be concerned about Pau Gasol patting him on the head, or Ramon Sessions and Nick Young have to meet under somewhat awkward conditions. The recent additions of those last two guards may be the only new twist on the season-long slam dance, where the teams have split the previous two meetings, each winning on their own “home” piece of court.

MLB: Opening day: St. Louis at Miami, 4 p.m,. ESPN:

How hot is it in Miami? They’ve got the hot, new unis. The hot, new stadium. The hot-headed new manager from Chicago. The hot-and-cold new shortstop who won a battle title last year in New York but took his talents elsewhere. And today, these hot-shot Marlins are playing the hot, new World Series champs, with their own new manager and without their superstar slugger. Let ‘er rip. Oh, and that video above? That’s what happens whenever Giancarlo “Mike” Stanton or one of his fishy teammates goes yard in the new Marlins Park, this giant carnival ride lights up in center field and embarrasses everyone. You go to ballparks to get away from this “Plinko” stuff. Even Flipper is rolling over in his tuna can.

THURSDAY

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MLB: Boston at Detroit, 10 a.m., ESPN2; Miami at Cincinnati, 1 p.m., ESPN2;

Bobby Valentine’s first real game skippering the Red Sox comes in Tigertown; the Marlins have to jet out of town and head to Cincy for the Reds’ season opener, which used to be the traditional first-game site until TV took over.

NHL: Kings vs. San Jose, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime:

The Kings have finished ahead of Sharks in the Pacific Division standings only once in the last 12 years, and here’s where it could get bloody. The home-and-home series against the Sharks could mean anything from the Kings winning the division to falling out of the Western Conference playoffs all together. The Kings’ 5-2 win most recently at Staples should be fresh in their helmets.

NBA: Clippers at Sacramento, 7 p.m., FSW:

The Clippers build a 19-point lead in the fourth and coasted to a 108-100 win at Sacramento in early March. About the only news that the Kings can generate is the fact their coach, Keith Smart, hit the game-winning shot for Indiana in the NCAA title game 25 years ago.

FRIDAY

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Tennis: Davis Cup quarterfinals: U.S. vs. France, first round, 4 a.m.:

U.S. captain Jim Courier has Mardy Fish, John Isner and the Bryan brothers going to the red clay courts of the Monte Carlo Country Club in Roquebrune, France to face Jo-Winfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils, Julien Benneteau and Michael Llorda. The French team is looking for a third consecutive semifinal berth. We’re just looking to see if the sun will come up before it’s over on our TV sets.

NBA: Lakers vs. Houston, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

Goran Dragic hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28 seconds left and finished with 16 points and 13 assists in the Rockets’ 107-104 comeback victory a couple of weeks ago. That, after the Lakers scored 40 points in the first quarter.

SATURDAY

NHL: Kings at San Jose, 7:30 p.m., Channel 13:

Last call: Do the Kings have their second division title in the franchise’s 44-year history? The regular season ends. Let’s evaluate.

NBA: Lakers at Phoenix, 7 p.m., Channel 9:

The two split back-to-back meetings in mid February, each winning by 12 points on their own home court. The Lakers had trailed by 27 points in the third quarter of their last Phoenix visit before making it somewhat interesting.

NBA: Clippers vs. Sacramento, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., FSW:

The back end of a home-and-home series against the Kings, last in the league in points allowed at 103.8, must look enticing.

Horse racing: Santa Anita Derby, 1:30 p.m., Channel 4:

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Bob Baffert’s recent heart attack while in Dubai made for an interesting scenarios as decisions were trying to be made if one of his Derby favorites, Bodemeister, was going to be in this $750,000 race or the one next week in Arkansas. They decided for the later, but even without Bodemeister, Baffert has three starters for the 1 1/8 mile race — Blueskiesnrainbows, Liaison and Paynter. That leaves Creative Cause (right), the winner of the San Felipe Stakes with 70-year-old trainer Mike Harrington in his barn, as the biggest name for this event. NBC’s 90-minute window will also carry the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Ashland Stakes for fillies from Keeneland (next week: The Blue Grass Stakes and Arkansas Derby). Meanwhile, TVG also has the Wood Memorial (1:30 p.m.) and the Illinois Derby (3 p.m.).

MLS: Galaxy at Kansas City, 1 p.m., ESPN:

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Benching David Beckham at halftime in last week’s loss to New England didn’t smell right — it’s something that not even Becks could make it go away with a spirtz of his own collogne. Robbie Keane, who captained the team with Landon Donovan out injured (quadriceps), demanded immediate improvement. “We did the exact same as what we have been doing in the last few games, conceding sloppy goals,” Keane said. “It is stuff you do when you are a kid. We didn’t do it properly, so I guess we have only got ourselves to blame. It will be a long week for the boys. It is up to everyone to pick their heads up and be men and get on with it. It wasn’t good enough from any of us.”

College hockey: Men’s NCAA championship in Tampa, Fla., 4 p.m., ESPN2:

In Thursday’s Frozen Four, Boston College meets University of Minnesota in one semi, with Union College of New York against Ferris State in the other. Save Ferris for the final.

SUNDAY

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Golf: The Masters, final round, 11 a.m., Channel 2:

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All it took was Tiger Woods’ victory at Arnold Palmer’s event at Bay Hill two weeks ago to launch him back to the top of the Masters leaderboard — for oddsmakers, that is. The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino Sportsbook pushed him from 7/1 to 4/1 odds after that weekend, ahead of Rory McIlroy (5/1) and Phil Mickelson (10/1). Defending champion Charl Schwartzel goes off at 35/1 for this Easter egg hunt at Augusta. There are 19 former Masters winners in the field of 97, but McIlroy (above), the 22-year-old sitting atop the world rankings, isn’t one of them. Not after what happened to him a year ago when he gave away a four-shot lead, starting with a triple-bogey 7 on No. 10, and ended up at 8-over 80 in the last round to tie for 15th at 4 under. He said he’s received some advice from Greg Norman, who has had his own heartache at Augusta. “He told me about creating this little bubble around myself in the week of the tournament. You don’t read magazines, or newspapers and you don’t watch TV. You just try and separate yourself from everything and focus on the task in hand, which is the golf.” Sounds as easy as finding colored hard-boiled eggs with a blindfold. CBS has Saturday’s third round (12:30 p.m., Channel 2) while ESPN has the first two rounds Thursday and Friday (noon to 4:30 p.m.). Golf Channel’s key live Masters coverage happens on Saturday (6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.) and Sunday (4 to 6 p.m.). ESPN also has the Par 3 contest live Wednesday (noon).

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