Play It Forward: Dec. 17-23

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

The Clippers’ Eric Bledsoe and Lamar Odom battle Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings for a loose ball last Saturday. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

NBA: Clippers vs. New Orleans, Staples Center, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. , Prime:
A nine-game winning streak got your attention yet? “We are playing with a lot of confidence right now and we are trying to make sure that we continue to play the game the right way,” said Clippers guard Chris Paul after last Saturday’s win in Milwaukee. “We understand at some point we will lose again. Right now we are very focused.” The Clippers’ latest roll – the longest since the franchise moved from Buffalo to San Diego way back when — actually started after a 105-98 loss to the Hornets in New Orleans on Nov. 26, which had been their fourth straight defeat. Play along and assume the Clippers’ win streak will hit 10 tonight in Detroit (4:30 p.m., Prime) before the rematch with the Hornets. It could easily be 13 by the time they finish off Sacramento (Friday, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., Prime) and then go to Phoenix (Sunday, 5 p.m., Prime), the way bench players like Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom are playing. “When we play defense and we share the ball, you know what I’m saying, and with the firepower we have, we’re threats.” Odom said. “When they look at the basket, I mean, (shakes his head) we can compete at a high level.”

THE BEST OF THE REST …

MONDAY

NFL Week 15: N.Y. Jets at Tennessee, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
The Jets (6-7) are a game out of the AFC’s sixth and final playoff seed and finish against three teams with losing records starting with the Titans (4-9). “We’re not really thinking about the playoffs right now,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “We’re just trying to string together a couple of wins.”

TUESDAY

NBA: Lakers vs. Charlotte, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Pay no attention to the Bobcats’ current 11-game losing streak. They always give the Lakers problems.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Long Beach State, Pauley Pavilion, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
The 7-3 Bruins have already recorded victories over Big West schools UCI and CSUN, but have the stain of that one embarrassing loss to Cal Poly – the only conference’s win this season over a then-AP Top 25 team. The 49ers (4-6) do have one victory over the Bruins in 12 previous meetings – by 11 points back in 2009, the season when UCLA went 14-18. The Bruins finish the week at home against Fresno State (Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network).

WEDNESDAY

NBA: Brooklyn at New York, 4 p.m., ESPN:
They’ve already played each other twice — a Nets’ 96-89 OT win on Nov. 26, and a Knicks’ 100-93 win at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 11, where Carmelo Anthony had 45 points. Spike Lee, a Brooklyn guy and a Knicks fan, said during an interview on that telecast: “No amount of money would make me leave the orange and blue.”

2012 MISS UNIVERSE COMPETITION: 8 p.m., Channel 4:
The TV guide lists it this way: “Women vie for the crown.” That’s hardly the best way to describe the methods by which 89 entrants, including Miss USA entrant Olivia Culpo, the 20-year-old junior at Boston University who is the reigning Miss Rhode Island, will attempt to win this reality show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. No hair pulling, right?

THURSDAY

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: USC vs. UC Irvine, Galen Center, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
The 4-6 Trojans, who crushed the Big West’s UC Riverside last weekend, have also routed Long Beach State by 18 points in mid-November. USC finishes the week with a strange trip to Georgia (Saturday, 10:30 a.m., ESPN3).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego: BYU vs. San Diego State, 5 p.m., ESPN:
Matching up the now-independent Cougars (7-5) against the Mountain West Conference-soon-going-to the Big East Aztecs (9-3) on SDSU’s home field is a matchup inspired by the rivalry they once had playing each other on a regular basis. BYU leads the overall series (27-7-1) but is also 9-1 in the last 10 meetings, including five straight wins.

FRIDAY

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Cal State Northridge at Utah, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
The 7-3 Matadors, still sporting the best record in the Big West, will have had 10 days off before facing visiting San Diego Christian (Tuesday, 7 p.m.). Their meeting with the Utes is their third game against a Pac-12 opponent this season, following a 26-point loss at UCLA and an 11-point defeat at Arizona State.

SATURDAY

NBA: Lakers at Golden State, 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet
Pau Gasol now targets this game as the one when he’ll likely test his painful knees. The true warrior that he is, Gasol will be needed against these Warriors that have held their ground in the Pacific Division. But it could also begin the audition process if the Lakers decide to trade Gasol, something rumored to be in the makings, with Utah’s Paul Millsap  – assuming his trade value hold something.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Las Vegas Bowl: Washington vs. Boise State,  12:30 p.m., ESPN:
The Pac-12’s Huskies (7-5), who had wins over ranked opponents like Stanford and Oregon State but then fumbled away their last game to rival Washington State, draw a nice venue and a respectable Top 20 opponent (10-2). And by the way, they’ll also play each other to start the 2013 season. We purposely skipped mentioning today’s East Carolina-Louisiana Lafayette matchup in the New Orleans Bowl (9 a.m., ESPN) for fear of making you believe it actually mattered.

NFL Week 16: Atlanta at Detroit, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
No more Thursday games for the last two weeks of the regular season, but there is that delightful Falcons-Lions matchup on Saturday sure to be watched at many an office Christmas party.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Kansas at Ohio State, Saturday, 1 p.m., Channel 2; Illinois at Missouri, 3 p.m., ESPN2:
It’s far from March Madness, but these two are too tough to overlook at scene-setters.

SUNDAY

NFL Week 16: San Francisco at Seattle, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4; San Diego at N.Y. Jets, 10 a.m., Channel 2; N.Y. Giants at Baltimore, 1:25 p.m., Channel 11; New Orleans at Dallas, 10 a.m., Channel 11:
NBC swapped out the originally-scheduled Chargers-Jets contest for prime-time Sunday and secured an appearance by the 49ers for the second week in a row. What’s the deal? Harbaugh vs. Carroll, for one.

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