Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
STAPLES CENTER CHRISTMAS DAY DOUBLEHEADER:
Lakers vs. New York, Tuesday, noon, Channel 7
Clippers vs. Denver, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, Prime:
So who’s the lucky group of employees on the schedule to have to leave home early on Christmas Day, open up the downtown arena bright and early to let the Lakers in, change out all the hardwood in the late afternoon, then come back around midnight to make sure it’s all locked up after the Clippers are finished?
A year ago, the league had to use this Christmas Day event as its regular-season launch party following months of labor unrest. The Lakers lost by a point to the Bulls, and the Clippers, in Chris Paul’s debut, had a 19-point win at Golden State.
Since the NBA started doing Christmas Day games in 1947, the Knicks have actually made the most of it, with 47 appearances. Despite a sub-.500 record (22-25) on the holiday, New York still has the most victories on this day. Kobe Bryant has the honor/annoyance of having played in a record 14 Christmas Day games – with the Lakers losing nine of them. But considering how the Lakers performed in Steve Nash’s return from a broken leg on Saturday, this could be a game where the Lakers, on a four-game win streak, actually reach the .500 mark. They’ve only been even or one game over .500 four times this season. Steve Nash’s return from his broken leg last Saturday at Golden State takes the surprise away about how the Lakers may operate in this new offense under coach Mike D’Antoni. The Clippers and their 13-game winning streak will be the talk of the nightcap, with Billy Crystal expected to slide out of his courtside seat at some point and join Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy at their midcourt broadcast table to comment on how things transpire.
BEST OF THE REST …
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu: Fresno State vs. SMU, 5 p.m., ESPN:
SMU has to travel the farthest to get to their bowl-game destination of any school this post season. And it’l be worth it.
NBA: Boston at Brooklyn, 9 a.m., ESPN; Oklahoma City at Miami, 2:30 p.m., Channel 7, Houston at Chicago, 5 p.m., ESPN:
In the rematch of last year’s NBA finalists, LeBron James continues a strange streak of not having a foul called on him for six straight games.
NBA: Lakers at Denver, 6 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
In their previous meeting on Nov. 30, the Lakers scored a season-high 122 points and won by nine at home, tying a franchise record with 17 3-pointers. Sixty one points came off the bench.
HORSE RACING: Santa Anita winter-spring meeting opening day, noon:
A hooded-sweatshirt and wall calendar giveaways seem practical on the first day of the meet that goes through to April 21.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Holiday Bowl in San Diego: UCLA vs. Baylor, 6:45 p.m., ESPN:
The bare facts are that the Bruins and Bears have never meet on the football field before, and this arrangement not too far from the San Diego Zoo should have some teeth. If UCLA is able to lock in its 10th victory for coach Jim Mora, it’ll be with a stepped-up defense (and one that’s without now-suspended defensive back Tevin McDonald). Baylor (7-5) has an total offense that ranks first in the nation, averaging 44.1 points a game with quarterback Nick Florence (387.7 yard a game in total offense, throwing 31 TDs) and receiver Terrance Williams (1,764 yards, 13 TDs), plus running back Lache Seastrunk who has 693 yards rushing the last five games and has already proclaimed his candidacy for the 2013 Heisman Trophy. ESPN has Dave Pasch, Brian Griese and Jenn Brown on the call.
NBA: Clippers vs. Boston, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TNT: schedule last season, and the Celtics won by nine at Staples Center, even though the Clippers outrebounded them by nine.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Missouri, Pauley Pavilion, 7 p.m., ESPN2:
The 9-3 Bruins have won four in a row but face the 12th-ranked Tigers (10-1), who now have Oregon transfer Jabari Brown eligible to play. He had 18 points and seven rebounds in his first start Saturday against Illinois. After this, Pac-12 play starts next week.
NBA: Lakers vs. Portland, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Blazers guard Damian Lillard (18.8 points, 6.5 assists) continues to lead the league in early Rookie of the Year chatter. He had 23 and 11 in the Blazers’ 10 point win over the Lakers on Oct. 31.
NBA: Clippers at Utah, 6 p.m., Prime:
For the sequel, the two meet at Staples Center on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. (Prime).
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Cal State Northridge at Hawaii, 9:30 p.m.:
The Matadors start the 18-game Big West schedule with the ultimate roadie. Hawaii travels to CSUN to finish off the regular season, then sticks around for the conference tournament. Long Beach State also has its conference opener Saturday against Pacific (the Pyramid, 4 p.m.).
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Kentucky at Louisville, 1 p.m., Channel 2:
The defending champion Wildcats (8-3), who recently fell out of the AP Top 25, have won the last four meeting in a row against the No. 5 Cardinals (11-1), including last March at the NCAA Final Four with a 69-61 conquest, after a 69-62 regular-season win in Lexington. Kentucky leads the all-time series in the Battle for the Bluegrass, 30-14.
UFC 155: Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez II, from Las Vegas, 7 p.m., pay per view:
Dos Santos scored the 64-second knockout over Velasquez in their first matchup to take the heavyweight championship from him.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco: Arizona State vs. Navy, 1 p.m., ESPN2; Alamo Bowl: Oregon State vs. Texas, Saturday, 3:45 p.m., ESPN:
Fighting hunger continues to be a good thing, and a noble cause, for a bowl game. Filling out the rest of the day: Armed Forces Bowl (8:45 a.m. ESPN), Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (12:15 p.m., ESPN), Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (7:15 p.m., ESPN)
NFL WEEK 17: Dallas at Washington, 5:20 p.m., Channel 4; Green Bay at Minnesota, 1:25 p.m.; Chicago at Detroit, 10 a.m.; St. Louis at Seattle, 1:25 p.m.; Oakland at San Diego, 1:25 p.m.:
On the final day of the regular season, the Cowboys-Redskins game moves to prime time because of the playoff ramifications. Still, there’s that Oakland-San Diego game we’re curious about, to see who could possibly fall farther in the AFC West.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: USC vs. Dayton, Galen Center, 4 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
The Trojans (4-8) have lost seven of their last eight while Dayton (9-3) has been pushed by senior guard Kevin Dillard (a team best 15.4 points and 4.6 assists a game).