Play It Forward: Dec. 31-Jan. 6

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is surrounded by the Clippers — and former teammates — Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom during their first meeting of the season on Nov. 2. (AP Photo)

NBA: Lakers at Clippers, Staples Center, Friday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN, Prime, TWC SportsNet:
Magic Johnson saw the Clippers playing on Christmas Day and . . . thought he’d seen a magic act. “I thought I would never, ever see ‘Showtime’ again,” the Lakers’ Hall of Famer said on the set of the ESPN halftime show during the Clippers-Denver game on Dec. 25, having just watched the Clippers score 42 points in the second quarter to take a 67-48 lead, highlighted by driving dunks by Blake Griffin and Matt Barnes, alley-oop dunks by Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and back-to-back 3 pointers by Barnes and Chris Paul. “I was the architect of ‘Showtime’,” Johnson reminded us. “The Clippers? That’s ‘Showtime’.”
And as for the Lakers? It’s time to show what they’ve learned in the second meeting of the four scheduled this regular season between the Staples Center tenants.

Clippers forward Caron Butler reacts after scoring as time expired in the first half against the Lakers on Nov. 2. (AP Images)

After the Lakers absorbed a 105-95 loss to the Clippers on Nov. 2, then-coach Mike Brown was trying to explain why his 0-3 team needed Kobe Bryant to play 43 minutes on a bruised foot, because the 40 points he scored at least made it close. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro couldn’t make any assessment of which team was better. “It’s too early to tell anything yet, other than we have to keep getting better.”
The Clippers have been much better – the league’s best record to date – while the 15-15 Lakers would not be in the playoffs if they started today.
After this, the two will get together again on Valentine’s Day, then on April 7. Let’s not even assume both will be playoff bound yet.

BEST OF THE REST:

MONDAY

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex.: USC vs. Georgia Tech, 11 a.m., Channel 2:
“What the hell is the Hyundai Sun Bowl, and what is USC doing in it?” sports talk host Jay Mohr asked the other day. “When I think of USC, I think of Mercedes and Cadillacs, not Hyundais.” Stupid us, we thought John Hancock still sponsored it. Petros Papadakis, the former USC tailback and afternoon talk show host, suggested on the air recently that the school might want to hire some grief counselors to get this current squad through its post-season depression. Matt Barkley is going with the sore shoulder excuse to avoid playing in this one, so it’s Max Wittek’s responsibility to run a Trojan team trying to avoid a 7-6 final-season record against a 6-7 Ramblin’ Wreck squad that fits its nickname.

USC lineman David Garness gets help from a Lucchese Boots sales associate to take off a tight pair of boots when the team visited the Starr Western Wear in El Paso on Saturday to buy boots, hats and other western wear as part of the Sun Bowl. (AP Photo/El Paso Times, Victor Calzada)

No wonder that many USC fans even interested in attending are flying in this morning and then leaving right afterward to celebrate New Year’s Eve at home. It’s up to Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Tracy Wolfson to make it compelling for the TV viewers. For USC alums looking for a place to watch the game together, there’s a gathering at (seriously) Big Wangs (801 S. Grand Ave., L.A.). Doors open at 10:30 a.m. with happy hour drink specials. Maybe you can go down the street to the chicken sandwich shop later to watch the Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Clemson vs. LSU, 4:30 p.m., ESPN).

TUESDAY

COLLEGE FOOTBALL:  The 99th Rose Bowl in Pasadena: Stanford vs. Wisconsin, 2 p.m., ESPN; The 79th Orange Bowl in Miami: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
Wisconsin’s goal: Avoid being the first team since Michigan in the late ’70s to lose three straight Rose Bowls. And for Northern Illinois: Pretend you deserve a New Year’s Day bowl appearance that isn’t related to something in the backwaters of Florida. For those who need more, the day begins with four games going on at once — The Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. (South Carolina vs. Michigan, 10 a.m., ESPN) goes head-to-head with the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (Georgia vs. Nebraska, 10 a.m., Channel 7), right after the kickoffs of the Heart of Dallas Bowl (Purdue vs. Oklahoma State, 9 a.m., ESPNU) and Gator Bowl (Mississippi State vs. Northwestern, 9 a.m., ESPN2).

NBA: Clippers at Denver, 6 p.m., Prime; Lakers vs. Philadelphia, Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
You mean that the Clippers and Lakers have to play on New Year’s Day, too? Do they get triple-time pay for holidays?

WEDNESDAY

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The 79th Sugar Bowl in New Orleans: Louisville vs. Florida, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
The Cardinals’ last game before splitting from the Big East is in the Big Easy. “I don’t think a lot of people give the Big East enough credit,” Louisville center Mario Benavides said. “Florida’s got a top defense, but we’re not playing cupcakes.” Except that Louisville didn’t face a ranked team this year and was the only Big East program ranked in the top 25 of the BCS standings at the end of the regular season.

NBA: Clippers at Golden State, 7:30 p.m., Prime:
And then these two come back to Staples Center to play again on Saturday (7:30 p.m, Prime).

THURSDAY

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Cal, Pauley Pavilion, 8 p.m., FSW; USC vs. Stanford, Galen Center, 7 p.m., ESPNU:
The Bruins’ something of a statement victory over Missouri last week could set the tone for how it attacks the Pac-12 opening weekend. Cal (8-4), coming off a home loss to Harvard, should be a handful with 6-6 junior guard Allen Crabbe, first-team All-Pac-12 last season and the 2010 state prep player of the year while at L.A.’s Price High School. He has already improved his scoring average to 20.9 points a game (best in the conference and 12th in the nation) with 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Cal State Northridge vs. UC Riverside, Matadome, 7 p.m.:
The 9-4 Matadors try to get their mainland bearing back after losing the Big West Conference opener in Hawaii this past weekend. They’ll also host Cal State Fullerton this week (Saturday, 7 p.m.)

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The 42nd Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.: Oregon vs. Kansas State, 5:30 p.m., ESPN:
Aside from the outcome of the Jan. 7 BCS title game between Notre Dame and Alabama, we’re led to believe that this Fiesta feud between the BCS’ No. 4 Ducks (11-1) and No. 5 Wildcats (11-1) could get even wilder. Even wilder than the new helmets Oregon plans to break out for this one. And does Ducks coach Chip Kelly get to the post-game conference before some NFL team rings him up on the sideline asking about his availability?

FRIDAY

GOLF: PGA Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Kapalua, Hawaii: Opening round, noon, Golf Channel:
The 2013 our opener in Maui heads to the Plantation Course and stays through Monday to finish it up. This can only mean: Two more weeks before the tour lands in Palm Springs, and six weeks before it’s at Riviera Country Club in the Palisades.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The 77th Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Tex.: Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma, 5 p.m., Channel 11:
Heisman winner Johnny Manziel working against the Sooners’ defense is another worth putting on the DVR.

SATURDAY

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Stanford, Pauley Pavilion, noon, Pac-12 Network; USC vs. Cal, Galen Center, 8 p.m., FSW:
Stanford, coming into the week 9-4, has gotten five games of 20 or more points from 6-10 junior Dwight Powell, and five games with 10 or more rebounds, but never in the same contest.

NFL PLAYOFFS: Cincinnati at Houston, 1:30 p.m., Channel 4; Minnesota at Green Bay, 5 p.m., Channel 4:
It’s one thing for Minnesota’s Blair Walsh to hit a game-winning field goal against Green Bay on the last play of the regular season in the climate-controlled fake turf of the home Metrodome.  It’ll be another if he’s asked to do the same this time at Lambeau Field, perhaps in the snow, in a rematch of the sixth-seeded Vikings against the third-seeded Packers on wild-card weekend. The Pack, which failed to lock in a bye week with the loss, can look back at that controversial replacement official “Fail Mary” loss in Seattle in Week 3 as something to ponder, right?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: BBVA Compass Bowl: Mississippi vs. Pittsburgh, 10 am., ESPN:
We’re only obligated to warn you this game will be on TV in case you are at the gym and see this on the screen and believe it to be worth watching.

SUNDAY

NBA: Lakers vs. Denver, Staples Center, 6:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Dwight Howard vs. Kenneth Faried, Round 2. How much more flagrant can this get?

NFL PLAYOFFS: Indianapolis at Baltimore, 10 a.m., Channel 2; Seattle at Washington, 1:30 p.m., Channel 11:
The inspired (and one-time Baltimore resident) Colts come in with head coach Chuck Pagano, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, battling leukemia and returning to the sideline to lead a remarkable victory over former top-seed Houston on the last day of the regular season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: GoDaddy.com Bowl: Arkansas State vs. Kent State, 6 p.m., ESPN:
Go, Daddy-o, far, far away from this game, and don’t look back.

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