Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
Clippers at Miami, Friday at 4 p.m., ESPN, Prime;
Lakers at Miami, Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Channel 7:
Even if you can’t stand the Heat, it’s time to get into their kitchen.
The reigning champs of South Muscle Beach get two burners full of L.A. in less than 48 hours in what could be another one of those boiling points in the regular season, just as the Grammy-banishment grind is almost over for both the Clippers and Lakers.
The Clippers’ 107-100 triumph over Miami at Staples Center back on Nov. 14 was only their eighth game of the season, but it was definitely a launching point in their confidence. Chris Paul actually played – 16 points, 10 assists and four steals, to compliment Blake Griffin (20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists) and Jamal Crawford (22 points). LeBron James (30 points, seven assists, five rebounds) was the only Heat player with any impact — Dwayne Wade was 2-for-10 shooting with six points and six assists, and Chris Bosh was 3-for-13 shooting.
The Lakers’ 99-90 loss to the Heat about two weeks ago gave them a taste that they could be on the right track – until Miami scored the game’s last nine points. Sound familiar? James had 39, Wade scored 27 and Ray Allen had seven of his nine points in the last five minutes. “I thought we played well enough to beat them,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “That’s a championship team. They turned on all the juices, so it’s a good measuring stick.” And that was with Kobe Bryant scoring 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, and logging just one assist, making just eight of 25 shots. The only Lakers starter that day with a positive on the plus/minus scale was center Dwight Howard (13 points, 16 rebounds, and 5-of-13 at the line), who may not even be up for playing in this one. If not, then it’s Pau Gasol’s starting job to shoulder for awhile.
BEST OF THE REST:
NBA: Clippers at Washington, 4 p.m., Prime:
The beers served at the White House Super Bowl party on Sunday were San Fran’s Anchor Steam and Baltimore’s Clipper City. That’s as close as these Clips will get to the White House in awhile.
NBA: Lakers at Brooklyn, 4:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
The Net gain this time: Avoiding Jersey.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Letter of Intent Day:
Plenty of upside just in making sure there’s quick-dry ink used when the kids from the local high school football programs have their first opportunity to officially commit to college programs. Several media sources will have continuous coverage online – including this paper. There will also be specials on Fox Sports West (4:30 p.m.), the Pac-12 Network (5 p.m.), ESPNU (starting at 6 a.m.) and CBS Sports Net (1 p.m.). Several dozen of the top recruits still have not announced their decisions and will do so live on some of these shows, for added drama. And then there’s drama in whether USC will lose more five-star players weary of Lane Kiffin, and how UCLA will benefit from its recent success under Jim Mora.
NBA: Clippers at Orlando, 4 p.m., Prime:
Nick Vucevic, in his first year out of USC, not only leads the Magic in rebounds at 11.3, but he’s fifth in the league, only 0.6 behind leader Dwight Howard.
NBA: Lakers at Boston, 5 p.m., TNT:
Yes, the Celtics are in the eight hole for the Eastern Conference, thanks to a four-game win streak last week, even without Rajon Rondo.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Washington, Pauley Pavilion, 6 p.m., ESPN; USC vs. Washington State, Galen Center, 8:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
Which team can pry themselves out of the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 this weekend? The Bruins (16-6, 6-3), losers in three of their last four but with a victory over then-No. 8 Arizona during that stretch, keep hinting that they’ll step up into the Top 25, but then they stumble two steps back. Like in their OT loss to the Trojans (9-13, 4-5), a team no one seems to want to play these days under interim coach Bob Cantu. Washington (13-9, 5-4) started 5-0 in the conference but just ended a four-game losing streak by outlasting Arizona State on Saturday. Junior C.J. Wilcox (18.2 points a game) was just 6-for-27 shooting during the two home games against the Arizona schools. Before the Huskies head back home, they have to wait around until Sunday to play at USC (7 p.m., FSW).
GOLF: PGA AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, first round, Golf Channel:
Phil Mickelson shot a 64 in the final round last year and made up eight strokes to win this for his 40th career Tour victory. Tiger Woods shot a 75 and dropped from third to a tie for 15th. Mickelson returns; Woods does not.
And then there’s Bill Murray, Ray Romano, Tony Romo, Justin Verlander, Kelly Slater, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Roddick, Bill Belichick, Chris Berman, Chris O’Donnell, Huey Lewis, Andy Garcia and Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly littering the field from the amateur side at the Pebble Beach Golf Links (par 72), Spyglass (par 72) and the Monterey Peninsula Shore Course (par 70). Golf Channel has the first two rounds noon-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and parts of the last two rounds from 10-to-11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. CBS has the last two rounds noon-3 p.m. Saturday and noon-3:30 p.m. Sunday.
COLLEGE HOCKEY: Pac-8 Conference post-season tournament, Anaheim: USC vs. UCLA, 7:30 p.m.:
The fourth-seeded Bruins (6-6-0, 12 points), who have already defeated their cross-town rival this season, meet the sixth-seeded Trojans (3-7-1, 7 points) in the round-robin event that puts them both into the same bracket as top-seeded Utah (10-1-1). UCLA opens against Utah (Friday, 10 a.m.), then USC faces the Utes (Saturday, 2 p.m.). The winners of each pool play in the championship Sunday at noon at The Rinks-Anaheim Ice facility. Oregon, Cal and Washington are in the other pool. More info: http://PAC8Hockey.com/Playoffs
NBA: Lakers at Charlotte, 4 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
The Lakers’ 101-100 over the the Hornets earlier this year is more an indication of how tough Charlotte always plays this team. Even then, the Hornets’ 11 wins to date are four more than they had in the 66-game abbreviated season.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Long Beach State at Cal State Northridge, 7 p.m.:
In the latest “bracketology” exercise by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the 49ers (13-8, 9-1) are a 15th seed in the South region opening up against second-seeded Gonzaga – if the tournament were to start today. Long Beach ran off with a 78-69 win over the Matadors (12-11, 3-8) on Jan. 9, part of CSUN’s seven-game losing streak to open Big West play. But the 49ers may have some jet lag in having to play a game at Hawaii (9 p.m., Thursday) before coming back for this one. CSUN plays host to UC Irvine (12-11, 6-4) on Thursday.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Washington State, Pauley Pavilion, 7 p.m., Pac-12 Network:
WSU (11-11, 2-7) are 270th in the nation in points scored (63.5) and 273rd in assists a game (11.2) despite the presence of 6-foot-10 Aussie senior forward Brock Motum (team bests 18.3 points a game and 6.7 rebounds a game).
WOMEN’S COLLEGE LACROSSE: USC vs. Northwestern, Coliseum, Saturday at 3 p.m.:
The Women of Troy launch a new stick-and-ball sport, committing to an 18-game schedule that takes it to the big house. Sunday, USC goes back to its traditional McAlister Field to face UMass. On Friday, Northwestern and UMass meet at McAlister Field to show how it’s done.
NHL: Kings at Detroit, 10:30 a.m., Channel 4:
Funny how these two managed to avoid each other in last year’s playoffs, especially when the Kings were knocking off the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the Western Conference. That’s because the fifth-seeded Red Wings, who had eight more wins than the Kings, somehow were taken down in five by Nashville in the first round, and then Predators were pulverized by Phoenix in round two. Detroit crushed the Kings and Jonathan Quick by scores of 8-2, 4-2 and 4-1 last season before the Kings finally beat them, 5-2, late in March, when it counted most.
The Kings’ Grammy trip, already tarnished by the loss in Anaheim, continues in Columbus (Tuesday, 4 p.m.) and Nashville (Thursday, 5 p.m.) before this one on national TV.
NBA: Clippers at New York, 10 a.m., Channel 7:
Gotta admire Amar’e Stoudemire’s come back to date. He had 21 points in 21 minutes off the bench in the Knicks’ win over Sacramento the other night, hit all 10 shots. “The game is becoming easy,” Stoudemire said. “Players are having a hard time figuring out how to play me in the post.” He’s also made 52 of 77 shots in his last eight games.
PRO BULL RIDING: Liftmaster Invitational, Honda Center in Anaheim, final round, 2 p.m.:
It’s not the kind of event where the Honda Center operators can squeeze a Ducks game in between shows. Brazil’s Guilherme Marchi won this thing, and about $43,000, a year ago on top of a bull called Too Sexy. The prelims are at 8 p.m. Friday and 6:50 p.m. Saturday.