Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
NHL: Kings vs. Ducks, 7:30 p.m. tonight, Staples Center, FSW, Prime:
For the Kings’ latest three-game win streak to really translate to anything, it’ll take a continued run of success at home during a favorable schedule stretch. Almost back in the all-too-familiar No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, the Kings (8-6-2) don’t have to go back very far to remember why the Ducks (13-2-1) are near the top of the conference standings, and leading the Pacific Division. During a 7-4 win over the Kings on Feb. 2 in Anaheim, Nick Bonino chased Kings goalie Jonathan Quick with two goals in the first six minutes, and he finished his hat trick against Jonathan Bernier. This, from a guy who scored just six goals in his first 91 NHL games over four seasons. And in the nine games since facing the Kings, Bonino has managed just one assist. Yet, the Ducks have rattled off a six-game win streak.
BEST OF THE REST:
NBA: Lakers at Denver, 6 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
One game back of that magic .500 mark. Who’d ever thought the Lakers would be celebrating this possible achievement. Here’s an opportunity to start picking off teams ahead of them in the Western Conference — i.e., those who are in the top 8 and playoff bound. The Nuggets, a ridiculous 23-3 at home (matching Miami, and better than San Antonio’s 22-2) average 105 points a game (third in the league) and 45 rebounds a contest (second best). Their problem is keeping opponents under 100 points – they gave the Lakers 114 of ‘em in their last meeting in the Mile High City on the day after Christmas. But then, they also scored 126 to win.
EXHIBITION BASEBALL: Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs in Glendale, Ariz., noon, Prime:
Vin Scully, in his first of six Cactus League calls, not worrying if Mike Piazza is listening. The 85-year-old Hall of Famer also has the Dodgers-Angels game Thursday (noon, Prime ). The Angels and Dodgers also play Friday ( noon, FSW).
NBA: Clippers vs. Charlotte, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, Prime:
At 13-43, the Hornets are a) the worst team in the NBA with a .232 winning percentage, b) a league-worst minus-9.2 in the differential between average points scored vs. average points allowed, or c) at least doing better than the 7-59 performance from a year ago, giving Michael Jordan reason to be optimistic. The answer: All of the above. Except for that Jordan part.
NHL: Kings vs. Detroit, 7 p.m., Staples Center, NBC Sports Network:
Most Kings players agree their 3-2 loss at Detroit recently turned their attitude around. Since then, they’ve won five of six.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: USC vs. Arizona, 6:30 p.m., Galen Center, Pac-12 Network; UCLA vs. Arizona State, 8:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Pac-12 Network:
The Trojans lost to the Wildcats by 24 points in their previous meeting, shooting just 28 percent after starting the game with a conference-best 46.5 shooting percentage.
NBA: Lakers vs. Minnesota, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, TNT:
The T-wolves’ Kevin Love said recently he plans to meet with doctors for another examination on his surgically repaired hand soon, and maybe coming back to play in 15-to-20 games this season. Just not in this one.
NBA: Clippers at Indiana, 4 p.m. Prime:
First of a back-to-back that finishes in Cleveland (Friday, 4:30 p.m., Prime).
BASEBALL: World Baseball Classic, opening games in Fukuoka, Japan and Taichung, Taiwan, MLB Network:
“This is going to be the biggest World Baseball Classic we’ve had,” said MLB commissioner Bud Selig about the 39-game tournament that starts with Pool B host Chinese Taipei takes on Australia (7:30 p.m. tonight) before meeting Korea and the Netherlands. Two-time defending champion Japan opening against the Barry Larkin-managed Brazil (2 a.m. Saturday). That’s Pool A, which also has Cuba and China. The American team, in Pool D with Mexico, Canada and Italy, doesn’t start until March 8-10 weekend in Phoenix. Puerto Rico hosts Pool C with Spain, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. It all funnels into the championship in San Francisco on March 19.
HORSE RACING: $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, post time TBA, Santa Anita Race Track, TVG, HRTV:
If Big Cap ’12 winner Ron The Greek was put on the same track with Big Cap ’11 winner Game On Dude, what would happen? Time to find out. For the first time in the race’s 76 running, the two previous champs are on track to meet in the 10 furlong event for older horses. Bob Baffert’s 6-year-old Game On Dude, who won the San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 3, didn’t run in this race a year ago. We still remember Game On Dude as the favorite in last November’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, only to finish seventh – the first time he ever lost at Santa Anita. “It was probably the worst day of his life,” said Baffert after that race. Bill Mott’s 6-year-old Ron The Greek started his 2013 season with an 11 1/4 –length win over 1-5 favorite Mucho Macho Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 19. John Henry was the first two-time winner of this event (1981-’82) and Lava Man was the last (2006-07) but none has won it after taking a year off in between.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA vs. Arizona, 6 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, ESPN:
The Bruins’ surprisingly easy 84-73 victory over the then-No. 6 Wildcats on their home court on Jan. 24 seemed to make a statement in the Pac-12 hierarchy. UCLA made eight of its first 12 shots, raced to a 19-3 lead in the first seven minutes, stayed composed when Arizona mounted a comeback to pull within four, then put it away behind Shabazz Muhammad’s 23 points. Arizona’s self-inflicted wound was shooting just 5-for-24 from 3-point range. Then the Bruins lost back-to-back games against Arizona State and USC. UCLA’s last home game of the season also brings out ESPN’s College GameDay studio show. Leading into this one: USC hosting Arizona State (noon, Galen Center, FSW).
NHL: Kings at Vancouver, 7 p.m., FSW:
The Kings were less than a minute away from a loss until Slava Voynov tied it in regulation and Jeff Carter scored the only goal against Roberto Luongo in the shootout on Jan. 28.
MLS: Galaxy vs. Chicago, 2 p.m., Home Depot Center, Univision:
The 2013 opener for the defending champions it the earliest it’s ever been in the franchise’ history, and a wake-up call for coach Bruce Arena as he tries to figure out how best to move forward without David Beckham. Also missing for at least the first two months will be Landon Donovan as he continues to chill out and then get back in shape. That leaves Mike Magee working with Robbie Keane as the spotlight players for a while. The 34-game season won’t resume until March 17 against Chivas USA since there’s a home-and-home against Costa Rica’s Herdiano in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal.
NBA: Clippers vs. Oklahoma City, 12:30 p.m., Staples Center, Channel 7:
The schedule says this is their last regular-season meeting. Playoffs are another story. OKC won by 12 in the last face off on Jan. 22, as Kevin Durant had 32 and Russell Westbrook scored 26 against the Chris Paul-deficient Clippers. Blake Griffin had 32 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. The Thunder’s win in L.A. was their first after losing four in a row.
NBA: Lakers vs. Atlanta, 6:30 p.m., Staples Center, TWC SportsNet:
Can’t remember the last time the Lakers were part of a Staples Center Sunday day-night doubleheader with the Clippers — and not the national telecast.