Play It Forward: March 11-17 — the Pac-12 tries to avoid a Vegas hangover; the L.A. Marathon and Dwight returns to Orlando

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


MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas:
UCLA vs. Stanford or Arizona State, noon Thursday, Pac-12 Network
USC vs. Utah, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Pac-12 Network:
Without any hocus pocus, “The Incredible Shabazz Muhammad” takes center stage off the Las Vegas Strip — in the UCLA freshman’s hometown, mind you — as the Pac-12 looks for a little smoke and mirrors in trying to qualify more than a couple teams for the NCAA Tournament. Certified bubble-tologists insist that the teams finishing 1-through-5 in the regular season — UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Cal and Colorado — have the strongest cases to advance past this inaugural Cirque de Larry Scott act. No one can really tell – not even Penn & Teller – if that number will hold up after the four days of games at the MGM. Tell that to No. 7 seed USC.
The problem here is that the Pac-12 marketing department has created a hook for this event: “What happens here, makes the highlight reel.” We see what you did there. How will that affect the way the freshman Muhammad decides to push the top-seeded Bruins into the Big Dance without compromising his own highlights? It was pointed out during UCLA’s win over Washington in the regular-season finale that Muhammad had a total of 24 assists in the 28 games he played in – this on a team that was sixth in the nation with an average of 17 a game. He also took a team-high 381 shots in 825 minutes – almost one every 30 seconds. “So he’s a tad selfish,” said CBS game analyst Doug Gottlieb, who led the NCAA in assists during his junior  year at Oklahoma State, “but guess what? He’s also super smart. . . This guy knows how to score buckets. He understands how to read the defense and he reacts accordingly.”
Other opening round games Wednesday:
=Stanford vs. Arizona State, noon, Pac-12 Net
=Colorado vs. Oregon State, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
=Washington vs. Washington St., 8:30 p.m., Prime Ticket
Other second-round games Thursday:
=Arizona vs. Colorado/Oregon State, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
=Cal vs. USC/Utah, 2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Net
=Oregon vs. Washington/WSU, 8:30 p.m., ESPNU
Friday’s semifinals: 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Net) and 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Saturday’s final: 8 p.m., ESPN (not in the afternoon on CBS as it has been in the past).
If all funnels into:
MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NCAA Selection Show, Sunday at 3 p.m., Channel 2:
The road to the Georgia Dome for the 75th edition of this national title dance starts here. Harvard, Florida Gulf Coast, Liberty, Creighton and Belmont have already taken five of the 68 spots, so it won’t have to worry about scrambling to get into the 76th NIT (it starts with 32 teams on Tuesday), the College Basketball Invitational (with 16 teams) and the Tournament (with 24 more teams). Can Cal State Northridge get into one of ’em, or are the Mats even bowl eligible?



MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: West Coast Conference Tournament Final: No. 1 Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s, Orleans Arena, Las Vegas, 6 p.m., ESPN:
The WCC has pulled the Siegfried out of the hat with Gonzaga on the verge of a top seed in the West and keeping its overall No. 1 ranking should it knock off the 27-5 Gaels, whose only two conference losses have been by six and 17 points to the Zags. They’ll be playing off the Strip in their coronation event. Oh, the Zumanity. Gonzaga in the West could also keep them playing in San Jose for the first two rounds, then at Staples Center for the regional semifinals and final.


NBA:  Lakers at Orlando, 4 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Dwight Howard had to do some housekeeping last week, clarifying comments he made about once being part of the Orlando Magic, a “team full of people who nobody wanted.” Former teammates like Jameer Nelson and Rasheed Lewis rejected his comments quicker than how Howard used to wipe the glass. Howard’s return to the Unhappiest Place on Earth will surely draw an emotional response from the spectators  and Disneyworld characters.

WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC: U.S. vs. Puerto Rico, from Miami, Fla., 5 p.m., MLB Network:
In this second-round format, it’s a double elimination round to get two teams into the semifinals. The Americans moved on with Italy to be in a group with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Two of them move onto the semifinals. If the Americans win here, they face the winner of Italy-Dominican Republic on Thursday (4 p.m., MLB Net). If they lose, it’s a match up against the loser of Italy-Dominican Republic on Wednesday (4 p.m., MLB Net), then a scramble to win two more or be eliminated. The semifinals start Sunday at AT&T Park in San Francisco (6 p.m.).


NBA: Clippers vs. Memphis, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, Prime:
The Clips have already struck down the Grizzlies twice this season — by nine in the opener and by 23 on Jan. 13.

NBA: Lakers at Atlanta, 4:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
A back-to-back trip to face a team it only beat by one on March 3 after Kobe Bryant scored 11 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and hit the go-ahead layup with 9 seconds left.


NHL: Kings at San Jose, 7:30 p.m., FSW:
This is a Sharks team that started the season 7-0, then lost seven in a row, and have needed every bit of Antti Niemi’s 1.83 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in the nets to keep them near the .500 mark ever since. These two come back to Staples Center for another meeting on Saturday (7:30 p.m., FSW).

MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Big West Tournament, Honda Center, Anaheim:
Long Beach State vs. Cal State Fullerton, 6 p.m.. Prime Ticket:
Staged not too far from Disneyland, Long Beach State has the No. 1 seed but that’s no guarantee it’ll advance to the field of 68 if it somehow stumbles in the conference showcase. The semifinals are Friday (6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., ESPNU) with the final on Saturday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2)


GOLF: PGA Champions Tour Toshiba Classic, Newport Beach, first round, 5:30 p.m. (delayed), Golf Channel:
Loren Roberts conquered the Newport Beach Country Club’s high winds to win last year’s event, although Fred Couples was closing in at the end before he four-putted from 12-feet for a double bogey on the 17th hole. Still interested? Golf Channel has delayed overage each day, including at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

NBA: Lakers at Indiana, 4:30 p.m., TWC SportsNet:
Their only previous meeting: a miserable 79-77 Pacers win when George Hill arched the game-winner over Dwight Howard with 0.1 seconds left, and Kobe Bryant scored more than half his team’s points (40).


FIGURE SKATING: ISU world championships in London, Ontario, Canada: women’s free skate:
Two-time U.S. women’s champ Ashley Wagner is one of five Americans in the field here, including Arcadia’s Mirai Nagasu. Wagner was fourth in the world championships a year ago. The men’s final is Friday and might include Max Aaron (left), who played ice hockey for 14 years and was on the USA Developmental Team but tries to take his recent U.S. men’s national championship to the next level. More info at this link.



RUNNING: Los Angeles Marathon, 7 a.m., Channel 5:
In the January issue of Runner’s World magazine, the L.A. annual foot race from Dodger Stadium to the Santa Monica pier was declared the “Best Big City Race.” Even on the same day as world-class marathons in Barcelona, Seoul and Rome are taking place? Three-time Olympian Deena Kastor, the Agoura Hills legend who holds the U.S. female marathon record (2:19:36), thinks so as well. “I was on the L.A. Marathon course last year as part of the broadcast team and I was so impressed with the course and energy of the event that I knew I needed to compete.” Apart from the 2012 Olympic trials, this will be her first marathon since the birth of her daughter two years ago. They’re expecting 23,000 entrants to warm up in the Dodger Stadium outfield, then head out past Chinatown, Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, Hollywood and Vine, the Whiskey A Go-Go, Beverly Hills City Hall and Palisades Park. So what does it mean for road closures and freeway off-ramp detours? Find out here. The prerace show starts at 6 a.m., post-race show ends at 11 a.m.

NBA: Clippers vs. New York, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7:
So what NBA tier are the Clippers playing on this week? In the nick of time, the Knicks come in and give them another national matinee match in L.A. When the Clippers visited New York last month, they produced a 102-88 victory in a game where veteran Grant Hill defended Carmelo Anthony (40 points through three quarters) and held him to one basket in the final stanza. Jason Kidd was also just 1-for-4 shooting with one measly assist in 34 minutes.

NBA: Lakers vs. Sacramento, 6:30 p.m., Staples Center, TWC SportsNet:
These Kings had a game recently where Isiah Thomas (27 points), Tyreke Evans (25 points), Marcus Thornton (23 points) and DeMarcus Cousins (22 points) had 80 percent of the team’s 121 points in a win over Phoenix. Problem is, 22-42 Sactown gives up a league-worst 105 points a game.

TENNIS: ATP/WTA BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells: Women’s final, noon; men’s final, 2 p.m., ESPN2:
Roger Federer survived the first week as the defending champ, but John Isner, the top-ranked American in the field at No. 15 who dropped Novak Djokovic in last year’s semifinals, has already been ousted. Maria Sharapova is also on track for the women’s repeat, as are the top-seeded Bryan brothers in men’s doubles – a stop they’ve never won before. ESPN2, ESPNEWS and Tennis Channel combine for live and taped coverage during the week.

MLS: Galaxy vs. Chivas USA, 2 p.m., Home Depot Center, TWC SportsNet:
The Galaxy’s 16-4 lead (with six draws) in SuperClassico history shouldn’t be threatened here. The Galaxy has won seven of the last eight meetings – somehow Chivas pulled out a 1-0 win last May 19. These two meet against June 23 and Oct. 6. The Galaxy’s warmup for this is the back end of a home-and-home CONCACAF Champions League game against Herediano (7 p.m. Tuesday, Home Depot Center, Fox Soccer Channel).

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