Play It Forward: April 15-21 on your sports calendar

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

NBA PLAYOFFS:
Begin Saturday and Sunday on ABC, ESPN and TNT:
The NBA’s post-season ad campaign is going with the tagline: “Now is BIG.” One of the 30-second commercials shows LeBron James stealing the ball and getting an alley-oop pass to score in last season’s Eastern Conference finals. Another is Russell Westbrook launching a shot during last year’s Western Conference semifinals. Then there’s Kobe Bryant  – suspended in the air and finishing off a dunk from the 2002 Finals. Hmmmmm. Might want to reconsider that last one
The Achilles’ heel of the NBA’s marketing machine might be in how it pours so much big-time money into promoting itself before it knows who’s actually in the postseason. Bryant’s ruptured Achilles tendon will heal in time, but not for the playoffs, and lying the balance is the Lakers’ shot of keeping the No. 8 seed in Western Conference. We won’t know anything until they play their final regular season vs. Houston (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Staples Center, TWC SportsNet) — unless Utah loses either at Minnesota on Monday or at Memphis on Wednesday. The Clippers are in, of course, and preparing for a likely dance off against Memphis (whom they just knocked off Saturday). Now they need to finish the season with wins against Portland (7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Staples Center, TNT, Prime) and at Sacramento (7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Prime) to secure home-court, and maybe even pass up Denver in the conference standings before it’s over.

BEST OF THE REST:

MONDAY

MLB: Dodgers vs. San Diego, 7:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium, Prime:
On Jackie Robinson night, and a statue giveaway featuring Robinson with Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, and Harrison Ford throwing out the first pitch, and Branch Rickey’s great granddaughter singing “God Bless America,” and Jackie’s wife Rachel, in attendance with daughter Sharon and son David Robinson, and the choir from Magic Johnson’s church singing the National Anthem, the underlying current will be: Is Carlos Quentin in the middle of the Padres’ lineup while he appeals his eight-game suspension. Nope, he dropped the appeal and smartly won’t be in L.A. Chris Capuano takes Zack Greinke’s spot in the rotation for the first time Wednesday as the three-game series ends.

MLB: Angels at Minnesota, 5 p.m., FSW:
A Twin killing would help the Anaheimers tremendously. The series continues Tuesday and Wednesday (5 p.m., FSW each day).

RUNNING: Boston Marathon, 6:30 a.m., Universal Sports Network:
On tax day, don’t tax yourself too much by actually competing in this annual classic. Just watch and eat some fruit.

WNBA: 2013 Draft, 5 p.m., ESPN (first round):
Phoenix Mercury head coach and general manager Corey Gaines, the former UCLA and Loyola Marymount guard out of St. Bernard High in Westchester, doesn’t want to give away who his team will choose with the No. 1 overall draft. He’ll just hint. “I am looking for someone who can dunk, somebody with a large wingspan. I’m looking for somebody that runs the floor and alters shots and definitely has an athletic build.” Maybe they’ll take Baylor’s Brittney Griner? “And I’m thinking maybe I may find one like that on draft day,” he said. The Sparks have the 10th overall pick in the first round, then No. 22 and 34 the rest of the way. ESPNU has the second and third round.

TUESDAY

NHL: Kings at San Jose, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network, Channel 13:  Think it’s a peek at a first-round playoff matchup? As if the Kings really care what slot they end up in, knowing that their week continues vs. Columbus (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, FSW) and vs. Dallas (Sunday, 6 p.m., Staples Center, FSW) , both of which could easily miss the postseason, with three more games to finish the regular season next week.

WEDNESDAY

NBA: Lakers vs. Houston, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, TWC SportsNet:
Regrets, they’ve had a few. But this could be one that makes all the problems of the past seem irrelevant. Regardless of their fate in a first-round match up against OKC.

THURSDAY

GYMNASTICS: NCAA women’s championships, at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA:
The host Bruins, led by senior all-around and conference gymnast of the year winner Vanessa Zamarripa,  are matched up against Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan, Utah and Arkansas in the semifinals (6 p.m.). In the other semi grouping, it’s Stanford, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Minnesota and Illinois (noon). Really, five SEC teams in the final 12? The Super Six team finals are Saturday (4 p.m.) with the individual championship on Sunday (1 p.m.)

FRIDAY

MLB: Angels vs. Detroit, Angel Stadium, 7 p.m., FSW:
Torii Hunter can show the rest of the Tigers all the ins and outs of how toget out of Angel Stadium and hunt down the nearest In-N-Out (try the corner of Orange and Brookhurst, west of the 5 Freeway).  The Detroit rotation sets up where Justin Verlander pitches in the series opener, not against the injured Jered Weaver, but his replacement, Garrett Richards. The rest of the series goes Saturday (noon, Channel 11) and Sunday (12:30 p.m., FSW).

MLB: Dodgers at Baltimore, 4 p.m., Prime:
A six-game East Coast road trip, and the Dodgers’ first whiff of bastardized interleague play, starts against the Orioles, continuing Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (10:30 a.m.). Please, no references to this being a rematch of the 1966 World Series.

SATURDAY

MLS: Galaxy vs. Sporting Kansas City, 7:30 p.m. Home Depot Center, NBC Sports Network:
The hook: They’re giving away 17,000 commemorative 2012 MLS Cup championship rings to the paying customers. The downside: What if Beckham shows up to claim another one?

SUNDAY

AUTO RACING: IRL Grand Prix of Long Beach, 1 p.m., NBC Sports Channel:
With a month to go before the Indianapolis 500, the streets of Long Beach become the training ground again. A year ago, rookie Simon Pagenaud led for most of the day, but Will Power passed him with 15 laps to go and won the 85-lap chase around the Long Beach Arena. Last year’s IRL champ Ryan Hunter-Reay, in the No. 1 Chevy that won at Alabama a couple weeks ago, heads the field with Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti and, just so it’s not an all-male field in the absence of Danica Patrick, there’s Simona De Silvestro (a third-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg) and Ana Beatriz in the mix.
Practice sessions are at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., with qualifying at 2 p.m. Saturday (coverage on NBC Sports Network starts at 3 p.m.).
Pre-race ceremonies start Sunday at 12:30 p.m. with the call to start the engines at 1:38 p.m. sharp.
The Indy Lights race runs Saturday at 10:15 a.m. (airing on NBC Sports Network at noon), the Pro-Celebrity race (won last year by Adam Carolla, back to defend his honor) is at 10:40 a.m., the American Le Mans Series race starts at 4:30 p.m., with the Super Drift Challenge at 7 p.m.

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