**Tomorrow I'll be hosting "The Zone" sports show on KSCR 1560 AM from 12 to 1 PM. You can also hear it on KSCR.org.**
--After a thrilling 108-104 grind-it-out overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Lakers spirits are high. While they showed against Portland that they're a little thin up front without Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant might be having his best season in Purple and Gold. At this point, he's the favorite to win the MVP Award. Kevin Garnett had a good case for a while, but he's missed too many games with an injury. And LeBron James has played well too, but you can't help but think the voters will reward Bryant for his work against Western Conference competition while playing with only 9 fingers.
--The Sam Cassell era with the Clippers is over. The team bought out his contract, allowing the point guard to sign with the Celtics soon. It was awfully nice of the Clippers to do that, considering they didn't have to, but this highlights one of the worst rules in the NBA.
Ideally, the Clippers would have loved to trade Cassell for a decent young player or a draft pick. He's in the final year of his contract, wants to win now, and obviously wasn't going to re-sign. The problem is that the NBA requires salaries to be within 15% of each other in every trade, and there's no contending team that would want to send roughly $6 million in usable talent back to the Clippers for Cassell. The rule is in place so that teams don't engage in shameless fire-sales, but at the same point in time, the rule also prevents the Clippers from taking advantage of an asset to help build and improve their roster.
In the meantime, all is not well in Clippertown. Mark Heisler has gone back to writing hilarious open letters to Donald Sterling in the LA Times, and apparently Sterling hasn't spoken to his coach Mike Dunleavy in weeks. There's still tensions from their public feud a few weeks ago. But on the bright side, this is one of the deepest drafts in the NBA in recent years, and if a ping-pong ball falls the right way, the Clippers could wind up with Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose.
--UCLA escaped with a 68-66 victory over Arizona yesterday, and they're now ranked No. 2 in the country. The Bruins play amazing defense that always keeps them in games, but they need to be more consistent on offense. If they want to go deep in the NCAA Tournament, or even win it, they're going to need some of their guys to make big offensive plays. Right now, I'm not convinced that they have the firepower to keep pace with a team like Memphis.
--Across town, USC continues to take one step forward, and then one step back. After a terrific win over Arizona, the Trojans laid an egg against Arizona State, and have yet to seal up an NCAA Tournament bid. No matter how you slice it, the Trojans are a worse team than they were last year. While OJ Mayo has certainly had his moments, he clearly hasn't live up to expectations and is fairly obviously in a tier below Beasley, Rose, Eric Gordon, and a few other top freshmen.
At this point, USC needs to win at least one of their next two games against Stanford and Cal, and then it would help if they could tack on a win in the Pac-10 Tournament. If they accomplish that, then USC should expect to get about a 7 or 8-seed in the Big Dance. If they're able to sweep Stanford and Cal, and then make the finals of the conference tournament, then they might be seeded as high as 5. Right now, Bracketologist Joe Lunardi (yes, that's a real job), has them getting a 7-seed.
--Tatiana Aryasova and Laban Moiben are the two winners of the LA Marathon. Congratulations to them... whoever they are. For years, LA has tried valiantly to get top marathoners in its race, and they haven't been too successful. The problem is that LA is too hilly of a city, and marathoners like flatter courses in which they have a better shot of breaking records. While I'd love for LA to have a world-class marathon, I think we should all be satisfied with a great race involving 25,000 runners, who are all doing something extraordinary. No one here really cares if someone like Paula Radcliffe or Haile Gebrselassie enters. Most people don't really know who they are.
--Spring training has started for the Dodgers, and after tying the Orioles today, the Blue Crew are 1-3-1. There are a few questions for the Dodgers heading into the regular season. First off, it's unclear how Juan Pierre will play in left field, and how much playing time Andre Ethier takes away from him. Secondly, there's an open question at third base, where Nomar Garciaparra is the present and Andy La Roche is the future. And third, no one is quite sure who the fifth starter will be. Ideally it would be Jason Schmidt, but he's taking his sweet time in getting ready for the season. Esteban Loaiza is an option, albeit not an attractive one. For what it's worth, back-from-the-dead pitcher Chan Ho Park pitched two scoreless innings on Saturday, and after some strange medical problems, he appears to be healthy. Hong-Chih Kuo may also be in the mix.
--In case you weren't aware, the LA Galaxy are on a tour of Hawaii and Asia. Last Saturday, they lost to FC Seoul 2-1 on penalty kicks.