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Weekend Sports Watcher: MLK Jr. Edition

Evan Budrovich |
January 16, 2013 | 11:44 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick returns to the ice Saturday for Opening Day. (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick returns to the ice Saturday for Opening Day. (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)
Let's properly celebrate the upcoming holiday weekend by doing the one thing that best brings people together, watching spectacular sporting events. 

The NHL opening weekend is upon us with a whole slew of exciting action to kick off the 48-game season. Plus the NBA will have a festive slate of games on Monday to honor the late Martin Luther King Jr on his holiday.

Don't forget that the Thunder Down Under, the Australian Open, is currently in progress with quarterfinal matches set for the weekend. Serena and Venus Williams are fighting strong in the women's draw for Team USA. 

Finally, the penultimate NFL Weekend is upon us as the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots battle for the second straight season. Meanwhile in the NFC, the San Fransisco 49ers look to avenge last year's playoff debacle, as they face the Atlanta Faclons.

Here are the five best sporting events to watch this jammed-packed holiday weekend.

SATURDAY 12 P.M. PST NHL OPENING GAME 2013 (NBC)

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS VS. LOS ANGELES KINGS

The defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings begin their quest for two straight Lombardi Trophies against the Chicago Blackhawks this weekend.

The Los Angeles Kings will unveil their first championship banner in team history, now only 15 away from matching fellow Staples Center tenant, the Los Angeles Lakers. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, still have a sour taste in their mouths after an early first-round exit against the Phoenix Coyotes last season.

The Chicago Blackhawks would want nothing more than to spoil the Kings' banner ceremony like the Colorado Avalanche did to them after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. The fact that Chicago is playing the role of spoiler will make for great intensity on the ice, in addition to the fact that the lockout has finally ended.

Goaltending will decide who goes home the victor. Jordan Crawford of Chicago and Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles have completely different outlooks in the grand scheme of the NHL.

Quick, the Vienza Cup finalist, was outstanding, posting the best goals-against average (1.41) of all goaltenders in last year's playoffs. Crawford, meanwhile, was medicore in last season's playoffs, finishing with a 2-4 record and a 2.58 goals-against average, after playing outstandingly two seasons ago. 

The Los Angeles Kings' offense clicked on all cylinders last postseason, but will be without starting forward Anze Kopitar for the opener with a sprained right knee. The Blackhawks have improved defensively over the offseason by adding proven commodity Michal Rozsival from Phoenix.

Prediction: Kings 2 Blackhawks 1 (OT) 

SATURDAY 1 P.M. PST BIG-EAST TOP-TEN BATTLE (ESPN)

NO. 6 SYRACUSE VS. NO. 1 LOUISVILLE

Big East basketball may be down overall as a conference, but that does not take away from the pivotal matchup between these top-10 programs. With only four ranked programs to its name, the 2013 Big East will relish these type of matchups before the separation of the Catholic Seven.

Rick Pitino of Louisville and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse continue to pump out great programs that are in the title hunt once again.

Louisville climbed to the No. 1 ranking after a slew of losses from Duke, Arizona and Michagan last week. Senior guard Peyton Siva is among the main contingency of players returning from last season's Final Four appearance. Junior Russ Smith has carried the load for Louisville, averaging 18.9 points per game on the nation's 33rd-ranked offense.

The Syracuse Orange keep plugging along with a new cast of characters led by Jim Boeheim. James Southerland, an explosive senior forward averaging 13 points per game, has fallen into recent academic struggles, making him inelligble for a considerable time. Regardless, the Cuse are averaging over 75 points per game and will mount constant pressure with their zone defense. 

The game will be played at the Yum Center, one of the most intense atmospheres in college basketball which will make for an overall great spectacle. Expect a thriller between two teams desperate to take control of the Big East.

Predicition: Lousiville 77 Syracuse 71

SATURDAY 6 P.M. PST MID-MAJOR BULLDOG TREAT (ESPN)

NO. 8 GONZAGA VS. NO. 13 BUTLER  

Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs, will be hosting the first ESPN College GameDay of the college basketball season. In the epic matchup, the Butler and Gonzaga Bulldogs battle for top dog in the land. 

Butler has enjoyed a recent history of success under head coach Brad Stevens, a man who has led Butler to the National Championship game in two of the past three seasons. Mark Few, the head coach of Gonzaga is no slouch, probably the most successful and well-respected mid-major coach in college basketball.

The 2013 Gonzaga Bulldogs are arguably Mark Few's best team at Gonzaga, with proven commodities all over the board. Kelly Olynk is a legitimate post presence. The 7-foot-1 junior out of British Columbia is averaging 18 points per game this season on 66 percent shooting from the field. In his last two games, Olynk has gone off scoring 33 and 31, respectively. 

Elias Harris and Kevin Pangos are two of the best foreign-born prospects to keep an eye on from Gonzaga. Harris, the senior from Germany, can shoot the lights out with an NBA range from downtown. Pangos, formely of Ontario, Canada, is averaging 12 points per game in his sophomore year.

In past seasons, Butler lost Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, but are once again in the thick of the Top 25 rankings. The Bulldogs began another magical quest by defeating Marquette at the buzzer followed by a shellacking of then-No. 9 UNC. If that was not enough, the Bulldogs then defeated Indiana to end its undefeated campaign. 

Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke is the three-point shooting extraordinaire for the Bulldogs who shoots 62 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Unfortunately for Butler, the team's leading scorer will not play against Gonzaga after suffering an injury against St. Joseph. 

Prediction: Gonzaga 65 Butler 56

SUNDAY 6 P.M. PST AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME (CBS)

BALTIMORE RAVENS VS. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 

The storylines in this game are outstanding, led by the possible end of Ray Lewis' career versus the architect Bill Belichick. The Baltimore Ravens have defied the odds this season and are now one big upset away from doing the impossible. 

If Baltimore wins Sunday, Ray Lewis is suddenly one win away from ending his career with another title. (Andy/Wikimedia Commons)
If Baltimore wins Sunday, Ray Lewis is suddenly one win away from ending his career with another title. (Andy/Wikimedia Commons)
Left to die after three straight losses in the middle of the season, the Balitmore Ravens limped into the playoffs. With Ray Lewis back in the fold, the Ravens have come alive on both sides of the ball, playing inspired football against the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos. 

The Patriots' offense continues to dominate in large part thanks to the excellence that is Tom Brady. Brady is dissecting opposing defenses at an awesome rate this season, scoring 41 points in his last contest. Aaron Hernandez and Shane Vereen give Brady some outstanding options in the passing game that will make matters difficult for Baltimore.

All that being said, special teams may decide this matchup. In a battle of kickers, Stephen Gostowski will outduel Shayne Graham in what figures to be a cold windy night in Foxborough. After allowing huge special teams yardage against Houston, the Ravens will receive prime opportunities to score on special teams. 

This game will be thrilling from beginning to end with shots being fired down the field by gunslingers Brady and deep-bomb extraordinaire Joe Flacco. 

Predicition: Patriots 23 Ravens 13

MONDAY 12:30 P.M. PST MLK DAY NBA TREAT (NBA TV)

BROOKLYN NETS VS. NEW YORK KNICKS

In an MLK Jr. Special on NBA TV, the two kings of New York will duel. The Nets will look to split the regular-season series versus the Knicks in their final matchup of the regular season.

The Brooklyn Nets have gone 9-2, posting six double-digit victories since the promotion of PJ Carlisemo to head coach. At 23-16, the Brooklyn Nets have climbed back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture behind solid defense and an opportunistic schedule. 

The New York Knicks were crowned the darlings of the league by the middle of December, but have hit hard times in 2013, going 4-4 since the drop of the crystal ball. If the Knicks want to return to prominence, they must live (and avoid dying) by Carmelo Anthony, especially his three-point shooting. 

The fact that these teams vehemently do not like each other will add drama to an already exciting game between two balanced teams. The scrappy Nets will try to get under the skin of the more experienced Knicks. Expect Deron Williams and Jason Kidd to battle at the point guard position with a classic matchup of size versus wit.

The Knicks are fully loaded with the return of Amare Stoudemire from injury, making their bench one of the best in the league. That being said, the Nets' bench led by Andre Blatche and his 11 points per game has been quite efficient, itself.

Prediction: Knicks 107 Nets 98

Reach Staff Writer Evan Budrovich here, or follow him on Twitter.



 

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