Two of the NBA's finest meet at the Staples Center Thursday night when the San Antonio Spurs, owners of the best record in the league, take on the Los Angeles Clippers.
These are two teams with legitimate title hopes and are playing as such. Both head into this nationally-televised heavyweight bout with four-game winning streaks.
But so far in the 2013 campaign, the Clippers have owned the Spurs. L.A. throttled the Spurs, 106-84, on Nov. 7 at the Staples Center, then bested San Antonio in its own building 12 days later.
"The Clippers are one hell of a team," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after his team's victory Tuesday night in Sacramento.
And the Clips certainly respect their opponent, especially in the midst of a Spurs run that has seen them win 15 of their last 16 games.
"San Antonio is playing at a very high level as they always do," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We obviously have to play very well and execute our plan, be able to make some adjustments. So we'll see."
The Spurs are on their season-long, nine-game rodeo road trip. They are 5-1 to this point and got to that mark with a 108-102 victory Tuesday against the Kings.
Tony Parker was sensational against Sacramento. He accounted for 30 points and 11 assists, although he did commit seven turnovers.
"He picked up where he left off before the All-Star break," Popovich said. "He's having an unbelievable year. He just keeps doing it. Very committed, very focused, he's done for us tonight what he's done for us all year."
Parker has averaged 29.0 ppg and 9.0 apg over his last five, but his lowest scoring output of the season came in that first game against the Clippers when he only managed four points. Parker only had 11 in the rematch.
Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw all scored in double figures against the Kings. Tim Duncan scored nine points, but hauled in 14 rebounds.
Thursday will mark the Clippers first outing since after the All-Star break. It was in Houston for the showcase game where Chris Paul walked off with MVP honors and he will try to push his squad toward the No. 1 seed in the West, currently occupied by San Antonio.
"The plan is to pick up where we left off," Paul said on Wednesday. "Obviously, we had a week until our last game last Thursday and then we play again tomorrow. It's a good test for us to get back out on the court against the Spurs, get our legs back up under us and just start."
The Clippers play their first three after the break at home and own a seven- game lead in the Pacific Division. They won four straight before the All-Star break, including a 125-101 drubbing of their neighbors, the Los Angeles Lakers one week ago.
The Clips jumped on the Lakers in the first quarter, winning that frame by 14. They were 21 clear to start the fourth and cruised to victory, thanks in part to 24 points and 13 assists from Paul.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan had double-doubles and Chauncey Billups netted 21.
Despite the early-season losses, the Spurs have won 10 of their last 12 on the road against the Clippers.