The Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs handed a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers team its worst loss of the season earlier this week.
Things don't figure to be as easy this time around as the two teams clash in the Alamo City. Bryant, the NBA's leading scorer who has sat out the last seven games with a sore left shin, is expected to return tonight.
LA actually snapped San Antonio's eight-game home winning streak back on April 11 without Bryant but the Spurs responded in Staples Center on Tuesday, waxing the Lakers 112-91 behind Tony Parker's 29 points and 13 assists.
A day later San Antonio kept things rolling by completing a three games in three nights sweep of California teams by routing Sacramento, 127-102. Tiago Splitter poured in 17 points and pulled down seven rebounds for the Spurs, who started the grueling stretch by topping Golden State on Monday.
Gary Neal finished with 17 points against the Kings, Parker had 15 points and eight assists, while Manu Ginobili, Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard chipped in with 13 points apiece for the Spurs, who were able to rest Tim Duncan and still win their fifth straight game. Danny Green contributed 11 points in the victory for San Antonio.
"It's good to win and it's even better to win on the road," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. "Guys showed a lot of energy, a lot of focus, and it's good to see."
San Antonio currently leads Oklahoma City by just one-half game for the top spot in the West with five games left to play. The Spurs also own the tiebreaker over the Thunder.
"We're going to play for it, but at the same time I think the most important thing for (head coach Gregg Popovich) and for us is to be healthy and be fresh when the playoffs start," Parker said about the No. 1 seed in the West.
The Lakers, meanwhile, bounced back from their loss to the Spurs earlier in the week by disposing of Golden State in Oakland on Wednesday, 99-87. Pau Gasol recorded his fifth career triple- double in that one with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, while Andrew Bynum added 31 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
Metta World Peace finished with 18 points and nine assists for the Lakers, who moved to 5-2 without Bryant as they dished out a season-high 34 assists on 37 made baskets.
"I'd be curious how many seven-footers have had a triple-double this way," Lakers head coach Mike Brown said of Gasol's triple-double. "...Usually with guys seven feet or 7-foot-1, it's usually points, blocks and rebounds."
The Lakers are a one game ahead of the Clippers for the Pacific Division lead as well as the third seed in the Western Conference. They will clinch home- court advantage in the first round with a win tonight or a loss by Memphis to Charlotte.
LA has won two straight in San Antonio, including the win on April 11 when Bynum grabbed an NBA season-high 30 rebounds.