If the first three games this season between the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers are any indication, the fourth year's fourth and final dustup should be a real doozy as well.
The new look Spurs and Lakers wrap of their season series on Friday at the ATT Center in San Antonio.
The teams played Wednesday in Los Angeles, with the Lakers rallying for a 121-113 victory behind LeBron James' 42 points, and will be done with each other until at least the playoffs if both can find enough success to make the postseason in the uber-competitive Western Conference.
San Antonio won the first two meetings of the season, but both squads are already plenty different from those first two matchups -- as the Lakers' victory on Wednesday illustrated. Los Angeles' youthful core is acclimating to James' do-everything style with a different player stepping into the limelight beside James each game.
That was the case on Wednesday when James scored 14 straight points over a four-and-a-half-minutes stretch of the fourth quarter to propel the Lakers (15-9) to the win. He ended up with 20 of his 42 points in the final period.
"It's the fourth quarter, and my teammates look at me to make plays," James said. "I put that type of pressure on my back. I love my teammates giving me that responsibility. That was the result of it tonight."
Kyle Kuzma had 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists for the Lakers, who've won four straight games.
Lonzo Ball had 14 points, nine assists and four rebounds for Los Angeles, who was without Brandon Ingram for most of the game after he sprained his left ankle in the first quarter.
Ingram had X-rays that were negative, but he did not return to the game. He was on crutches after the game with his ankle was wrapped in black tape, but was able to walk some on his own.
"There is no timetable or anything like that yet," Lakers coach Luke Walton said about Ingram's availability for Friday's game. "But (the trainers) said he got it pretty good."
The game was the second of a road back-to-back for the Spurs, who lost 139-105 in Utah on Tuesday in what was their third defeat in their past four outings, with all the losses coming by 30 or more points.
"Our defense is definitely our main focus," San Antonio guard DeMar DeRozan said. "We've got to pick that up. We need to win quarters defensively, not letting guys score 25-plus points. We have to understand that when we have bad quarters scoring, we can rely on our defense to keep their scoring at a minimum."
DeRozan had 32 points to lead the Spurs (11-14) in Wednesday's loss while Rudy Gay had a season-high 31 points before fouling out in the final minute and LaMarcus Aldridge hit for 21.
"This sucks like hell to lose, especially when everybody is fighting so hard," DeRozan said. "Luck is going to go our way. Everything is going to go our way. We've got to say positive and understand that as long as we keep at it, the basketball gods are going to turn in our favor."
San Antonio has lost four out of its past five games. Friday's contest will be the first of a six-game homestand for the Spurs between now and Dec. 17.