Lakers-Spurs Preview

If Kobe Bryant ever took the time to contemplate his final trip to San Antonio, the current state of the Spurs is probably the way he drew it up.

The future Hall of Famer may have also pictured his Los Angeles Lakers perched on a similar plateau and ready to go at it one last time in the regular season before a postseason matchup that was once an expected encounter in the NBA playoffs.

The fact that Saturday night will play out without that kind of drama might make the farewell that much more memorable in a city that's home to one of his greatest rivals.

If there's any positive to his San Antonio farewell, it's that Bryant has turned in three strong games leading into it. The Spurs (42-8) won 116-90 in Dallas on Friday for their third straight, but the bigger news is that the Lakers (11-41) won 99-96 in New Orleans on Thursday and are in position to match San Antonio's streak.

Bryant had 27 points, and in three games since missing two of three with a sore shoulder, his numbers might be confused with a stretch from, say, 2007: 29.3 points per game while hitting 15 of 30 from 3-point range.

Suffering through a lost season is beginning to have its positives.

“I wasn't going to quit,” Bryant said. “At the end of the season, if these games never came around, I could look myself in the mirror and be comfortable with the fact that I tried everything.”

His coach sounds less surprised about him reaching this point.

“He's finally got his legs back,” Byron Scott told the team's website. “When you play 20 years in this league, sometimes it takes a while to get them back, and obviously right now, the last couple of weeks he seems to have everything up under him again.”

The teams will meet one last time in Los Angeles on Feb. 19, but no matter how the last two shake out, he'll come up short against the Spurs. Bryant has faced San Antonio more than any team and gone 43-46, including the postseason and a 18-27 road record.

Then again, you might call it a draw because of what happened when it mattered most. The Lakers and Spurs have met in seven postseasons in Bryant's career, and Los Angeles won four of those series and was swept in 2013 when he didn't play.

This season hasn't even been close with San Antonio winning the first two meetings by an average of 27.5 points while limiting Bryant to 8.5 on 33.3 percent shooting. The Spurs have won three straight and 15 of the last 18 meetings, including the 2013 sweep.

Bryant's main contemporary still might not be ready to go. Tim Duncan, who entered the league a season after Bryant, has missed the last six games with a knee injury and could remain out until after the All-Star break.

The Spurs have found a formula after dropping two of the first three without Duncan. Friday's win was their 14th by 25-plus points, which leads Golden State by eight.

“Guys are just locked in,” said LaMarcus Aldridge, who has averaged 23.6 points on 61.8 percent shooting in his last five.

And so is one of the greats from the storied franchise they'll face next.

“I knew the amount of training that I had put in over the summertime. I mean, I worked like crazy,” the 37-year-old Bryant said. “It becomes more frustrating because you're not seeing those results.

“It becomes: 'Maybe this is what happens (when you're older). You put all the work in and still there's nothing to show for it and you can't do anything about it.' And I had to be really stubborn and say, 'No. You've got to continue to stay with the process,' as I always have, and see what happens.”

Let's see what happens one more time. San Antonio is the only Western Conference city where Bryant has never had a 40-point regular-season game.