San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson has witnessed his share of unforgettable Kobe Bryant performances in Los Angeles Lakers' victories over the Spurs. Now Bryant's teammate, he saw what would have been perhaps the most unlikely of them all earlier this month.
In their last ever matchup with Bryant, the Spurs hope to avoid their first back-to-back losses in a year Friday night with All-Star Kawhi Leonard likely to remain sidelined on this rodeo trip.
Bryant, who played in his 18th and final All-Star Game on Sunday, has been a nightmare for the Spurs throughout a 20-year run that's the longest with the same team in league history.
The future Hall of Famer led the Lakers to four series wins in five playoff meetings with San Antonio when healthy. Most notably, he averaged 33.3 points in a Western Conference finals sweep in 2001 before scoring 32.3 in a six-game semifinal win the following season.
“I watched him growing up,” Clarkson said. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”
Bryant will get one more chance after scoring 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter in a 106-102 loss Feb. 6. The Lakers (11-44) threatened to snap the Spurs' 37-game home winning streak, closing within 101-100 before San Antonio held on in the final 1:12.
Although Bryant has averaged 24.8 points while hitting 26 of 65 (40 percent) from 3-point range in his last six games, West-worst Los Angeles has dropped 17 of its past 20.
The Lakers, losers in three straight, return to Staples Center for the first time since Feb. 2 with an opportunity to win back-to-back games there for only the fourth time since April 2014.
“It's just growing pains,” forward Julius Randle told the team's official website. “Nobody likes losing. We're all super hungry and want to get better, but it's just a learning process.”
The Spurs won't be back home for a while as they resume an eight-game road stretch while the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo takes place at the AT&T Center. They had their six-game winning streak end in the third game of the trek Thursday, 105-86 to the Los Angeles Clippers.
They haven't lost two straight games since dropping four in a row from Feb. 19-25, 2015.
San Antonio, though, is expected to be without Leonard for a second straight game because of calf tightness. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year averages a team-high 20.2 points.
Since scoring 113 per game on 50.9 percent shooting over a seven-game span, the Spurs (45-9) had a 42.7 field-goal percentage in a 98-96 win at Orlando on Feb. 10 and scored a season-low 34 in the first half Thursday before finishing with a 42.2 shooting percentage.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan teamed up for 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting.
They could get back on track against a Lakers team that ranks near the bottom of the league in scoring defense (106.1). San Antonio has averaged 107.7 while winning the first three games in the season series.
The Spurs have won 16 of the past 19 meetings, including the postseason. Aldridge has played well in his two matchups this season, totaling 50 points and 20 rebounds.