An overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs three weeks ago sent the Los Angeles Clippers into a funk from which they have yet to emerge.
Winning in San Antonio for the first time in a decade would be a great way to break out of it.
The Spurs also haven't been at their best since that last meeting, but following a strong performance and with Manu Ginobili back in rhythm, they enter Friday night's matchup feeling better than a Clippers team coming off another narrow loss.
Going into this meeting of division leaders Feb. 18 in Los Angeles, the Clippers had won eight of 10 and were 19-9 overall -- tied in the loss column with San Antonio. Gary Neal hit the tying 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left in regulation after stealing a bad pass from Chris Paul, who then missed a 14-footer as time expired. Neal hit the go-ahead 3 with 25 seconds remaining in overtime as the Spurs won 103-100.
Starting with that defeat, Los Angeles (22-15) has dropped six of nine. Four of those losses were by three or fewer points, including the last two by one point. Wednesday's defeat was particularly tough, falling 101-100 to lowly New Jersey on a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left.
"We're trying to find it, us along with a lot of other teams," said Paul, who had 22 points and 10 assists but matched a season high with five turnovers.
"We have to come out with more intensity, more energy, and all that stuff starts with me."
Everything starts with Tony Parker for San Antonio (26-12), but a healthy Ginobili makes a big difference. This will be his third game after missing five with a strained oblique, and he previously sat out more than a month with a broken hand.
Ginobili had eight points in his return Sunday in a loss to Denver, then scored 17 on 7-of-10 shooting Wednesday and added six assists in a 118-105 win over New York.
"I just need a little bit more time physically and not only conditionally," Ginobili said. "Otherwise, I felt pretty good."
Parker had 32 points for the Spurs, who led by double digits throughout the second half. They had dropped three of their previous five games, including two home losses.
"I thought that a lot of minutes in the first three games (after the All-Star break) we looked like we were in cruise control and it has taken us too long to get that back," coach Gregg Popovich said. "Hopefully we have that back. I don't know, we'll see in the next few games if we're being consistent."
One thing the Spurs have consistently done is beat the Clippers in San Antonio. Los Angeles has lost 17 straight there dating to Jan. 31, 2002, including the last six by 12 or more points.
Ginobili's 24 points keyed a 115-90 home win over the Clippers on Dec. 28. The oblique injury limited him to 19 minutes in last month's matchup, but Parker stepped up with 30 points and 10 assists.
While Paul has shot a combined 9 for 29 in the two meetings, Blake Griffin has averaged 25.0 points and 14.5 rebounds.
Griffin had 28 and 17 on Wednesday but had his left ankled rolled by New Jersey's Kris Humphries late in the game.
The Clippers have trailed after the first quarter of three straight games and have fallen behind by double digits in the first half against sub-.500 teams in the last two.
"It seems like we always have to fight back," Griffin said. "We're always trying to make a push at the end and you can't play like that."
Last game was a must win and we gave it away. We gotta not fall behind in this game and have to fight back. We gotta get this game to stop falling in the Western Conference standings. We need to gain ground on the conference leaders. Memphis?! has already passed us. We're only 2.5 games out of NOT MAKING THE PLAYOFFS. Guys need to step up early. Caron needs to shoot better. Blake needs to get the Blair and Duncan into foul trouble. Randy needs to contain Manu. We need to stop Parker's penetration. We gotta close out on Matt Bonner and make Richard Jefferson look his age. GO CLIPS!