While a number of young stars are giving the Los Angeles Lakers hope for a bright future, this mostly dismal season has more to do with honoring Kobe Bryant's legacy. He's getting one final chance to square off against LeBron James.
With Bryant questionable for the last matchup between the superstars, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell will try to lead the Lakers to a surprising three-game winning streak Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Los Angeles (14-51) owns the worst record in the Western Conference but is showing signs after stunning Golden State 112-95 on Sunday and beating Orlando 107-98 two days later.
Bryant sat out against the Magic with a nagging shoulder injury, leaving Randle, Clarkson and Russell to combine for 74 points. They had 58 against the Warriors, while Randle added 14 boards.
"You could see them challenging each other on the court to get better and to defend people, run the offense better," coach Byron Scott told the team's official website. "The dialogue has been very positive. I think they're encouraging each other.
"They know they need to rely on each other. If we're going to be successful as a team, there's not one guy that can do it by himself."
Scott is certainly alluding to the Lakers' recent history with Bryant, who has 17 games left in his storied career, though it's unclear how many he'll play after sitting out four of the last six.
This matchup, however, pits him against James one last time and that could be motivation enough for Bryant to suit up for the celebrity-laden home crowd. Bryant had 17 points in a 120-111 loss at Cleveland on Feb. 10, but James upstaged him with 29 points and 11 assists.
"Those are two guys we grew up (as) kids watching," Clarkson said. "Them always being compared to Michael Jordan and stuff like that."
That comparison will continue to follow James as he tries to win a third NBA title, which would still leave him three short of Jordan.
James, however, has the Cavaliers (45-18) atop the Eastern Conference and he's sixth in the league with 24.9 points per game. He's still well aware of the historical implications of one last matchup with Bryant.
"I've recorded it multiple times of what he's meant for my career, what he's meant for the Lakers organization, and the NBA," James said of Bryant. "It will be an opportunity to go again against one of the greats."
The four-time NBA MVP came four assists shy of a triple-double Wednesday, scoring 25 points with 11 rebounds in a 120-111 win at Sacramento to open this four-game road trip.
James is getting ample help from Kyrie Irving, who had 30 points against the Kings and is averaging 24.7 over the last six games after scoring 16.8 in the previous five.
The guard had a season-high 35 points on 15-of-24 shooting against the Lakers last month.
James had 36 points and Irving added 22 in a 109-102 win in Cleveland's most recent road meeting with the Lakers on Jan. 15, 2015.
While the Cavaliers are aiming for their first NBA title, the Lakers are trying to match their longest win streak of the season, set Dec. 30-Jan. 3.