In previous seasons, Tuesday night's game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers at the AT&T Center in San Antonio would have been one of the marquee contests of the NBA calendar, with the two teams among the short list of the best in the league and bragging rights between superstars on the line.
But the 2017-18 season has been different for the Spurs and the Cavaliers. Both teams are in third place in their respective conferences and -- because of injuries for San Antonio and a dead-legged and greying roster for Cleveland -- not in the discussion as teams that can win the league championship.
That doesn't mean that Tuesday's game will not be entertaining. After all, the Cavaliers still have arguably the best basketball player on the planet, LeBron James, and the Spurs feature LaMarcus Aldridge, who's had 20 double-doubles this season and been San Antonio's leading scorer in 36 of its 48 contests while taking the team's starring role in the absence of the injured Kawhi Leonard.
San Antonio (30-18) limps into the matchup with the Cavaliers on the heels of a 94-86 loss to Indiana on Sunday that was just its third home setback of the season.
Pau Gasol scored 14 points to lead the Spurs in that defeat while Bryn Forbes and Tony Parker, who came off the bench, added 12 each, Aldridge hit for 10 points and 10 rebounds and Kyle Anderson also scored 10 for San Antonio, which has lost three of its past four games and six of its past 10 outings.
Parker came off the bench for just the 14th time in 1,165 career games. He was told about being replaced in the starting lineup earlier on Sunday by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
"Pop told me," Parker said before the game. "He told me he thought it was time, and I was like, 'No problem.' Just like Manu (Ginobili), just like Pau (Gasol), you know that day is going to come. If Pop sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best. I will support Pop's decision."
Most of the Spurs' woes have been on the offensive end, as San Antonio is 28th (out of 30 teams) in scoring (100.6 ppg) and 18th in field goal percentage.
"We're holding people to under 100 points per night, and on defense I'm impressed with our effort," Popovich said. "It's hard to do that night after night, especially when you're not making shots, but in the end it's a combination of playing good 'D' with that effort and the ball's also gotta go in the hole."
Cleveland (27-18) heads to the Alamo City after coming up on the losing end of a 148-124 shootout with Oklahoma City at home on Saturday. Isaiah Thomas registered a season-high 24 points in the loss while James tallied 18 points, Jae Crowder posted 17 points, Jeff Green and Derrick Rose added 12 points each and Dwyane Wade recorded 11 points off the bench against Oklahoma City.
The Cavaliers lost two of the three games on their most recent homestand and have dropped seven of their past 10 contests.
So how do the Cavaliers get out of this miserable rut?
"I don't know. I mean, listen. I come to work every day," James said. "Eleven o'clock practice -- I'm here at 9. Game started at 3:30, I'm here at 11:30. I punch my clock in every single day, give everything to the game and to this team, so I can't focus on what the lineup change may be or if there is or if something's going on with our coaching staff, things of that nature.
"I'm going to play my game and I'm going to give my attention to the coaching staff when we're going over our game plan. I'm giving all my effort and my energy to my teammates, when we're getting ready to go out there and play. I can control what I can control and that's always how I lived my life."
Wade suggested that the Cavaliers need to police themselves.
"We have to take accountability," Wade said. "We want it because we want to win. We're looking for it. So hopefully in these next few weeks before the All-Star break we can start getting a little more accountable to ourselves and to this team and just play a little better."
James is just seven points away from becoming just the seventh player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points, as well as the youngest to do so at 33 years and 24 days of age (supplanting Kobe Bryant, 34 years and 104 days).
James currently leads the NBA in field goals made this season (463). Over his career, he has made 10,886 field goals, which is 19 away from surpassing Dirk Nowitzki (10,904 FGM) for eighth all-time in league history.