The Los Angeles Lakers are the reigning NBA champions and are a prime contender to repeat, while the Miami Heat are on their way to a second straight season hovering around .500.
Together on the court, though, they've been evenly matched.
A Kobe Bryant buzzer-beater lifted Los Angeles past the Heat in the series' latest tight game, and the Lakers would love to see the reigning finals MVP shake out of his recent shooting slump Thursday night to open a three-game road trip in Miami.
Dwyane Wade and the Heat (30-31) didn't make it past the first round of the 2009 playoffs, and with a one-game cushion for the Eastern Conference's eighth spot, they're again fighting to make the postseason.
They've held up well against the Lakers (46-15) since the beginning of last season, however. Miami beat visiting Los Angeles 89-87 on Dec. 19, 2008, behind 35 from Wade, then stayed close throughout in a 108-105 loss at Staples Center on Jan. 11, 2009.
The Heat seemed to have a win within reach in L.A. this season, leading 107-105 on Dec. 4 with 3.2 seconds left. But Bryant banked in a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer, the last of his 33 points, to lift the Lakers to a 108-107 victory.
"It was the luckiest shot I've ever taken, by far," said Bryant, who has since hit four more game-winning shots with five seconds or fewer on the clock. "It felt good, (but) I just couldn't believe this ball might go in on this shot."
Bryant made 12 of 25 shots that night, but he's been struggling with his shooting touch since coming back from a sore left ankle. Still playing through an injured right index finger, Bryant has shot 34.3 percent over Los Angeles' last three contests.
That hasn't stopped him from helping his team win. Bryant had eight assists in a victory over Philadelphia on Friday, contributed 12 more to offset a 3-for-17 shooting effort in a Sunday win against Denver, and made 14 of 15 free throws Tuesday in a 122-99 win over Indiana.
"I have not seen this before," coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant's recent struggles. "I think the combination of his finger and now coming back after being out and finding a release a point is just one of those things shooters do go through."
Bryant's recent shooting woes have paled in comparison to the season-long troubles of Derek Fisher, who's shooting just 37.8 percent from the field.
That's opened up more time recently for Jordan Farmar, who had 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting Tuesday. The Lakers are 17-1 when Farmar scores in double figures.
Farmar has averaged 14.7 points and shot 65.4 percent in his last three games against the Heat.
Miami had lost four straight heading into Tuesday's meeting with Golden State, but Wade delivered one of his finest performances of the season. He scored 35 points on 15-of-23 shooting to go along with 12 assists and four steals in a 110-106 win.
Though the Heat are just a game up on Charlotte for the No. 8 seed, they're only two behind Toronto for No. 5.
"We're going to take wins any way we can," Wade said. "We only have 21 games left. Any win right now is a very big win, especially in this race."
To win Thursday, Miami will likely need Michael Beasley to neutralize Lamar Odom, who's averaged 13.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in his last 10 games.
Beasley hasn't been playing nearly that well. The Heat's second-leading scorer (15.4 ppg), Beasley has averaged 10.4 points on 31.1 percent shooting in his last five contests.