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Fighting Father Time: Derek Fisher Refuses To Change

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We've seen players from the 1996 come and go in this league, and while some have arguably had more successful careers, no one's persistence is quite as surprising as Derek Fisher's.

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Derek Fisher’s Game Winning Layup to Beat the Clippers

The Clippers were so close to beating the defending champions. If you watched the second half of last night’s game, there were times where the Clippers were close to running away with the game. But they could never push the lead out to a comfortable margin, and the Lakers kept hanging around. That proved to be costly, as even with a five-point lead with a minute to go, the Clippers were unable to hold off a Laker rally, which culminated in a big play by Derek Fisher at the buzzer. Continue Reading

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The importance of Derek Fisher

If you ask a group of friends what the weak point of the Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup is, the answer will invariably come back Derek Fisher — unless, of course, you count Ron Artest’s three-point shot.

After all, at this point in his career, his offensive repertoire consists of little more than wide-open spot-up jump shots. On defense, he’s essentially spent. While he is scrappy and has reasonable strength, his lateral quickness is all but evaporated, and he cannot stay with quick opposing point guards at all. He’s the one flaw of a very strong defensive front.

But despite his reputation as an over-the-hill minor contributor, Derek Fisher has come up bigger than anyone could have expected or wanted so far in the team’s conference finals matchup against the Phoenix Suns.

Coming in, one of the primary concerns for Lakers fans was how he would even hope to counter Steve Nash on defense. Nash is too quick, everyone said. He’ll run rampant against D-Fish, everyone said.

Even facing appreciable physical disadvantages when compared to his Phoenix counterpart, Fisher has managed to keep Nash in check to a reasonable degree. In Game 1, Nash posted 13 points and 13 assists but committed four turnovers and didn’t hit a three-pointer. In Game 2, he contributed 11 points and 15 assists, but gave the ball away five times.

Surely Fisher’s reasonable defense on Nash doesn’t come from some heavenly reacquisition of quickness. Instead, he’s using what he has to the best of his ability. He has been particularly aggressive fighting through screens, never settling to go underneath the pick. And that is a major reason Nash hasn’t been able to find the range from deep in the series.

Furthermore, his hands and feet are always active. He is constantly knocking balls away with well-placed fingers and closing off Nash’s pick-and-roll passing lanes to Amar’e Stoudemire and the other Suns.

Fisher’s contributions to the Lakers don’t just come through his defensive presence, though.

Fisher is one of the most experienced players on the team, and many of his teammates see him as a key leader alongside Kobe Bryant. He certainly has a strong passion and fire for the game, and his leadership seems to have quite an effect on the rest of the Lakers.

Moreover, Fisher is always ready to hit the big shot. It seems like every time I see him heave the ball in a late-game clutch situation the ball hits the bottom of the net following a smooth, lazy, high-arching delivery. As he lacks the athleticism to put up big points or really run the offense at his best from the point-guard position, his clutch shooting is at the crux of his viability.

As the series progresses, Fisher shouldn’t give up on trying to defend Nash. While it seems a foregone conclusion that LA will win the set and advance to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year, further refining his defense of a big-name point guard will hopefully prepare him for the even larger challenge at that position that awaits should Boston seal the deal.

The Boy Wonder, Rajon Rondo.

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Lakers have concerns despite sweep of Jazz

As the Lakers win Game 4 of their series with the Jazz tonight, completing the series sweep, they’ll enter the Western Conference riding a six-game winning streak. Even though they’ve played very well over that span, there’s still a looming concern for the purple and gold as they prepare to face the Suns.

They lack the killer instinct.

Three of the four wins for the Lakers in the semifinals came with fairly comfortable margins, but there was one overarching theme that defined all four of the contests. In each game, LA would get out to a fast start, outpacing Utah by double digits in the first or second quarter. Certainly, it’s a good sign that they start games on the right foot.

That said, lethargy, too, has struck in each game — and it nearly got the better of the Lakers in Game 3. The Lakers would continually fall into second-half lulls, allowing the Jazz to come back within reach of a victory.

For the defending champions to advance to the Finals and defeat the Suns, they will need to avoid succumbing to any such stretches of difficulty. Playing Phoenix, it is likely Phil Jackson will work hard to get the ball inside to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who can outmuscle Suns post defenders like Amar’e Stoudemire, Channing Frye, and Louis Amundson. Accordingly, those high-percentage shots will spring them out to appreciable leads early in games.

Phoenix is not an easy foe to put down, however. On the strength of its transition play, early-scoring mindset, and lights-out perimeter shooting, the team can bounce back in a hurry from sizable deficits. At the center of those comebacks will be Steve Nash, who showed his toughness in the Suns’ sweep-ensuring Game 4 against the Spurs.

He will run Derek Fisher ragged, and the Lakers will be running on empty toward the end of the game. That’s where Kobe will need to step in and deliver the final knockout blows. He needs to regain that killer instinct he hasn’t shown so far in the postseason.

You know who has shown that murderous intent so far in the playoffs? The Orlando Magic. They’ve obliterated the competition, making the considerable Hawks look like a D-League team. They continue to pile on the points and don’t stop until the job is done.

So the Lakers have something to learn from their potential Finals counterparts in the West: keep applying pressure until there’s nothing more than charred remains of your opponent.

Otherwise, they may find a way to come back and haunt you.

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One-eyed Nash comes through for the Suns

Steve Nash, swollen-shut eye and all, lead his Suns team to victory.

Well, the Phoenix Suns have done it.

The Suns defeated the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night 107-101 to advance to the Western Conference finals. But they didn’t just beat them. They swept them into the dustbin.

Despite constant rumors that the Spurs would once again get the better of their 21st-century playoff whipping boys, Phoenix took care of San Antonio with relative ease and will face the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz next week to determine the West’s representative for the NBA Finals.

The Spurs had hope of snagging at least one in this series, but Steve Nash would not be outdone, making sure of the series sweep over his Texas counterparts.

Nash left the game in the third quarter after blood began to spurt out of his eye — he was on the bad end of a brutal elbow from old Tim Duncan. He went to the locker room and got six stitches above that right eye while Goran “How to train your” Dragic filled in satisfactorily for the remainder of the third period.

And the injury ended up being a blessing in disguise. Nash routinely sits out the first six minutes or so of the fourth quarter to get his standard rest. Today, however, his playing time from the third quarter was displaced, allowing him to return to lead his team for the entire final period — and lead his team he did, in a manner that was reminiscent of no other incident that Curt Schilling’s bloody-sock performance in the 2004 MLB playoffs. Sure, that feat was part of an unprecedented comeback to beat the Yankees in the seven-game ALCS, but the Suns’ victory over the Spurs is unpredecented in its own way.

Nash finished with 20 points in the game, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter on a combination of jumpers, layups, one-footed runners, and a free throw. Five of his nine assists for the game also came in the game’s final 12 minutes.

But it was the timing of Nash’s buckets that was so memorable. Every time the Spurs began to threaten, Nash came back with a difficult shot or a crafty assist to counter for the Spurs. Considering how important Nash’s vision is to his game only amplifies the significance of his one-eyed play.

Finally, Nash can take solace in defeating the Spurs in a postseason series. He has the most career playoff games under his belt in NBA history without an NBA Finals appearance, and who knows how long ago that streak would have been snapped if not for Duncan and the rest of the Spurs. Nash has that monkey off his back now.

That said, the road ahead does not get any easier. The Suns are likely to face the Lakers in the next round, unless by some miracle the Jazz can come back and win four straight in spite of a drastic matchup disadvantage.

For Phoenix to advance from that round will take inspired performances for the Suns similar to Nash’s today. He’s the key to breaking down the LA defense by attacking its weak point in Derek Fisher. Nash always dismantles D-Fish when he plays the Lakers, but winning will also depend on solid efforts from Amar’e Stoudemire and solid shooting to go around.

For now, Nash can take a bit of a breather. Phoenix has seven days off now before its next game, and the team is obviously bloated with excitement after its monumental accomplishment.

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Game of the Day: April 2

Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers — 10:30 PM eastern, telecast on ESPN

After their unfortunate road trip, the Lakers return  home to hopefully get back to their winning ways. Unfortunately, joining them at the Staples Center will be Deron Williams, one of those quick guards who have a field day against Derek Fisher and the gang.

Add the fact that the Jazz are playing some amazing basketball and have tied Dallas for the No. 2 seed in the West, and this fixes to be a fantastic contest.

This will be the final game of the teams’ season series, and the Lakers won all three of the previous matchups by an average of about 16 points.

That said, Andrew Bynum played in those games, and he exposes a weakness in Utah’s lineup — a lack of a tall post defender. With Bynum out because of injury, they’ll still have to deal with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but it’s just not the same animal.

Nevertheless, I like the Lakers to win. They’ll be too anxious to break out of the funk they experienced on the road and to prove that they the Western Conference is still their stomping grounds in front of the anxious home crowd. Accordingly, expect Kobe to do more than his usual share of the scoring to assure they come away with the win.

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