It's not easy to predict an NBA season, but since Derek Fisher entered the league, it's a 50/50 shot he'll be taking part in the Finals.
No. 2 has been in the NBA for 14 seasons and seven of those times, he’s ended up on one of the final two teams playing. Each of those seven times, it's been the Los Angeles Lakers.
That includes Derek's last three seasons since returning to the Lakers for the 2007-2008 season. Each step of the way, D-Fish has rode alongside Kobe Bryant, who told NBA.com recently, that after a failed playoff run by LA in 2006-2007, he knew right away at least one of the pieces separating the Lakers from The Finals.
"I knew we had to get Fish back," Bryant said.
Upon Fish's return to the Lakers, they ended up in the NBA Finals and the following year they won their fourth ring together. Back they are again this season and Fish said on Wednesday that it's not possible to take the opportunity for granted.
"Even though we’ve been here this is our third year, the season is so long, and you go through so much just to get to this point," No. 2 said. "So it’s not until you walk in at times and you see everything going right and The Finals signs that you really start to get that feeling that it’s finally here, what you’ve been working so hard for. It hasn’t seen started yet, but you start feeling that emotion."
Now D-Fish and Kobe have the opportunity to repeat as NBA Champions for the first time since they won three straight titles from 2000-2002.
TRUST IN EACH OTHER
"Nobody ever has doubts about Fish," Kobe Bryant says with certainty.
Kobe clearly has never doubted his point guard, not since the two entered the league together in 1996. Fish was drafted by the Lakers out of Arkansas Little Rock and Kobe came to LA from high school.
But despite a four year gap in age difference, the two became fast friends, and developed an unbreakable trust on the court, as Harvey Araton of the New York Times writes:
In a league currently obsessed with mega free agents contemplating coexistence with another outsize ego, seldom has there been a pro basketball partnership like Bryant and Fisher’s — the highly credentialed and often contentious superstar and his special vocational friend, the man Bryant affectionately calls Fish.
In their 11th season together, a run that was interrupted for three years when Fisher left Los Angeles, Fisher has become a Lakers authority in his own right, the one teammate of Bryant’s who has his ear along with the uncontested right to raise a voice.
“We’ve gone through different facets of life together,” Bryant said. “He’s always been a standup guy, a friend who is more like a brother.”
Fish and Kobe built their strong bond before even taking the floor for the Lakers, as Bryant recalled to Araton:
“It started at a tournament in Long Beach over the summer,” Bryant said. “We were playing together over the summer, working long hours, and as the season went on, we didn’t play much, so we had to go in to work early and play a lot of one-on-one.”
Fisher, a stumpy 6-foot-1 guard from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, would not back down to Bryant, who headed one of the gifted preps-to-pros classes of the 1990s. They clawed each other on court, commiserated off it and ultimately coalesced into an enduring tandem, the Lakers’ Lone Ranger and Tonto.
“Kobe trusts him more than anybody on the team, and you can see it,” said Suns president Steve Kerr.
Now the two will embark on their seventh Finals together looking to add a fifth ring for each other.
“We’ve got the stories, man,” Bryant said. “The stuff you want to share in the rocking chair, the ones that bind you forever."
To read more about Derek's relationship with Kobe from Harvey Araton of the New York Times click here. Fran Blinebury also delves into the Fish and Kobe story on NBA.com. DerekFisher2.com covered the story with D-Fish after the Finals last season.
TAKING ON THE CELTICS
For the second time in three seasons, Derek and the Lakers will be tasked with taking on the Boston Celtics, the team that deprived them of the title in 2008.
No. 2 averaged 10.8 points, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game for the Lakers in the 2008 Finals, but ultimately Boston won out in six. D-Fish expects the 2010 rematch to be a rough go for both teams.
“It should be testy. You are playing for the world championship,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think there’s any expectation that it will be a walk in the park.”
But Fish knows trophies are not awarded for toughness and that execution counts above all else.
"I don't know there is a measuring stiff for toughness. All that matters is who win or loses the game. All that: Who's tougher? Who's Bigger? Who's stronger? Who's faster? Who shoots the ball this way or that way? It comes down to which team wins the game. That's really what we need to just remain focused on rather than getting caught up in some of the little things that don't have to do with executing and playing basketball."
Derek noted that, in practice, the Lakers have been trying to get more comfortable with the things the Celtics do offensively.
"Really keying in defensively on the things that are going to be important for us," Fish said. "Transition defense is going to huge because of Rondo’s ability to push the pace and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen’s ability to stretch the floor in transition."
Derek will be tasked with stopping either Rondo or Allen, depending upon the moment in the game. He said he expects the Lakers to do a lot of switching on the versatile Rondo.
"They'll be multiple changes. We'll do whatever needs to be done to have success," Fish said. "There will be guys all over the place guarding everybody. There will be times when we have to switch. There will be times that you have to play someone that's taller, shorter, faster or stronger. You just figure it out."
Fox Sports previewed the Finals and notes that, given his tough tasks in this postseason and his grasp of the Lakers scheme, No. 2 is well-equipped to handle Rondo.
"Does any right-minded NBA fan still insist that Fisher is the Lakers' weak link?
Fisher's mastery of the triangle offense enables him to find open spaces from which to launch his super-clutch jumpers. And he's also the NBA's best position-defender at the point.
For sure, Rondo will wreak his usual havoc, but Fisher will also make his mark known. After all, on the heels of dealing with Steve Nash, guarding Rondo is a picnic -- one with lots of ants crawling all over everything in sight, but a picnic nevertheless."
But as Brian Martin and Gene Warnick of the LA Daily News write, Rondo might be the toughest in a line of tough point guards that D-Fish has had to handle this postseason.
"Fisher has successfully navigated the NBA's postseason point-guard gantlet - Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Steve Nash - and now might be facing his toughest task. The 6-foot-1 Rondo, with his athleticism and aggressiveness, was arguably the best player in the playoffs after the Celtics vanquished King James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals."
With that in mind, Fish may often switch with Kobe and take Ray Allen, because as the Daily News surmises:
"Hustle and positioning, not necessarily quickness, are key there."
D-Fish said whatever he's asked to do, he will give it his all.
"You just have to be willing to stick your chin in there and keep fighting and working hard, regardless of what happens. Understand, that you're playing against the best players in the world. There will be times when they're playing great or doing some great things. You can't get discouraged by that. You have to stay focused on what the team's goals are."
In the end, Derek knows what's at stake:
"It’s quite a run, and there are a lot of people that obviously deserve a lot of credit," Derek said when prompted that he and the Lakers are playing in their 7th Finals in 11 seasons. "You know, we just have to understand that this is not you don’t get the trophy for getting here. You don’t get a ring for just getting here. We have four very tough games to figure out how to win."
Watch D-Fish talk more about the series, thanks to the LA Times Video Blog here.
The first of those four can come tonight when Derek Fisher begins his seventh NBA Finals, with eyes on his fifth ring. All that stands in the way is the Boston Celtics. Tip-off of Game 1 of the NBA Finals from the Staples Center is scheduled for 6 p.m. PST and the game can be seen on ABC.
Underrated Fisher continues to do Lakers' dirty work (NBA.com, May 31, 2010)
Lakers have many defensive assignments to consider against Boston (L.A. Times, June 1, 2010)
Lakers guard Derek Fisher on matching up with Boston Celtics (LA Times Video, June 2, 2010)
Lakers-Celtics Matchups (LA Daily News, June 2, 2010)
A sidekick adds luster to a star (New York Times, May 30, 2010)
Ron Artest and Derek Fisher's June 2 quotes (The OC Register, June 2, 2010)
Derek Fisher's post Game 6 Interview (The OC Register, May 30, 2010)
Lakers match up better with Celtics (Fox Sports, May 30, 2010)