It certainly wasn’t easy, but the Los Angeles Lakers finally closed out the New Orleans Hornets in a six-game, first-round series of the NBA Playoffs last week. Next up, they take on the Dallas Mavericks in a second-round series that begins tonight. The Lakers’ struggles in the opening series have left plenty of people wondering if the team has what it takes to pull off the three-peat. Point guard Derek Fisher, who is plenty used to hearing those doubters, says they do. Fisher admits that age is creeping up on he and his teammates, but that that can’t take away the fact that they know how to win.They’ll have to prove that against a hungry Mavericks team that cast away its own doubters by defeating Portland in six games.
Derek Fisher joined ESPN Radio Los Angeles with The Stephen A. Smith Showto discuss the first-round struggles, why the Lakers haven’t taken a step back, those who claim he and the point guard spot are the Lakers’ weak link, why he thinks the Lakers are still the best team in basketball, the second-round series with Dallas and where things stand in terms of a potential lockout following this season.
Was first-round series as tough as it looked or did you guys just make it tough on yourselves?:
“I think it was tougher than maybe we expected and definitely people on the outside looking in expected. There was a belief that Chris Paul was their only legitimate threat and big-time player, so we’d be able to easily handle them. But I think all of their guys came to play and played well. … We figured out a way to get it done as the series moved on.”
Have the Lakers taken a step back from where they’ve been the past few years as players get older?:
“I think Father Time is knocking at everybody’s door. Every team in professional sports has to deal with the realities and demands of every season. For us, this is our fourth consecutive run at possibly winning the championship and having a chance to win three consecutive championships. That takes a toll. So there’s no question that we’ve been impacted by the run that we’ve been on. At the same time, that has no real impact on the ability to perform and perform at a high level when you get out there on the court. … It’s about execution, it’s about poise, it’s about experience, it’s about understanding time and situations.”
What does he say to doubters who say the point guard spot is a weak spot for the Lakers?:
“I think most of those people are looking at stats when they say that. They’re looking at numbers and saying, ‘This guy scores more and has more assists and he’s more important to his team.’ … That’s fine. I understand there’s a lot of people out there like that. But the reality of it is the votes that count the most are my teammates, my coaches, first and foremost, and then real basketball people from within the game. … They understand the value that a player like myself brings to the team.”
Are the Lakers the best team in basketball right now?:
“I’m always going to say that we’re the best team in basketball, not just because of what we accomplished in the past, but who we are right now. People obviously have strong opinions about the way we play or sometimes how it looks. … But we know how to win. We’ve won two championships, we’ve been to the Finals three years in a row and we’re confident in our ability to deal with these circumstances.”
On the second-round matchup with the Dallas Mavericks:
“We’re looking forward to taking a step forward. … Right now, this is about business. Regardless of what team you play, in this case the Mavericks, in order to handle your business, you have to step through and deal with the teams that you’re facing. Right now we’re facing the Mavericks. Obviously Dirk Nowitzki is where everything starts and ends with them, but it’s also the contributions of guys like Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry and Jason Kidd … and getting contributions from all their guys. … We’re going to have to be ready to go and we’re excited.”
As the president of the Player’s Association, where do things sit with a potential lockout?:
“Right now things are pretty much status quo in terms of the last discussions we had with the NBA. They’ll be getting a proposal to us pretty soon and we’ll take a close look at the proposal, discuss it with our executive committee and our members and then start making decisions from there in terms of how best to move forward. But I think the NFL situation, everyone in the NBA, whether it’s the players’ side or the owners’ side, is watching the situation very closely. There’s a lot of differences between the two sports, in terms of how some of these legal decisions will be made, but there are enough similarities to where how this NFL situation plays out will definitely have an impact on the way that the NBA can negotiate and the way that the Player’s Association can negotiate in response. … We want to get a deal done. NBA basketball has never been more popular and we don’t see any reason why it should stop.”