02/21/2012 - 15:00 Laker Leaders Take Charge by
As distractions continue to pull at the team, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant are doing their best to lead the Los Angeles Lakers.
They did it in more ways than one on Monday, pushing the Lakers to an on court victory over the Portland Trail Blazers before rallying the troops off the court.
"Our success and what we are going to do as a team and accomplish as a group, relies on the players at the end of the day," D-Fish said Monday night. "We can't put it off on the coaches. We can't put it off on management. We can't put it off on the condensed schedule. We just have to continue to hold ourselves accountable."
With that in mind, after the big win over Portland, Derek and Kobe held a players only meetings to address recent trade rumors that have swirled around the team. The goal was to express support while renewing the focus and unity of their teammates.
"It can be challenging if you allow it to be," Derek said of dealing with the trade rumors. "At times we have allowed it to take away from our ability to just focus on playing and really come together as a team...it's our responsibilty as a team to surround that guy and surround all of our guys with respect, appreciation and support. At the end of the day, other than the 14-15 guys that wear this uniform, everybody else is on the outside."
Watch Derek talk with reporters about the uncertainty around the Lakers below, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:
The team meeting was well received, but the win over the Blazers might have been LA's biggest message on Monday. The Lakers seem to have Portland's number, as they've won of 17 of their last 20 against the Trail Blazers at the Staples Center. But Monday's performance — a 103-92 victory to which Derek contributed eight points, three assists, two steals and three rebounds — was particularly dominant.
The Lakers did not waste any time getting things going in one of their best defensive starts of the season. Los Angeles held the Trail Blazers to just seven points in the first 12 minutes of play, forcing misses on 19 of the Blazers' first 22 shots.
The LA offense was just as strong as their defense. Derek started off the game with an assist to Andrew Bynum, who finished with a layup. The Laker attack rolled over Portland in the first and midway through the quarter, Fish found himself at the foul line, where he sank both free throws to continue Los Angeles' offensive run. A minute later, No. 2 hooked up with Bynum again for a six-foot jumper putting LA up 18-7.
Derek returned to the foul line during the final minutes of the quarter and went 2-for-2 again as part of LA's 21-0 run that went from the 4:52 mark in the first quarter and ended with 8:52 left in the second. Los Angeles led 52-30 at the end of the first half and the quick lead built by the Lakers was too much for Portland to overcome.
With their best defensive game of the season, the Lakers stifled the Trail Blazers (Getty Images).
The Trail Blazers attempted to rally coming out of the locker room but the offensive rhythm of the Lakers was too smooth. Derek nailed an 18-foot jumper with five minutes left in the third, increasing LA's lead to 19 points.
In the final quarter of the game, the scoring gap slowly began to close but then Derek and Kobe returned to the floor. No. 2 immediately answered a 14-4 Blazers run by hitting a 17-foot jump shot, bumping the lead back to 12. D-Fish assisted Bryant's jumper just a few minutes later and Lakers were able to close out the game to improve to 14-2 at home. The victory is the Lakers' fourth in their last five games.
"We're still in a good place," Fish said of the 19-13 Lakers. "We're in the middle of the pack in a very tough Western Conference. But we're starting to feel like we know each other better than we did at the beginning of the season."
The Lakers travel to Dallas to face last year's NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 9:30 EST and the game will be televised on ESPN.