OKLAHOMA CITY — After chasing championships for so many years with the Los Angeles Lakers, Derek Fisher finds himself standing squarely in their way.
Fisher joined up with the Oklahoma City Thunder after being traded by the Lakers during the season, choosing to buy out of his contract with the Houston Rockets and sign with a team he thought had a chance of winning the NBA title.
Fisher already has won five championship rings with the Lakers, but now his new team is a victory away from knocking Los Angeles out of the playoffs. The Thunder get their first chance in Game 5 Monday night in Oklahoma City.
Fisher has had to put his personal friendship with Kobe Bryant on hold during the series. The two greeted each other the first time Fisher came off the bench and checked in during Game 1, but otherwise they are adversaries for the duration of the Western Conference semifinal series.
"As much history as we have, there's no holding back in terms of trying to advance to win the championship," Fisher said. "Personal friends or brothers or however close you are to somebody, it's about winning. He knows that better than anybody.
"I learned that and accomplished that right alongside with him, and so we feel the same way."
Fisher played with Los Angeles for 12½ of his 16 NBA seasons, and the only other time he made the playoffs with another team was in 2007 with Utah. But the Jazz didn't face the Lakers.
Los Angeles dealt Fisher at the trade deadline in March, when the Lakers added a first-round draft pick, point guard Ramon Sessions and backup forward Jordan Hill to try and improve for the stretch run. Fisher, 37, chose his age as his jersey number with the Thunder, trying to make a statement that he still could play.
Statistically, Fisher has struggled in the series. He has averaged just more than four points and one assist and his playing time has been reduced. Fisher's plus-minus is the worst of any Oklahoma City player, with the Lakers outscoring the Thunder by 12 points while he's on the court.
Yet coach Scott Brooks believes there's another way to measure the impact of Fisher, who has never put up big numbers averaging 8.6 points and 3.1 assists — over his career.
"He loves the game, he has passion for the game and he's a winner," Brooks said Sunday after Oklahoma City flew back home, landing after 5 a.m. because of thunderstorms. "I can never emphasize that enough: He's a winner, and you can never have enough of those on your team."
Before the series started, Fisher informed Oklahoma City of the Lakers' tendencies. During games, he regularly has pulled aside teammates for a few words of guidance. One of L.A.'s locker room leaders is now working for the enemy.