DENVER – Game 3 of Lakers-Nuggets is a few hours away at Pepsi Center on a beautiful day around the Rocky Mountains, and the building subplot isn’t far behind: Derek Fisher against his old team and, more to the emotional point, Derek Fisher against his old backcourt running mate.
Kobe Bryant does not love the idea. But with Fisher and the Thunder in complete control of their first-round series against the Mavericks and the Lakers in position to take the same 3-0 lead against the Nuggets tonight, Los Angeles vs. Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals is quickly moving from likely to inevitable.
Bryant obviously wants the second round. And he may even want the Thunder, the young opponent that has been trying to push the Lakers into a retirement home for years, the opponent that spent most of the regular season as West favorites.
But looking forward to facing Fisher, a close friend and confidant?
Not so much.
“I’d be a little torn,” Bryant told NBA.com. “I’ve always wanted to see him do well, I’m always pulling for him and so forth. But at the same time, being great friends, somebody has to win and I’d rather it be me.”
Bryant admitting that much – that he would be torn – is a rare side of the superstar shooting guard who thirsts for competition. But the situation is that unique, the way they came into the league together with the Lakers, won titles together, became trusted teammates in the way Bryant trusted few from any part of his life, and now the way Fisher was traded to Houston as the pair was beginning to line up another playoff run.
Fisher reached a buyout with the Rockets and signed with the Thunder to back up Russell Westbrook at point guard. Bryant, meanwhile, had to move forward without him, although with hopes of getting Fisher to re-sign with the Lakers in the summer. Even now, even though they had been separated once before, it seems weird to Bryant to be at this stage without Fisher.
“It is,” he said. “It’s different. I find myself having to do the bulk of the speaking and things like that about certain things here and there. Normally it would be something he would say. It’s definitely different.”
Just nothing like the feelings if (when) he faces Fisher in the next round.