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Derek Fisher points to off-seasons off the court as key to his longevity

October 12, 2010 |  7:30 am

56601071Among fast sports cars, European imports and sleek convertibles, one way a family van or station wagon can distinguish itself is through careful maintenance and dependability.

It's an approach Lakers guard Derek Fisher fully understands. He saw how the 2008 Olympics kept Kobe Bryant (fast sports car) and Pau Gasol (European import) active and in shape during the 2009-2010 season. He noticed how Lamar Odom (sleek convertible) similarly has benefited this preseason after helping Team USA win gold in the 2010 FIBA World Championships. And he also has looked at himself (the family van or station wagon) and has realized that remaining efficient requires constant maintenance.

That has proved crucial in allowing Fisher to play in all 82 games the last five regular seasons. His 413 consecutive regular-season games is the second-longest streak among active NBA players. It's no coincidence that he accomplished that feat once he decided to refrain from playing basketball in the off-season six years ago. Fisher has insisted that playing so many consecutive games doesn't consume him, but the habit of maintaining himself as a 36-year-old point guard does.

So instead of playing competitive basketball nonstop in the summer, Fisher said he's reached a happy medium by devoting his off-seasons to off-court workouts. He stays tuned up by staying in shape, but he avoids high basketball mileage by staying away from the court.

"For me individually, it's worked well," said Fisher, who signed a three-year deal this off-season worth $10.5 million. "I can't say that works for everybody. A lot of guys need to play in the summer. But for me, it's something that benefited me in being able to play every game of every season and actually be my best at the end when maybe other guys are breaking down or a little tired."

Laker fans surely know the resume Fisher brings to the postseason, what with his game winner with 0.04 of a second left in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs, his two three-pointers in Game 4 of the 2009 NBA FInals against the Orlando Magic and his crucial performances in Games 3 and 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. Fisher's performance in the 2010 playoffs improved over the regular season in points per game (10.3, 7.5), field-goal percentage (44.8%, 38%), three-point field goal percentage (36$%, 34.8%) and minutes per game (32.7, 27.2). Usually, Fisher's inconsistent regular-season performances have divided Laker fans, who come to realize his worth in the postseason, a topic I endlessly defended regarding  Fisher's value.

His off-season work this year has yielded positive results in the first two games of the preseason. Fisher had quality performances against Minnesota (12 points on four of nine shooting in 15 minutes) and FC Barcelona (12 points on four of five shooting in 30 minutes). There's nothing definitive to derive from two games, let alone exhibitions, but so far he's taken the right path.

"Overall I feel good," said Fisher, though he added that he wants to sharpen his on-court interaction with newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. "The first week it takes everybody a little bit of time to get used to bumping bodies and really bringing the level of intensity that you have to bring on a daily basis day after day after day. But overall, I feel there are some things I'm doing well out there. You're always looking to improve and get better in areas, but overall ... I feel like I'm in a good place. I feel like our team is in a relatively good place considering our schedule. We'll keep working from here."

56580287So why does Fisher feel so great? He arrives to practice a few hours early for workouts, so he remains fresh. Considering Lakers Coach Phil Jackson limits Fisher's minutes during the regular season and Fisher expects to play no more than 30 minutes per game this season, the early workouts help make him feel ready even when he's not logging a lot of time. Fisher's off-season workouts entail two 90-minute sessions for three consecutive days, emphasizing endurance, core, balance and stability in the morning, and strength in the afternoon. And Fisher says he's managed to consistently stick to that routine.

Such an approach could ensure Fisher remains efficient this season. As Laker fans know, that doesn't always happen with Fisher, whose inconsistent shooting numbers and defense yield endless questions about his worth. He doesn't need to produce impressive numbers since Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom can fill that order. But if Fisher at least shows efficiency, you can surely point to his off-season approach as paying dividends. And it will result in several side-effects.

Fisher's prediction that he and Blake will play on separate units will prove more seamless, with high production from both likely yielding a good one-two punch by the starting and reserve units. Inconsistent production from Fisher could lead to endless calls for Blake to start over him, though Jackson insists  Fisher will start because of his experience, standing in the locker room and expertise with the system. A consistently efficient Fisher could yield fewer minutes because the Lakers would have built sizable leads. Likewise, inefficiency could result in scaled-back minutes because of a lack of confidence that Fisher can still produce.

There's plenty of signs that point to efficiency, but again, there's a whole season to go. If the best-case scenario plays out, Fisher will easily be able to pinpoint the reason why.

"I've played on teams that have played a lot of basketball every season," said Fisher, who has played 82 playoff games in the last four seasons, including a one-year stint with Utah and three seasons with the Lakers. "To me, it made sense that I needed to make that decision. But it's within the context of the additional training methods that I used. I'm doing things that still keep me in a great place physically. I don't need basketball to stay in shape. Some guys have to play in order to condition. The way I train, I don't necessarily have to do it that way."

--Mark Medina

Photos, from top: Lakers point guard Derek Fisher begins a baseline drive against FC Barcelona guard Victor Sada during an exhibition game Thursday. (Credit: Andreu Dalmau/EPA); Fisher tries to score against Minnesota's Wesley Johnson. (Credit: Ian Kington / AFP/Getty Images)