LOS ANGELES (AP) - Derek Fisher sticks to the background most nights for the Los Angeles Lakers, contributing a few assists and an occasional 3-pointer while his high-profile teammates get all the attention.
Every once in a while, the old D-Fish comes out to remind the Lakers' potential playoff opponents there's a world-class closer lurking back there behind Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Fisher spearheaded a late comeback with big back-to-back defensive plays to put the Lakers ahead, followed by the clinching jumper with 10 seconds left in Los Angeles' 12th win in 13 games since the All-Star break, 84-80 over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
``I do relish the opportunity to help us win from time to time, whether it's the first quarter or the fourth,' the five-time NBA champion guard said with two big wraps around his knees and both feet in a bucket of ice. ``Experience does create a lot of situations where it allows you to think clearly under pressure in big-time situations. It's like riding a bike.'
Bryant scored 10 of his 22 points in a dynamic fourth quarter for the Lakers, who won their first game without suspended center Andrew Bynum. Fisher had early foul trouble and scored just eight points, but he took over late.
``He makes big shots all the time,' Bryant said of Fisher. ``He didn't have a good game (statistically) because he was in foul trouble, (but) his stroke was there, and he's shooting the ball well. He makes big plays.'
Moments after feeding Bryant for a tying dunk, Fisher's steal and layup with 1:56 to play gave Los Angeles its first lead since the first half. His icy-cool 17-footer wrapped up the Lakers' remarkable rally.
``D-Fish came through,' said Lamar Odom, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds while starting in Bynum's place. ``We could have easily lost this game, but I thought we got better. We made some steps as a team. We showed we can win these games, but we don't need to put ourselves in that position.'
Although their last two wins haven't exactly been works of art, the Lakers formally clinched a playoff berth earlier Sunday when the Utah Jazz lost to Houston. The win also wrapped up their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title and 50-victory season.
Bryant thrived again despite his sprained ankle and sore jaw, highlighting his night with a picture-perfect fallaway jumper with 32 seconds to play. Gasol added 14 points and 13 rebounds while taking on more work in the absence of Bynum, who was suspended two games by the NBA on Sunday for his flagrant foul on Minnesota's Michael Beasley two days earlier.
Nicolas Batum scored 22 of his 25 points in the first three quarters for the Blazers, whose three-game winning streak ended with a fourth-quarter flop, scoring just 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting.
``Once again, we have control of a game, and we don't execute down the stretch, and they tighten up their defense,' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. ``We have a few turnovers and miss some shots. We had an opportunity. The things we've been doing well, we didn't do them.'
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 18 points, and Marcus Camby grabbed 10 rebounds before hobbling off the court with an injured ankle in the final minutes. He'll have X-rays on Monday.
In Bynum's absence, Portland outrebounded the Lakers 45-35 - grabbing 17 offensive boards - and nursed a steady lead throughout the second half after making a 15-0 run spanning halftime, holding the Lakers without a field goal for 6 1/2 minutes.
But Bryant's acrobatic layup pulled Los Angeles to 74-72, and Bryant dunked after a turnover and a pass from Fisher to even it at 76 with 2:20 to play.
After Fisher's layup and a jumper by Bryant with 1:11 left put the Lakers up by four points, Ron Artest got a technical foul from referee Dan Crawford after exchanging shoves down low with Gerald Wallace. Bryant and Fisher calmly replied with late jumpers.
``The only reason they scored at the end was off our turnovers, really,' said Andre Miller, who scored seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. ``We had control of the game, but we didn't keep on top of it. Every loss is big right now, but we move on.'
Bryant showed no ill effects early from his sprained ankle and a sore jaw resulting from a head-to-head collision with Minnesota's Martell Webster. The All-Star game MVP scored 10 points in the first half, but the Lakers missed Bynum's defensive presence and even his scoring in the first half, getting just eight points apiece from Gasol and Odom.
Portland took its first lead on Aldridge's layup 53 seconds before halftime. Batum went 8 for 10 for 19 points in the first half, hitting a 3-pointer in the final minute to stake the Blazers to a 48-44 lead.
Matt Barnes banked in a 3-pointer from a step inside the half-court line at the third-quarter buzzer, trimming the Blazers' lead to 66-62.
NOTES: With three straight losses to the Lakers, Portland lost the season series with Los Angeles for the first time since 2004-05. ... The Lakers have reached the playoffs in 33 of the last 35 seasons, missing the postseason only in 1993-94 and 2004-05. ... Fans near courtside included Bruce Willis, Will Ferrell, David Arquette and Andy Garcia.
The Associated Press News Service
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