Derek Fisher has been struggling lately, sitting out the entire fourth quarter in three close games -- against Golden State, Sacramento and the Clippers.
But Lakers Coach Phil Jackson isn't close to making a lineup change, preferring to stick with the 35-year-old instead of handing over the job to one of the 20-somethings, Shannon Brown or Jordan Farmar.
In one breath, Jackson acknowledged the defensive shortcomings of the 14-year veteran. In the other breath, he stuck up for Fisher's steady hand on the court.
"We function so much better with Derek on the floor as an offensive team that it's very important for him to be out there," Jackson said Friday. "He has all the knowledge that's necessary for a lead guard. He knows how to keep our guys in what we want to get done out there on the floor. It's very important, and we actually talked a little bit [Thursday] about that, in supporting him in situations where defensively he may be playing back-to-back games or may be overmatched in a certain situation."
In the past, Jackson has also mentioned Fisher's penchant for making key shots, including a late three-pointer against Miami last month and, of course, crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 4 in the NBA Finals against Orlando last June.
Jackson told the team about the need to cover for Fisher more often, including Friday against Portland, when Fisher was matched up against veteran Andre Miller, who set up in the post on several occasions.
"Tonight's a night where Miller takes guys in the post and tries to mistreat them in there," Jackson said. "We have to be prepared."
Fisher finished with 15 points and one assist in almost 35 minutes. He played seven minutes in the fourth quarter. Miller had 17 points and seven assists.
Pau Gasol went with the team to Portland but sat out a third consecutive game because of a strained left hamstring. All told, he has missed 14 games this season because of hamstring injuries.
The Lakers' next game is Sunday against Milwaukee, but it doesn't look as if Gasol will be back. "I don't think he's actually got on a treadmill or [elliptical machine] or anything and really run yet," Jackson said.
In the cards
The Washington Wizards reportedly have banned card games on team flights, a reaction to the alleged gambling-and-guns dispute between guards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, but the Lakers aren't going to follow suit.
"I think it's just a PR thing, personally," Jackson said. "What are these players going to do when they get back to the hotels? Or they get back in their home space? They're going to houses or their rooms in the hotels and gamble.
"The planes might even be a spot for them to do it because they're monitored and they're in the company of guys and whatnot. It hasn't been a problem. We have about four or five guys that play on our team and they seem to have a wonderful time doing it and it seems to be really like a great release for them to pass time."