Fisher: Trust will lead Kobe to MVP award

If the MVP trophy ends up in Kobe Bryant's hands for the first time in his career next week, then it might have had something to do with the superstar guard's increased trust in his teammates this season.

Bryant has struck the proper chord between shooting and passing this season, and that's made his teammates better players, according to Lakers guard Derek Fisher.

"He's trusted me making big shots," Fisher said Thursday. "He's trusted (Pau) Gasol making plays down the stretch. He's trusted Lamar Odom. He's trusted (Jordan) Farmar, Sasha (Vujacic), Ronny (Turiaf) and everybody who's been out there.

"Luke (Walton) hit a big shot off a penetration and kick in Denver (in Game 4 on Monday night). I think he's done a great job of keeping that balance."

Bryant won the NBA scoring title the last two seasons, but his scoring average dipped from 31.6 points to 28.3 this season and he finished second behind LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He also played fewer minutes, 38.9 down from 40.8.

The Lakers went from seventh place in the Western Conference in 2006-07 to first this season. Fisher believes Bryant's faith in his teammates helped them improve their play, which aided the team's resurgence this season.

"That was really Shaq's so-called complaint," Fisher said, referring to former teammate Shaquille O'Neal. "We had, arguably, the most talent in the league, so let's kind of do this thing together. And now with the team that's constructed, people see the talent we have and it's kind of scary because of how young the talent is.

"If we're able to manage our way through this particular postseason and come up with what we need to become champions right now, then you have to think about how good our future can be if we just continue to trust in each other and believe in each other.

"Right now, we're just waiting to see if we can take that next step."

Of Bryant's willingness to get his teammates more involved, Fisher added: "Other than maybe two or three games where he felt like he had to score 45 or 50 or whatever, it seems like he's been in a nice consistent pace where he's picked a particular quarter to assert himself and score 15 or 18 points. But over the balance of the game, he hasn't put himself in a position where it has to be him (doing all the scoring)."

Who's next?

The Lakers hope to learn tonight whether they will face either the Utah Jazz or the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs. The Jazz can eliminate the Rockets with a victory in Game 6 on Friday in Salt Lake City.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson will be watching intently, of course.

"We'll watch how they defend each other more than anything else," he said of scouting the teams off the television. "Houston has been pretty successful in keeping (Utah's Carlos) Boozer pretty quiet."

If the Jazz win tonight, then the Lakers-Utah series will begin Sunday at Staples Center, which gives Jackson and his staff only one day to prepare for the next round.

If the Rockets win and force a Game 7 on Sunday in Houston, the next round would begin Tuesday and Jackson would give the Lakers a day off Saturday.

Great expectations

In hindsight, Jackson said he should have expected a strong game from Vladimir Radmanovic in the decisive Game 4 against the Denver Nuggets.

Radmanovic had 12 points and played superb defense against Denver's Carmelo Anthony.

"I won't say I was surprised," Jackson said. "That's typical of how he plays. When it gets a little tough, he steps up at unusual moments. He has a penchant for that. That's one thing about Vlade, he's not going to back down. He took the ball to the hoop after he got smacked around a couple of times in the first half.

"He's a gamer. With Vlade you just never know what you're going to get sometimes. He may dribble the ball into the corner in the triangle (offense), and you don't have any idea where he came up with that."