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Fran Blinebury

In just 11 games, Ramon Sessions is earning the respect of his new star Lakers teammates.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Stakes are higher for Sessions, but game remains the same

Posted Apr 4 2012 9:54AM

LOS ANGELES -- He takes the ball into his hands, spins it around, squeezes it and bounces it once, then twice on the floor.

"Feels the same," he said.

He looks out to where several of his teammates are putting up jumpers near the end of the shootaround.

"Court's the same size, basket's the same height," he said.

At that point, you half expect Ramon Sessions to complete his portrait of the fictional coach Norman Dale from Hickory High School in the movie "Hoosiers" by pulling a tape measure out of his gym bag and climbing a ladder to prove that the rim is still exactly 10 feet off the floor.

At that point, you also wonder whom exactly he is trying to convince.

After all, despite this being his fifth NBA season, how many other times has the 25-year-old point guard left a phone message for his mother to be sure to watch on TV when he was introduced as a Lakers starter for the first time?

"Yeah, well, OK, it is kind of different than the other places that I've played before," Sessions said.

For one thing, TMZ and Access Hollywood aren't often frequenting the streets of Milwaukee, Minneapolis or Cleveland.

For another, Sessions was never looked upon as the jump-starting cable to an NBA championship.

"There is definitely a different atmosphere inside the building every night, when you can take a look around and see all the faces that you're used to watching on TV and the movies," he said. "You realize that they are now here to watch you.

"There is also a different level of expectation that, I guess, is natural from a team like the Lakers that is used to going to The Finals all of the time and competing for a championship," Sessions said. "But really, I've been trying to treat the games the same way that I always have. I have always taken pride in being a tough competitor and doing what I can to win every game. I think the only difference is that the stakes are higher and lot more people know who I am now."

It is a remarkably rapid transformation going from playing for self-respect at the bottom of the Central Division standings with the Cavs to playing alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace in the purple and gold of the Lakers.

It's been said that the Lakers haven't had a point guard with as much speed since Nick Van Exel in the 1990s. Hall of Famer James Worthy took the comparison back further to Norm Nixon in the 1980s. Either way, a guy who has never taken part in a single NBA playoff game will now be front and center for the most historically glamorous team in the league. There is no place to hide when you're the point guard for the Lakers.

In his 11 games with the Lakers, seven as a starter, the Lakers are 7-4 and Sessions is averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 assists while shooting .533 from the field. That's not unlike the numbers he posted in his first three stops in the league after being taken with the 56th overall pick by Milwaukee in 2007. The change has been in the Lakers.

With a lineup that included the league's leading scorer in Bryant and the up-front tandem of Gasol and Andrew Bynum, it was practically inconceivable that the Lakers' offense should have spent the first two-thirds of the season mired in mediocrity.

Before the arrival of Sessions, the Lakers were like a drummer with no innate sense of rhythm. They lacked speed and flow and while point guards Derek Fisher and Steve Blake might have understood how things should run, they were too old or too slow or both to actually do it.

With Sessions on board, the Lakers have not zoomed up in the standings, but their offensive efficiency has improved as has their outlook on their potential.

"I've always looked at this season as much more of a process than a product that was finished and ready," said coach Mike Brown. "So when you add in a new point guard to the picture, it only means the process is going to take a little longer.

"But with Ramon's addition, I think we're in a position where we know we have more offensive capability that we believe we can reach as we get closer to and into the playoffs.

"What you've been able to see right from the start is that Ramon is a smart player and he's got the kind of confidence and leadership ability that you need in your point guard," Brown said. "Even in the very first games that he played for us, when he was just learning everybody and going by instinct, you saw him turn the corner and drive to the hoop. You saw him make plays. He's fearless."

Which he'd have to be just to walk into a situation where he not only has to satisfy Bryant as a teammate, but do it while being the guy who replaced his good friend Fisher.

"I didn't come in here to try to be someone else or take over a role from a veteran who won a lot of championships," Sessions said. "I've always had a lot of respect for Kobe's game and all I can do is hopefully earn his respect with the way that I play."

Bryant admits that he didn't know much about Sessions other than someone he'd cross paths with only a couple times a year while playing in the other conference.

"But what you found right away is that his speed is a game-changer," Bryant said. "He's a great playmaker making plays for others as well as scoring himself. I just think his overall pace is going to be beneficial for us.

"It used to take a lot of energy for me to run screen and rolls, get in the paint, make plays for other people, go to the post and rebound and then have to defend," Bryant said. "He can take a lot of that off me. But he's not just here to make things easier for me, but to create opportunities for everyone in our lineup."

Sessions paid his dues in his the NBA D-League as a rookie and for the past four itinerant seasons has been a point guard who has piqued the interest of teams around the league by showing flashes, but was constantly getting squeezed out by the likes of Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee), Jonny Flynn (Minnesota) and the presumptive rookie of the year Kyrie Irving (Cleveland).

In a season that began with them trying to deal Gasol in a three-way trade that would have landed Chris Paul, the Lakers ultimately chose to tinker at the edges rather than blow up their two-time championship foundation. At this point in his career, Sessions was still pretty much a grab-bag unknown quantity, yet still physically represents a significant upgrade over the 37-year-old Fisher, whose past heroics were fading fast in L.A.

He's practically made a career out of being the subject of trade rumors and suddenly Sessions is the one responsible for keeping the Lakers' Big Three fed, content and full of hope, all under the glare of those Hollywood spotlights.

"I'll take the pressure, even though I don't think of it as pressure," he said. "This is why I've been working hard for all these years."

The ball, the court, the height of the basket -- nothing has changed.

Yet everything has.

"This is the kind of chance I've wanted," Sessions said, "to do it here."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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