By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Lakers may have lost their coolest head in veteran Derek Fisher last week but they have gained a red-hot facilitator in fellow guard Ramon Sessions.
Fisher, who has won five NBA Championship rings in LA with All-Star Kobe Bryant, was traded to the Houston Rockets eight days ago as Sessions was acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers, along with forward Christian Eyenga.
While the absence of Fisher's innate leadership skills and winning mentality will be keenly felt in his old team's locker room, the arrival of 25-year-old point guard Sessions has already given the Lakers much needed speed and athleticism.
In his first five games, the aggressive Sessions has galvanized the Lakers offense and, perhaps most significantly, has freed up the high-scoring Bryant to focus on scoring rather than on play-making.
After recording 17 points and nine assists in Wednesday's 109-93 road victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Sessions was given his first starting role at Staples Center on Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
He delivered in style, scoring a double-double with 20 points and 11 assists as the Lakers triumphed 103-96 to complete their 20th home win of the regular season.
"Sessions did a great job controlling the tempo for us," Lakers coach Mike Brown told reporters after his team had totaled a season-high 33 assists.
"He's shooting the ball well and to have a double-double in 35 minutes is not bad."
Bryant, who scored 18 points against the Trail Blazers, probably misses his old friend Fisher more than anyone else in the Lakers locker room but he has been lavish in his praise for new arrival Sessions.
"He can get into the paint and he's creating opportunities for everybody else," the 14-times All-Star shooting guard said. "Offensively, we're executing extremely well and we're running things with more continuity.
"I've been extremely impressed (with Sessions). He takes a lot of pressure off me and I can be a legitimate two-guard now. Before, I had to score and play-make for others as well. Now I don't have to do that. I can be on the receiving end of those plays."
Sessions, competing in his fifth season in the NBA, had already represented three teams before joining the Lakers last week - the Milwaukee Bucks, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Cavaliers.
In Los Angeles, he seems to have swiftly found his comfort level in a top-quality starting lineup that includes two seven-foot players in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
"It was just one of those nights where I was just feeding off Pau, Bynum and Kobe," said Sessions. "They make my job a lot easier out there. Everybody is paying those guys a lot of attention. I just sneak around and take what they give me."
While center Bynum scored a team-high 28 points and Spanish forward Gasol weighed in with 10 plus 16 rebounds, Sessions became the first Lakers point guard to record a double-double since January 11, 2009.
On that previous occasion, it was Fisher who shone with 13 points and 11 assists against the Miami Heat in a 108-105 win at Staples Center.
"I'm just playing my game, no matter who I'm out there with," Sessions said of his best performance so far for the Lakers.
"The guys in here believe in me and tell me to be aggressive and play my game. It's one of those things where you have to keep being aggressive and be ready to go."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Alastair Himmer)