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Filling Fisher's voids, Jazz to face Lakers

ANAHEIM, Calif. — They were beneficiaries for one year of his on-court calm, and his perimeter defense, and all the savoir-faire that comes with having won three NBA championship rings.

The Jazz, however, are taking a practical approach to life without veteran guard Derek Fisher and the sage direction he delivered before asking out of his contract in Utah and rejoin the Los Angeles Lakers last offseason.

"We'll definitely miss Fish," point guard Deron Williams said Monday, when the Jazz prepared for preseason games against Fisher and the Lakers both tonight here in Anaheim and Thursday night in San Diego.

"But, at the same time," Williams added, "we know we've got guys that are capable of leading this team."

One who warmly embraces the task is power forward Carlos Boozer, the Jazz's leading scorer and rebounder during the 2006-07 NBA season.

"Absolutely, I'm comfortable," Boozer said when asked Monday about accepting a leadership role.

"This is my team. It's me and D-Will's (Williams') team," added Boozer, who joined Williams in publicly criticizing unnamed teammates after Utah was eliminated by San Antonio from last season's Western Conference finals. "Obviously, Coach (Jerry Sloan) has given us the reins to take over, and we have, and we'll continue to lead our team by example."

Boozer deems himself — and Williams, too — ready, willing and most definitely able.

"Some of that comes with being here longer than a year or two, being comfortable with the system, being comfortable with the organization and your teammates," he said. "Some of that just comes with maturity, and I think we've both matured a lot, especially over last season."

Williams readily acknowledges that he and Boozer both intend to tackle the role, but takes a somewhat more diplomatic approach to defining the terms under which they'll do the leading.

"It's everybody's team," Williams said. "It's Booz's team, it's Memo's (Mehmet Okur's) team, it's A.K.'s (Andrei Kirilenko's) team, it's Coach's team. I'm just a part of that team and want to try to be a leader for it."

The one whose team it is not any longer, in any event, is Fisher, the longtime Laker who started at shooting guard and backed up Williams at the point as Utah ended a three-year playoff drought and advanced to last season's conference finals series against the Spurs.

Shortly after the season ended, he cited his young daughter Tatum's ongoing battle with retinoblastoma — a rare form of childhood eye cancer — and the need to be close to specialized medical care for the girl as the reason for asking out of the final three years and $21 million of his contract with the Jazz.

A short time later, Fisher agreed to sign with the Lakers — the team with which he won his three rings — for $14 million over three years.

The move was beneficial in at least one sense for the Jazz, as it will help them sign Williams to a max-money contract extension next offseason without exceeding the league's payroll luxury tax threshold.

But it also left them with several voids.

One was at shooting guard, a position where 2006 lottery pick Ronnie Brewer has emerged as the likely successor in the Jazz's starting lineup. Another was at backup point, a vacancy addressed with the signing of free agents Jason Hart and Ronnie Price. The biggest, however, may have been in the locker room, where Fisher lobbed wisdom like alley-oop assists.

"We were pretty close, man," Williams said. "His influence on me — I always asked him things. ... A lot of guys picked up some of the things that he did."

Boozer may never forget that day the Jazz were down 0-2 to the Houston Rockets in the opening round of last season's playoffs, and Fisher — perhaps best known for his buzzer-beating shot against San Antonio in the 2004 postseason — had a tale to tell.

Said Fisher, according to Boozer: "Everybody remembers my 0.4 shot against the Spurs in Game 5, but what they don't remember is that we came to San Antonio first, went down 0-2, went back to L.A. and tied it up 2-2."

"He was telling us we can back from 0-2," Boozer said. "Little things like that ... In that regard, we can't replace his experience or his court presence."

What Boozer and Williams can do, though, is lead like they were taught.

"Fish definitely helped us out in a lot of ways last year — on the court, off the court. Just his experience helped us to get to where we were at," Williams said. "At the same time, we've got a great group of guys here still, and we feel like we're capable of leading this team."

"We have a lot on our shoulders," Boozer added, "but we're up for that challenge every night."