DALLAS — Derek Fisher has walked in the shoes of the Dallas Mavericks.
Just last season in fact.
It's a place Fisher remembers all-too well and one that, no matter how hard he tries, won't easily be forgotten.
That place is on the wrong end of a playoff sweep.
The Mavs are on the brink of that reality thanks to the Thunder unexpectedly thumping Dallas in its backyard in Game 3 on Thursday.
With a win in Game 4 on Saturday night inside American Airlines Center, the Thunder can notch its first playoff sweep of the franchise's Oklahoma City era and add Dallas to a shortlist of defending champions to fail to win a playoff game.
How's that for motivation?
Dallas is in danger of becoming just the fifth champion to not win a single game in the playoffs the year after winning the title. Two defending champions, Boston in 1970 and Chicago in 1999, failed to qualify for the postseason. The other two, the Philadelphia Warriors in 1957 and Miami in 2007, were swept out of the first round.
In NBA history, only five other defending champs were swept in round two or later.
Fisher was a member of one of those teams. His Lakers lost 4-0 to the Mavericks in the semifinals a year ago.
“Having been there before, (it sticks with you),” Fisher said. “And I don't even know if it only lasts for one summer. You just never forget not finding a way to win a game in a playoff series. But you learn from it and you grow from it.”
If the Thunder does indeed deliver the knockout punch to Dallas on Saturday, however, it hardly assures OKC a parade. In both instances where the defending champion was swept in the first round, the culprits (Chicago and Syracuse) were ousted in round two.
Of the five other defending champions that got swept in round two or later, only three were eliminated before the Finals. And just two of those three teams, Chicago in 1991 and Dallas in 2011, went on to win the title.
That explains why the Thunder, at least publicly, isn't getting caught up in talk of a sweep. All year, Oklahoma City has had its sights set on a championship, not a sweep of the Mavericks and not revenge for last year's West Finals defeat.
To the Thunder, this series — and even the possibility of a sweep — is seen only as a part of the necessary process.
“The goal is to win four out of seven,” Fisher said. “And we're three games closer to that goal.”
If anyone on the Thunder knows how tough this first chance at a closeout game will be it's Fisher, a five-time champion who has appeared in more playoff games than any active player.
“They still have a number of guys that were on their championship team a year ago,” Fisher said. “And when you have championship DNA you don't quit. And so we can't expect this team to quit because they're down three games. I anticipate they'll play their best game of the series (Saturday). And we're going to have to figure out a way to try and best that in order to win.”
The word respect reverberated through the Thunder team for 30 minutes Friday as players talked to the media. If this sweep is to be, they know it must start with maintaining deference for Dallas.
“We got to respect these guys,” said Kevin Durant. “We know they're not just going to let us come in here and sweep them. They've got a lot of pride. They play hard. So it's going to be a tough, tough closeout game and hopefully we do it. We know we have to be prepared and focused and locked in to complete a task like that. But we got a good opportunity.”