Kidd making most of what could be last title shot
Jason Kidd walked off the court slowly, his blue long-sleeved T-shirt, white jersey and gray warmup pants soaked in sweat. As if an intense scrimmage wasn't enough, he'd also just pushed himself through a series of 3-pointers and free throws - two series, actually, going through his around-the-arc, to-the-stripe routine on each end of the court.
By the time Kidd finished, he was the last player headed to the locker room.
As much as the 38-year-old needs to rest up for the Western Conference finals, Kidd also knows this could be his last chance to finally win an NBA title and he's determined to make the most of it.
''That's what you play the game for, to be a champion,'' Kidd said. ''It's a hard climb and you're never promised to get there. If you do, you've got to treasure it and do everything you can to win.''
Kidd reached the NBA finals in 2002 and '03 with the New Jersey Nets. They were swept by the Lakers, then turned away by the Spurs. He was in the prime of his career and figured he'd have another chance.
Instead, this is his first time to even make the conference finals since then, and it comes in what could be his last season. Kidd has said he'll walk away from the final year of his contract if a lockout wipes out much or all of next season.
But that's a conversation for another day. Right now, all he's thinking about it is winning eight more games to fill the only void on his Hall of Fame-worthy resume. He'd do it in historical fashion, too, becoming the oldest starting point guard on a title team, according to research by STATS LLC.
''When you come into the league, you think you're going to be able to win a championship, but there are so many talented players and the big thing is that there are so many talented teams,'' Kidd said. ''It just hasn't happened.''
The Mavericks are considered favorites to come out of the West, with home-court advantage, fresh legs and a wealth of experience over either Oklahoma City or Memphis.
Either way, Kidd will face a young, speedy point guard. After two rounds of picking on guys his own age, Portland's Andre Miller and Derek Fisher of the Lakers, Kidd will be chasing either 22-year-old Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City or 23-year-old Mike Conley of Memphis.
''No matter what age you are, you have to make the right play at the right time, and Westbrook and Conley can do that,'' Kidd said. ''They wouldn't be still playing if they couldn't. Whoever is guarding them is going to have a challenge.''
In other words, Kidd may be off the hook. He will be part of the group asked to slow those guys, but not their primary defender.
Kidd can still play great defense - he guarded Kobe Bryant in crunch time during the last round. It's just that keeping pace with those guys is tough at his age, as exposed by Tony Parker in losing a first-round series to the Spurs last season.
Kidd isn't the oldest player left in the postseason, or even second-oldest. Chicago's Kurt Thomas has five months on him, and Miami's Juwan Howard is one month older. But those guys are role players. They average a combined 16.1 minutes per game this postseason; Kidd averages 33.6 and plays point guard.
He's cheated time by knowing what to do and when to do it. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle called Kidd a basketball ''savant,'' putting his basketball IQ in the realm of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and John Stockton.
Here's how Carlisle described Kidd's importance to the Mavericks: ''There's all the things he does on the court skill-wise - running the break, shooting the ball, finding people, playing defense, getting deflections, causing havoc defensively - and then there are the intangible things, the leadership, the experience, how that translates into an advantage for our team and how he keeps guys engaged and ready to play.
''If somebody makes a mistake and is dropping their head a little bit, he makes sure they come right out of it. As we've seen in these playoffs and other years, it's a 48-minute game. You've got to play the whole 48, and he's one of the guys that makes sure our guys do.''
Dallas is 8-2 this postseason and riding a six-game winning streak, the longest in franchise history, and coming off a sweep of the two-time champion Lakers. While some fear their long layoff will slow their momentum, Kidd isn't among them.
''If you get rest this time of year, you have to take advantage of that,'' he said. ''That's the way we've got to look at it. We did our job to get to four wins in the last series and now we got a little break.''
Kidd took a little break late in the regular season, using the time to change his grip on shooting 3-pointers, spreading his fingers apart like Dirk Nowitzki does. He made 6 of 10 in Game 1 of the playoffs, but hasn't been in that kind of groove since.
His touch was back in his post-practice drills Thursday and Friday. The challenge will be doing it when the arena is full and the defense is chasing him.
''The game of basketball is all about rhythm and pace,'' Kidd said. ''Right now, we're in a rhythm and hopefully we can continue that in the next series.''