Commentary

Spring back in Jason Kidd's step

Mavs' rejuvenated veteran has been a surprise, but real test of endurance still to come.

Updated: April 22, 2011, 11:09 AM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Jason Kidd endurance test begins now.

The Portland Trail Blazers might have figured they'd head back home needing to curb one Jason's scoring to stay alive in the series. But Jason the point guard and not Jason the shooting guard?

Yet that is the overwhelming surprise storyline as the Dallas Mavericks take this first-round series to Portland, seeking a 3-0 lead with the 38-year-old Kidd and not Jason Terry blazing the nets.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesJason Kidd is scoring 21 points per game in the playoffs and leads the postseason with nine 3-pointers.
After taking a week off to rest prior to the final three games of the regular season, Kidd has opened the playoffs phenomenally, burying 3-pointers at will. His nine 3s are the most in the playoffs. He's converting them at a 56.3 percent clip, up from his 29.8 percent in March and April.

It gets better. Kidd is scoring from inside the arc as well, taking his man off the dribble, stopping and popping midrange step-back and pull-up jumpers. Most go down hitting nothing but net. He's even finished at the rim a time or two while shooting 64.0 percent overall, almost doubling his season shooting percentage (36.1).

His 21.0-point scoring average is nearly triple his season average of 7.9.

Who had Kidd as the secondary scorer Dirk Nowitzki so desperately needed?

"He looks re-energized," said Nowitzki, who benefited from fewer double teams in Game 2 because of Kidd's continued splendid shooting. "He's using his legs more on his jumper. Other than that, he's just ready for the playoffs. He's been in this league for, I don't know, 25 years? Sometimes the regular season gets a little bit long. He was looking forward to the playoffs and ready to compete."

Kidd made the smaller Andre Miller look silly in Game 1, going for 24 points, his high in a playoff game in six years, with a playoff-high six 3-pointers. But even the younger, stronger and quicker Wesley Matthews couldn't contain the raring vet's rarely seen quick first step in Game 2. Kidd hit for 18 points and scored the Mavs' first nine points of the third quarter to take a lead they wouldn't give back.

"Right now, Jason has his confidence and he's looking for his shot," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "Normally, he's a guy that is going to try to set up the offense, but the last, really, three games -- it started with new Orleans where he made a couple of 3s (4-of-6) in that game. He has had that confidence. With a guy like that who really sets the team up and gets them into their sets -- he's an unbelievable passer, a general -- and now that he's knocking down his shot it makes him even more dangerous."

If the Blazers are stunned, at least they can take solace in the fact that one of the game's great facilitators, who often actively looks to pass up shots inside the arc and considers himself lucky any time he bangs home a couple beyond it, never expected anything like this either.

"Uh, no," Kidd said with a boyish grin and a soft chuckle.

But a new challenge is upon the 17-year veteran. Games 1 and 2 featured a refreshed Kidd. He had the week off to recuperate from a long season in which he played 80 of 82 games. He had two days off before Game 1 and two days to recover before Game 2.

Kidd now faces a one-day turnaround before Thursday night's Game 3, as Game 4 follows quickly with a 4 p.m. (CT) tip on Saturday. If the Mavs don't close out the series with two wins in Portland, it will unfold with three games in five days and two four-hour flights.

"I feel great," Kidd said. "We're just going to stick to the game plan and stick to my routine. I feel fresh. If I can continue to feel like this with the next two games we'll see what happens."

The last time the frenzied Rose Garden crowd got a glimpse of Kidd, he was beat up and dragging, going scoreless in the final game of a six-game, 10-day road trip in early April. The Blazers ran away with the game, which would be Kidd's last until the season's final week.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has managed Kidd's minutes marvelously all season, down nearly three minutes a game from last season. A season ago, Kidd was consistency logging 40 minutes a game down the stretch. He entered last postseason under the weather and played nearly 82 minutes in the first two games of the San Antonio series.

Through two games this time around, he's played less than 68 minutes.

Perhaps the Blazers' best shot is for Kidd to fall ill. He did so temporarily late in the third quarter of Game 2. He broke into a cold sweat, sat down with a stomach ache and then lost his lunch into a cup.

"All kinds of things happen," Kidd said, laughing. "They come on the spur of the moment."

Kidd sat out until the 6:52 mark of the fourth quarter, re-entering with Dallas ahead, 85-80. He registered a rebound and two of his eight assists as the Mavs outscored Portland 16-9 to put Game 2 in the books.

"We've been fortunate to keep his minutes reasonable to this point," Carlisle said. "Again, our balance is critical to our success, so as long as we can keep a lot of guys playing well it's going to help alleviate big minutes for him."

This series -- and beyond -- depend on it.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.

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