The time is now for Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.
Starting with a round 1 win over Portland, the Mavericks have blazed a trail to the 2011 NBA Finals.
The NBA Finals tip tonight in Miami where the Mavs will take on the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series to decide the next NBA champion.
It's familiar territory for J-Kidd, who makes his third trip to the NBA's championship round, and he will draw on that experience when the lights come on tonight. As he has been all playoffs, No. 2 will bring a calming presence to what promises to be an amped up Mavericks team in hostile territory tonight.
"The big thing is just [helping] my teammates understand the moment and stay in the moment," Jason said. "That's my biggest role."
But for the Mavericks in this postseason, J-Kidd's role has gone far beyond that. He has been a facilitator for the offense and a stopper for the defense. He's even put on his clutch shooter hat on a few occasions to bury some big treys. Each of those roles makes No. 2 an important part of the Finals. For coach Rick Carlisle, he represents a coach on the floor, one of the league's best decision makers in any situation:
"It speaks to a higher level of awareness, split-second thinking and phenomenal understanding of the situation," Carlisle said. "He's one of the most experienced and most resourceful players in NBA history. Nothing he does surprises me.
"He does so many things that cannot be quantified on the stats sheet. Just from having a calming influence, a knack for hitting big shots and finding the window to deliver the ball at the right time to the right guy. And defensively … he's a guy that's directing traffic out there for us."
But the Heat are well aware of the obstacles Jason presents as well:
"He keeps himself in great shape. He's 38 in age, but his body is closer to 30," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And the way he moves and reacts…. He has a brilliant mind. I think his IQ makes up for any lost step."
Jason will be matched up in the series with Heat point guard Mike Bibby, but don't expect him to stay there for long, writes Charley Rosen of Fox Sports:
It's hard to imagine J-Kidd's powerful yet quick-handed defense will be wasted on guarding Bibby or Chalmers over long stretches. Don't be surprised if Wade struggles in half-court sets under Kidd's watch.
Rosen continues that he could even see the Mavericks putting Jason on LeBron James for stretches during the series to frustrate the Miami forward as he did Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant. Center Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks' defensive anchor, notes that Jason's defense on the league's young stars has been a theme of this postseason:
"There's just too many," center Tyson Chandler said. "The thing that pops up in my mind is how he's been able to step up defensively and take on the youth."
A HELPING HAND
On the offensive end, J-Kidd will be relied upon, as always, to help the Mavericks offense run efficiently.
"We're always a better basketball team when he's our facilitator on the court, and he's getting guys in different positions and leading the offense, and helping us in our flow game," Carlisle said. "When we've got to call plays, I'll call them once in a while, but he's great at that, too. The more he can do it, the better our team plays."
Mike Prada of SB Nation notes that Jason's contributions on the offensive end can not be overlooked:
"Kidd's Mavericks are in the NBA Finals, steamrolling through three strong opponents to get the chance to knock off the Heatles. To downplay Kidd's role in this team's revival is foolish. He's the one that gets Dirk Nowitzki the ball in his spots. He's the one that spaces the floor with his improved three-point shot and makes key decisions that make teams pay for double-teaming Nowitzki."
It's here, Charley Rosen writes, that Jason will really shine against Bibby:
"Kidd is the mastermind of the Mavs' offense, always making the right pass to the right guy at the right time. If he can no longer get to the basket, he's become a dependable three-point shooter. When Bibby guards him, Kidd can venture into the low post looking more for the appropriate pass than the score. Ditto for Chalmers."
The Mavericks offense will always run through Dirk Nowitzki, who Jason has watched raise his game this postseason, but No. 2 is well aware that Dirk can't do it alone.
"We have to help. Everybody knows Dirk is going to touch the ball," J-Kidd said. "He's going to score. But I think it's also shown in this playoff run that he might not score 40 points, and we find that we can win. So he trusts his teammates.
"That's the beauty of this team, is that we really don't have that like second scorer," he added. "(Jason Terry) will be our first option. After that anybody can go big, from J.J. (Barea) to Shawn (Marion). And so having that on the floor, Peja (Stojakovic) can step in and get hot. So that's the beauty of our team. You can't focus on two guys. We have veteran guys who all know how to score."
Nowitzki talked recently about the important role that Jason has played in the Mavericks' resurgence, as quoted by ESPN Dallas:
"He's been great, man. He's been a blessing. I'm serious. His willpower and his competitiveness reach a level that not a lot of guys reach in this league," Nowitzki said. "He is one of the fiercest competitors I've ever met. I've never seen a guy that can leave the court with two points and be the guy who gets the game ball.
"If there's a scrum for the ball and Kidd gets his hands on the ball, it's his. He's got unbelievably strong, quick hands. If we ask him to guard Kobe [Bryant] or [Kevin] Durant, he can do it. His ability to guard people at 38 is insane."
A LONG TIME COMING
The 2011 Finals are being billed as a rematch of the 2006 Finals, in which the Mavericks famously took a 2-0 lead in the series only to lose the next four games and the championship to Miami.
But Mavericks reserve guard Jason Terry, who started at point guard in that series, pointed out one big difference in the two Dallas teams.
"If you look, to a man, this team is better than it was in 2006. To a man, the whole makeup, the chemistry, just all together. Just look at the point guard on that team. It was me. Look at the point guard on this team: Jason Kidd. Big difference."
However, Jason knows as well as anyone that there are no guarantees in the Finals. He reached this stage twice with New Jersey and came away 2-8 without a ring. He had a different viewpoint then, but, with time, has gained perspective:
"[The first one] was just almost a blur. We were so happy to be there, and we played the Lakers," he told the New York Post. "They were pretty good, so we got swept. It was a great experience of understanding what it took to get there. And for us to continue to be hungry in 2003 to get back there, that's where we really felt we had the opportunity playing the Spurs to win a championship. We came up short in six. That is fulfilling, but you also want to win that trophy, win the whole thing.
"After those two [with the Nets], I thought we were going to go on a roll in Jersey and make it three or four in a row," he added. "But teams change and the game changes in a sense. So once I got traded to Dallas, I just knew at some point -- I thought it would be a lot sooner -- that I would get back to the Finals.
In Dallas, Jason's role has changed drastically, but it may be just that which has given him another opportunity at the Finals, as he told ESPN New York:
"I'm a totally different player in the sense of carrying the load in the first two," Kidd said of how much he has changed since the last time he was in the NBA Finals. "The first two Finals, it was 'Make things happen.' But here, it's 'Make things happen, but also be on the receiving end of somebody else making things happen.'"
Unfortunately for Jason, the final roadblock to the Larry O'Brien trophy this season is just as daunting, if not moreso, than it was in 2002 and 2003.
"I'm always facing the best of the best at this time of the year," he told ESPN New York, of his Finals luck. "It wasn't easy the first two times around. Now you got two of the top players in the world, and Bosh is right there in the top 10. If you want to win a championship, you have to go against the best."
The Heat assembled an all-star bunch this offseason with the championship in mind, but Jason is confident in the group the Mavericks have assembled through years of trades and signings.
"We might not be fast or can jump high, but the big thing is that we compete," Kidd told Mavs Fastbreak. "We wouldn't be playing this time of the year if we weren't doing something right."
Jason will lace up his sneakers tonight as the oldest point guard in NBA Finals history and thoughts of all he's been through to get to this point are sure to cross his mind. But he doesn't plan on letting anything deter he or the Mavericks from their ultimate goal.
"It's been a long journey," he said. "We all expected things to happen a little bit quicker in the sense of maybe being a little more competitive and maybe being in the Finals. But patience is one thing and also just understanding the game of basketball can be very nice and also cruel at the same time. We're enjoying this moment, but we also have to try to find a way to win four more games."
Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals tips off at 8 p.m. CST and can be seen on ABC.