NEW ORLEANS – They dismissed the Golden State Warriors playoffs debacle as an aberration a season ago, a perfect storm born out of a bad matchup and a sluggish MVP. The Dallas Mavericks had just gone to the NBA Finals and tantalized themselves with a near-title. Through it all, management suspected the Mavs were one move away. Mark Cuban never did stop longing for Jason Kidd.
The Mavericks were desperate for leadership, a presence and the owner reached his own truth that Dallas could no longer live without Kidd.
For a chance to make a move, to win it all, Cuban made peace with giving away tomorrow for today. Suddenly, there isn’t just no tomorrow without Devin Harris and two first-round draft picks. Most frightening of all, a ghost out of Kidd’s past, Byron Scott, has turned his young point guard, Chris Paul, loose on the Mavericks and suddenly today has been thrust into doubt for Dallas.
The Mavericks are on a spiral so sudden, so jarring, that Game 3 of this Western Conference series on Friday promises to test the constitution of Cuban’s creation. This is the moment of truth for Dallas. Kidd has been a lost soul in Dallas and looks like a lost cause with Paul blurring past him.
Every time Paul steps on the floor, he makes history in these playoffs. Once again, he was breathtaking in the Hornets' 127-103 Game 2 victory on Tuesday night. Another night, another blowout. This time, Paul delivered 32 points and 17 assists, obliterating every trap, every double team, every defender that tried stopping him.
So far, he’s playing peerless basketball in these playoffs. Truth be told, he’s threatening to implode the Mavericks franchise.
“Everything we tried on Paul didn’t work,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.
Outside of Scott’s old Lakers Showtime point guard, who has ever been this good, this young running a team in the NBA playoffs? He’s 22, going on greatness. All these teams loading up in the Western Conference, all these old powers engaged in an arms race, never saw this kid, his Hornets, coming this season.
With Kidd, Paul wants to settle an old score for Scott, a coach whom he adores. He wants to take Kidd’s Olympic job and, yes, most of all, he wants to take his season.
For the Mavericks, this return to Dallas is a last stand. That could also be the case for Johnson, the Mavs coach, who will be pressed to withstand two straight opening-round disasters.
Once the Hornets pushed past Game 1 jitters in the halftime locker room, they’ve hung 191 points on Dallas over the next six quarters. This was an embarrassment in Johnson’s hometown of New Orleans, where he starred in high school and college, and there’s no guarantee that he gets back here for a Game 5. Johnson made a desperate public plea to his players late Tuesday night that they need to get “physical” with Paul, that maybe the point guard had it too easy so far.
“We know what’s coming,” Scott said.
Perhaps, this is a smarter strategy for Johnson than wearing that gaudy, glittering Spurs 1999 championship ring to Game 2. “I guess it didn’t motivate,” he said. Here’s the truth: As a franchise, the Mavericks have lost eight of their last 10 playoff games with several blowouts among them. So far, Kidd has been useless to the Mavs in this series, and spotty at best since his February trade out of New Jersey.
“I think Chris has done a great job of being in attack mode and really making (Kidd) play defense, which might have a little something to do with taking away some of his offense,” Scott said.
“We want to make him a scorer instead of a distributor, because (scoring’s) not his game. We’ve done a decent job on Dirk and we’ve done a real good job on (Josh) Howard. If we keep playing this way, we’ll be OK.”
Rest assured, it won’t be this easy in Dallas over the weekend. Yet, there is incredible pressure on Kidd, on these Mavs, to perform.
As much as ever, Dallas looks like they paid a staggering price for the point guard. For a moment, you have to wonder how much the Mavericks miss Devin Harris’ quick feet and long arms on Paul. Cuban forever called him “the best defensive point guard in the league,” but not Cuban, nor Johnson, believed they could win a title now with him. Funny, but the Spurs’ Tony Parker was thrilled with the trade, because he knew Kidd couldn’t defend him in the way that Harris did.
It was assumed that there was immense short-term gain and long-term risk with the trade, but the worst possible scenario is unfolding for Dallas: Short-term disaster, long-term carnage. What was most baffling about the trade was Dallas’ eagerness to give up two future No. 1 picks – three, if you want to count 2006 first-rounder Maurice Ager – to the Nets. Whatever he was saying to keep leverage, president Rod Thorn confessed later that he always knew he had to trade Kidd and there’s little chance that he would’ve let the deal die over Dallas’ refusal to part with a second future first-round pick.
Those picks, the missing size and strength of DeSagana Diop are consequences for a different day in Dallas. For now, Kidd is desperate to get out and run to save his season, but conceded Tuesday night, “It’s hard to run when you’re taking the ball out of the net.”
As it turned out, Avery Johnson kept reaching down the bench for another of those lottery-land Nets to make a difference on Tuesday, a declaration of desperate times in New Orleans. Game 3 or bust now.
Here come these young and restless Hornets – with speed, strength and shooting to burn – and the Mavericks are holding tight for dear life. Here is why Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson wanted Kidd, 35 years old and running out of time like these Mavericks, like this would-be champion that is crumbling before basketball’s eyes.
As it turns out, the Mavericks didn’t just mortgage tomorrow, but maybe today, too.
Last stand in Dallas.
Last call for Jason Kidd.