The time for rest is over. Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks get back to work on bringing an NBA championship to Dallas tonight.

Nine days after dispatching the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-game sweep and booking their ticket to the Western Conference Finals, the Mavs begin that series tonight, hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 at American Airlines Center.

"I think the big thing is we feel good," Jason told ESPN Dallas. "We’re happy we’re starting the series. We would have liked to have started it on Sunday, but now it starts here. The rest that we’ve had is over with. We’ve got to start playing basketball."

The nine days off served plenty of purposes for the Mavs, paramount among them, an opportunity to regroup before beginning the second half of their playoff journey.

"The guys stepped up and for me to get some rest," Jason said. "[We] regroup and understand we get to watch who we’re going to play next and do a lot of studying and make sure we’re prepared."

In the Thunder, the Mavs have to be prepared for a young team on the rise. But J-Kidd believes Dallas can use its experience as a big advantage in the series, as he said on the Dunham and Miller Show on 1310 The Ticket Monday morning:

"They might be in unchartered waters in the sense of not being in the conference finals," Jason said. "Sometimes you’ve got to put them in that situation. If you don’t put them in a situation in which they’ve never been, then you take away maybe your advantage. So we got to make sure we hopefully put them in a situation that they haven’t been in."

At the same time, No. 2 said the youthful Thunder are not to be taken lightly:

"I think we’re probably the oldest team still left. We have to use our wisdom and our experiences," he said. "They might be younger, but also they are talented. And so, we’re gonna have our hands full.… No matter what age you are you have to make the right play at the right time…. They wouldn’t be still playing if they couldn’t."

The Mavericks and Thunder matched up three times during the regular season, with the Mavs taking two of those three games. Jason averaged 9.7 assists, seven rebounds and six points per game against OKC, his best work of the set coming in Oklahoma City on December 27th. That night, in a 103-93 Dallas win, No. 2 came up just short of a triple double, posting a 10-point, 10-assist double-double with nine rebounds.

But the last time the two teams met was in January and OKC has since undergone a makeover, headlined by the trade for Kendrick Perkins to be an enforcer in the middle. Jason told Dunham and Miller that the presence of Perkins changes the game. 

"You talk about Perkins, a guy who is the defensive anchor. He’s a big, he can play, he can block shots. He’s tough. He comes from a team in Boston that was one of the best in defense, and you can see that he’s the anchor for them, so he brings toughness and a big body in the middle."

Along with Perkins, the Thunder feature two of the brightest young stars in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. J-Kidd will be tasked with handling Westbrook, the 22-year old point guard considered one of the fastest players in the game. Jason told Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram that his goal will be to keep Westbrook in front of him and force him to beat the Mavs on the perimeter.

"For me, [guarding Westbrook is] just to try and keep him in front and do the best and hope that he misses," No. 2 said. "He’s starting to be very comfortable in shooting the jump shot. At this point you’ve got to again, make it tough, and tip your hat when he does make jump shots. But again you try to keep him out of the paint. And that’s easier said than done because he can get to the basket whenever he wants to."

The Thunder, J-Kidd says, are at their strongest when Westbrook is leading a break.

"He puts a lot of pressure on the defense when he gets the rebound or he gets the outlet passes," Kidd said of Westbrook, 22. "He puts a lot of pressure no matter if it’s one, two or three guys back on defense.

"He has the ability to get in the paint and make things happen. He’s right there with [Chicago’s Derrick] Rose in being able to get from one end to the other in two or three seconds."

But there is one way that the Mavs can avoid having to deal with Oklahoma City’s lightning quick transition game.

"You’ve got to put the ball in the basket," Jason told The Dunham and Miller Show. "If you turn the ball over against a team like this, they’ll put you to sleep quickly in a sense of getting out in transition. If they’re not getting the ball to the basket, they’re finding open 3’s, so you’ve got to be able to take care of the ball. But even when you do make it, you’ve got to make sure you get back on defense because they’ll come right back at you."

For Jason and the Mavs, it all comes back to that experience factor, as Bill Ingram of HoopsWorld writes:

In the playoffs there is no substitute for veteran savvy, and there are few veterans more savvy than Mavericks floor leader Jason Kidd. He’s not the great individual defender he once was, but he is still as good as anyone in the passing lanes, and he anticipates his teammates on the offensive end as well as any point guard ever has. He’s also proven time and time again that the standard defensive approach of leaving him open from behind the arch is going to cost you three more often than not. Kidd’s offense has already been a huge key for Dallas this postseason.

Jason concludes that it’s on he and the Mavs to make the most of that.

"We have to use our strong points… our depth and our veteran leadership," he said. "If [we] don’t, they’re just as talented as any of the teams left in the playoffs."

DRIVEN TO THE TOP
While the rest was helpful, Jason also used the time off in between series to work on his shooting stroke, which dipped slightly in the second round after a strong start to the postseason.

He stayed late after practices last week to find his rhythm with it, as Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas noted.

Jason Kidd was the last man standing after the Dallas Mavericks completed a second day of full-on workouts as they wait for a Western Conference finals foe.

Kidd stayed behind to fire off endless 3-pointers around the horn as assistant coach Monte Mathis barked encouragement — "There’s the rhythm," Mathis repeated — and assistant Darrell Armstrong rebounding.

"We had a couple of days off, so just trying to get back in the spirit of things," a sweat-drenched Kidd said, "and trying to get better."

Coach Rick Carlisle says it’s in these times that Jason’s value to the Mavs truly shines, as quoted by the AP:

"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."

J-Kidd’s hard work on his game, despite the time off that the sweep of the Lakers granted, is proof positive of how much this opportunity at a championship means to him. He talked to the Associated Press about why it’s something to cherish:

"Nothing is guaranteed," Kidd said. "I have been lucky to make it to the Finals twice and come up short. I have also been on a lot of first-round exits when we were the favorite…. But that’s what you play the game for, to be a champion.

"And that’s with every player. Unfortunately, there’s only been three teams that have won it the last couple of years, so it’s a hard climb and you’re never promised to get there. So, if you do you’ve gotta do whatever you can to win. … When you come in the league, you think you’re gonna be able to win a championship. But there’s so many talented players and the big thing is there’s so many talented teams. You’re never guaranteed to get to the playoffs and also win a championship.

"The game of basketball is all about rhythm and pace," Jason concluded. "Right now, we’re in a rhythm, and hopefully we can continue that in the next series."

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tips off at 8 p.m. CST tonight and like every game of the series, it can be seen on ESPN. Below is the full schedule for the series.

  • Game 1: Tues., May 17, Oklahoma City at Dallas, 8:00 p.m.
  • Game 2: Thurs., May 19, Oklahoma City at Dallas, 8:00 p.m.
  • Game 3: Sat., May 21, Dallas at Oklahoma City, 8:00 p.m.
  • Game 4: Mon., May 23, Dallas at Oklahoma City, 8:00 p.m.
  • Game 5*: Wed., May 25, Oklahoma City at Dallas, 8:00 p.m.
  • Game 6*: Fri., May 27, Dallas at Oklahoma City, 8:00 p.m.
  • Game 7*: Sun., May 29, Oklahoma City at Dallas, 8:00 p.m.

*If necessary. All of the games will be televised on ESPN.

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