02/25/2008 Mavericks vs. Chicago

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The building, the uniforms, the owner and the expectations are different. So much has changed in the last 11 years, two months and eight days that it hardly seems to be the same franchise.

The last time Jason Kidd suited up with “Mavericks” across his chest, a Clinton occupied the White House. What would the odds have been of predicting a repeat of both in 2008?

Hilary may or may not have her time. Kidd’s is now. Playing before a packed American Airlines Center that had all the energy of a campaign rally Monday night at tip-off, the one-time franchise cornerstone has assumed that office once again.

“I was happy to be back home,” Kidd said as reporters crowded his locker after the game. “This is where it all started for me. I didn’t get the opportunity with that franchise. This one is a little different.”

Kidd lit up the city of his NBA dawn by flirting with career triple-double No. 100 as the Mavs outlasted Chicago 102-94 for their third straight victory – all against teams with losing records. That won’t be the case Thursday, as Dallas (38-19) heads south down I-35 to renew acquaintances with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs are the first contender on the schedule since New Orleans – Kidd’s first game with the Mavs following the All-Star break trade. The Hornets won that game easily as Kidd was noticeably out of sorts. In the three games since, he has 40 assists.

Dirk Nowitzki, though, had the night’s first dish. He asked Avery Johnson on the team flight to end the pregame introductions with Kidd. That spot had been reserved for the reigning MVP.

“That shows what type of man he is,” Johnson said of Nowitzki.

Nowitzki (game-high 29 points), Jerry Stackhouse (23 off the bench), Josh Howard (16) and Jason Terry (11) joined Kidd (11) in double figures. Kidd added nine rebounds and eight assists to make a run at a triple-double for the second time in three games. Erick Dampier patrolled the paint with a season-high 16 boards and seven blocks, one shy of his career high.

“Game ball tonight,” Johnson said of Dampier, “and Stack is right behind him.”

The Mavs raced out to a 17-point first quarter lead and never trailed, but Chicago made things interesting after its slow start. The Bulls cut the deficit to two midway through the third quarter and back to four (78-74) early in the fourth.

The Mavs followed with an 8-0 run and, despite a couple of anxious moments, maintained control for the last 6 ½ minutes. Chicago, reshaped by a trade-deadline deal, played most of the game without Kirk Hinrich (ejected in the second period), while Luol Deng left in the third for a spell after suffering a cut over his left eye.

But the evening belonged to Kidd. The game offered up several sequences that are becoming more common with the former co-Rookie of the Year back in the saddle.

• Touch passes have become contagious. Not only from those you might expect, such as Nowitzki and Terry, but guys like Dampier are getting into the act.

• Long outlets, whether from Kidd or big men corralling rebounds, are igniting the break. Easy baskets or trips to the line usually follow.

• And though it may be impossible to quantify on the stat sheet, a certain pep has returned to everyone’s step.

Kidd last played for the Mavs in Dallas on Dec. 17, 1996. They lost by 36 that night, a common occurrence back then for the worst team of the 1990s. Kidd has six points, three assists and one board in 22 miserable minutes. He was traded to Phoenix the day after Christmas.

Kidd now wears “Dallas” across on his chest. (The team jettisoned the old “Mavericks” jerseys after moving out of Reunion Arena.) Those Mavs faced an uncertain future after Don Carter sold the team to Ross Perot, Jr.

Kidd was actually one of the big reasons Mark Cuban bought season tickets back in those days. Cuban’s investment would expand exponentially in the years to come. The wins and expectations did, too.

After scaling new heights, experiencing heartbreaking lows and several twists of fate, the road eventually led back to Kidd.

Where it ends is anyone’s guess. Just like those presidential hopefuls slugging it out in November.