Jason Kidd knows this NBA playoff series is a piece of cake for Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson.
Twice during a three-year span while playing for Villanova, Brunson helped lead the Wildcats to the NCAA championship. The second time, in 2018, not only was Brunson the best player in the NCAA tournament, he also was a consensus All-American and the best player in college basketball.
In other words, Brunson was all that and a bag of championships.
“What I really respect about JB is he’s always been questioned at every level – high school, college – and he’s always found a way to win,” Kidd said. “You need those type of players on your team for the environment.
“If you’re trying to win a championship you need a JB on there to help that. He’s been doubted here in the league, and he’s had success and I think he’s proven a lot of people wrong.”
As the Mavs prepare for Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz – tipoff is Saturday at noon at American Airlines Center – Brunson said his mentality and focus will stay the same no matter if people continue to doubt his capabilities.
“The game plan and execution and all of that staff changes a little bit,” Brunson said. “One thing I try and think about is that this is still basketball, this is still fun.”
The mitigating circumstances that come with a loss doesn’t even enter Brunson’s mind.
“More is at stake,” he said. “I don’t really consider the pressure. I try and blurt out the added distractions when it comes to the playoffs, but I’m just really excited for this opportunity.
“I’m not really too worried about putting pressure on myself. I don’t see it as pressure. I see it as an opportunity.”
From Brunson’s perspective, if he prepares properly and gets mentally ready to handle whatever Utah throws at him, he knows the results should be what he wants them to be.
“I have the perfect people around me,” Brunson said. “I have great teammates, I have a great coaching staff, and they’re going to put us in position to be successful.
“Us, together as a team, we give each other confidence to go out there and make plays.”
This season has been all about an opportunity for Brunson. He started off this season being a resourceful commodity off the bench for the Mavs, but wound up starting 61 of the 79 games he played in.
“Jalen, with the stage, he’s not afraid,” Kidd said. “You can see his growth. We changed his role, so that just shows character that he can adapt.
“But again, he’s somebody as a coach that gives you the comfort that he’s going to make the right play, and he’s all about winning. That’s just less stress to worry about when he’s on the floor that I don’t have to constantly tell him what to do.”
Brunson and Kidd do share a bond in that they both are point guards who are accustomed to running an offense on a big stage with the lights shining ever so bright. Brunson, obviously, during those two championship runs at Villanova, was the main man at the wheel for the Wildcats.
And while Kidd led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA title, he also was the key player when the New Jersey Nets advanced to the 2002 and ‘03 NBA Finals. Thus, talks between Brunson and Kidd are commonplace.
“He’s been great since he’s been here for me,” Brunson said. “We talk all the time, and sometimes it’s not even really planned. I was walking over here to talk to you (media) guys and we stopped and we chatted for 20-something minutes.
“It’s never planned, which is kind of how I like it. It’s organic. We say the things that we need to say, we hear each other out and move forward. He’s been a big part of the reason how I’ve been able to play the way I’ve played.”
Brunson averaged career highs in points (16.3), rebounds (3.9) and assists (4.8) this season, and also shot 50.2 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three-point land. In addition, he led the Mavs in games scoring 10 or more points with 68, and also scored 20 or more points in 21 games.
If Luka Doncic’s strained left calf keeps him out of the series opener, Brunson knows the Mavs are expecting more from him on the offensive end of the floor.
“When you think of the Dallas Mavericks, you think of (Doncic),” Brunson said. “That’s our organization right there.
“So obviously I’m very optimistic (Doncic will play in Game 1), and I’m hopeful for the best and we want him out there.”
And if Doncic doesn’t play Saturday?
“I think when Luka was out for a while in the middle of the season we were able to kind of stay afloat,” Brunson said. “So we were able to win games with him not on the court.
“Obviously this is a different test, but we’re just going to have to see. We’re going to prepare for Utah and do what we’ve got to do.”
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