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Kidd Pumps Life Back Into the Nets

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page D08

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 19 -- Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan was sitting inside an empty Continental Airlines Arena on Tuesday morning following his team's shoot-around when he was asked about New Jersey Nets point guard Jason Kidd.

"He's one of those guys who when the playoffs get close, they can smell it," said Jordan, who enjoyed an excellent relationship with Kidd when Jordan was a Nets assistant under then-coach Byron Scott. "He raises the level of his game and brings his guys right along with him."

"Jason is one of those great leaders you can count on because of his will," Nets Coach Lawrence Frank said of Kidd, guarding Wizards' Jared Jeffries. (Bill Kostroun -- AP)

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The Wizards settle for a 109-101 loss to New Jersey.
Jason Kidd is the main reason the Nets are in contention.
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The Indiana Pacers' loss to the Orlando Magic on Monday night guaranteed a first-round matchup between the Wizards and Bulls and gave the Washington coaching staff an extra few days of preparation for Chicago.

The Wizards won the regular season series, 2-1, and the Bulls will be playing without center Eddy Curry, who is out for the season with a heart condition. Wizards advance pro scout Wes Unseld Jr. has been putting together a rough scouting report on the Bulls while keeping in mind that Chicago will adjust based on what the Wizards like to do.

"It's not so much strategy yet but we can do some preliminary work as we finish these next two games," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said during yesterday's shoot-around. "By the time the playoffs come, a team is what it is, so there aren't any real surprises. What you want to do is take away their main sets, their main options. If they have 25 sets with three options for each set, you want to take away their top two options for each set. Those are things you can start concentrating on."

Ruffin Out Again

Forward Michael Ruffin missed his second consecutive game with heel soreness and will not play in tonight's regular season finale against the Knicks. Ruffin, who averaged 16 minutes and was the only Wizard to appear be in the first 71 games, is expected to be available for the playoffs. . . . Washington's 13 first-quarter points last night were not a season low. The Wizards managed just 11 points in a Nov. 13 loss to Cleveland, 13 in a Jan. 24 win over Cleveland and 11 in an April 11 loss to Indiana. . . . Forward Jared Jeffries suffered a bruised left knee early in the first half and did not return, but said he should be able to play tonight. . . . Despite last night's loss, the Washington franchise has won at least 45 games for the first time since the 1978-79 season, when the Bullets won 54 games en route to the NBA Finals.

-- Ivan Carter

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If Jordan had respect for Kidd before Tuesday night's game, imagine how he felt after watching Kidd turn in his best performance of the season during New Jersey's 109-101 victory. Kidd had 26 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals -- in the first half.

Kidd finished with a season-high 35 points, just missed the 68th triple-double of his career and was clearly the best player on the floor on a night when the Nets (41-40) moved one step closer to wrapping up the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Nets can ensure a playoff berth with a victory at Boston on Wednesday night in the season finale. However, a New Jersey loss combined with a Cleveland win over Toronto would put Cleveland in the playoffs and leave the Nets out.

Smart money would bank on Kidd doing whatever needs to be done to get the Nets to the postseason for the fourth straight summer. Tuesday night's victory over the Wizards came on the heels of Sunday's 104-83 whipping of the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers and provided evidence that if they do get into the playoffs, the Nets might not be an easy out.

The key, of course, is Kidd, who is only cementing his status as the game's best point guard and a future Hall of Famer.

"Jason is one of those great leaders you can count on because of his will," said Nets Coach Lawrence Frank. "Not only his impact on the game but his impact on his teammates. You can see it. He goes out and says, 'Come on.' "

Kidd has long been known for his smooth ballhandling and pretty passes and he's occasionally found a hot shooting streak, as he did Tuesday night. The key to New Jersey jumping out to a 32-13 lead at the end of the first quarter, however, was Kidd's defensive pressure on Washington point guard Gilbert Arenas. Kidd attacked Arenas as soon as Arenas crossed half court and sparked several fast breaks with steals and defensive rebounds.

Arenas missed all three of his first-half shots and finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting.

"J. Kidd was a defensive leader and he brought everybody with him," Jordan said. "We warned them but our guys didn't know exactly what was going to happen. . . . He sets a defensive tone and gets out on the break and share the basketball. That's the right way to play."

Getting into the playoffs would be a major accomplishment considering what Kidd has been through this season. He underwent micro-fracture surgery on his left knee last July and missed 16 games early in the season when the knee began causing problems.

Once thought to be lottery bound, the Nets have won 14 of 18 games to get back into the playoff picture. To provide a sweet ending, however, Kidd knows that the Nets must finish Wednesday night in Boston.

"There's no time for fatigue," Kidd said. "This is the fun time of the season."

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