Originally created 05/03/04

Kidd-Billups matchup could be key in Nets-Pistons series



AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Jason Kidd made Chauncey Billups' last offseason much longer than Billups wanted it to be.

When the New Jersey Nets swept the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, Kidd was dominant with Billups hobbled by a sprained ankle.

How long did the disappointment linger?

"All summer," Billups said. "Knowing we had a good run going and I couldn't be healthy and help my team like I wanted to, it nagged me. This time, I'm healthy."

When their second-round series starts Monday night, Billups will be looking forward to matching up with Kidd again.

"It's going to be important because we both pretty much run our teams, but it's definitely nothing personal with me," Billups said. "I'm trying to win the series.

"I think he's the best point guard in the game, and I love that challenge."

Kidd also heaped praise on Billups after Sunday's practice.

"He's a great point guard in the sense that he can get to the basket," Kidd said. "He can find the open guy. He can knock down big shots coming down the stretch. He can shoot the 3-ball with the best of them.

"I've got my hands full."

Kidd was a major reason the Nets won Games 1-2 against the Pistons last year at The Palace before returning home to complete the sweep.

Kidd's 20-foot fadeaway over 7-footer Mehmet Okur found the net with 1.4 seconds left to give the Nets a 76-74 victory in Game 1.

In Game 2, which New Jersey won 88-86, Billups missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer with Kidd in his face.

Kidd averaged nearly 24 points in the series, about nine more than his career average, while Billups scored just under 10 a game.

"If they need me to do that this series, so be it," Kidd said. "I think teams will try to make me score because they know I like to pass."

Billups came into the league as a shoot-first point guard, and perhaps that's why he bounced around before landing in Detroit two years ago with a six-year, $35 million contract.

What looked like a gamble has turned out to be a relative bargain. Billups averaged 16.2 points and 3.9 assists last season, and 16.9 points and 5.7 assists this year.

"It feels good to have stability now, and to have people around here just as confident in me as I am," Billups said. "I'm grateful for that because I've seen the other side. Detroit gave me an opportunity, and I've been running with the ball ever since."

New Jersey did plenty of running against the Pistons in the playoffs last year, outscoring them 94-15 with the Kidd-led fast break.

Kidd led the Nets to the NBA finals in his first two years with them. After signing a six-year deal worth $103 million last summer, he's looking to make it three straight.

He made the All-NBA first team for the fifth straight year after leading the league with nine triple-doubles and 9.2 assists per game. Kidd also has been recognized six times as one of the league's top defenders.

"He's as good of a point guard as we've had in this league," said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who will coach Kidd at the Athens Olympics. "He's unselfish, he gets people involved, he runs the break great, and he makes everybody on his team better at both ends of the court."

After Detroit beat the Nets 89-71 - and New Jersey committed an intentional late foul to snap a record streak of sub-70 point games - on March 18, Kidd rested his injured left knee until April 6.

"I feel a lot better than I have in the past," Kidd said Sunday.

Detroit's Rasheed Wallace has been slowed by a sore left arch in the playoffs, and Brown said he may not practice again during the postseason.

"It's cool," said Wallace, who didn't seem worried about his foot.