SAN ANTONIO — The face of the Mavericks' franchise is Dirk Nowitzki. It's the fingerprints that have undergone a change this season, particularly over the last couple of months. Not coincidentally, the identity alteration has coincided with improved play.
A strand of Jason Kidd's DNA has been weaved into the fabric of this team.
"There's no question about whose team it is," Jason Terry says. "J-Kidd, how he goes, we go. It's his show.
"He feels more confident in the structure and the way this team is set up. He's had a year to get comfortable. And he's going to have a great series. He knows this is his year."
As they start the playoffs Saturday night against San Antonio, the Mavericks can look themselves in the mirror and accept who they are.
Wiser? They certainly hope so.
A team with its own personality that's all about the players? Absolutely.
They have taken on the persona of Kidd, their leader on the court. It took time to get here. But the 36-year-old point guard has formed a union with coach Rick Carlisle to become the brains and heart of the Mavericks.
"I'm not going to talk about what he can't do anymore," Carlisle says. "I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in what he can do and how the strength of his will has influenced our team in such a positive way this year.
"I had Reggie Miller when he was 39, and he still had that greatness about him. Kidd still has that greatness about him."
Kidd, who struggled mightily last year in the playoffs because of a combination of Chris Paul's superior play and coach Avery Johnson's firm grip on the flow of the game, looks like a different player as the Mavericks open the best-of-7 first-round playoff series against the Spurs.
This will be a series about two aging teams that still possess the ability to dominate if the stars play well on the court and line up perfectly in the hoops galaxy.
For Kidd, it is a shot at redemption, to show that getting overmatched last year in the first round won't be the lasting legacy from his second tour with the Mavericks. Don't start shoveling dirt on him just yet.
"I hope not," he says. "I might be a step slower in some people's mind. But I feel I'm smarter. I just have to use my wisdom and anticipation a little more than I had to when I was 20-something."
And he has to have the trust and belief of his teammates and his coaches, which he's earned.
"For whatever reason, we just didn't jell," he said of last year's team. "This is a whole different season. We won a lot of the close games that we didn't win last year. We're having fun doing it and there's no better time to start feeling good about yourself than now."
As Terry says: "Redemption is something you hold in the back of your mind because we left some things unfinished."
Carlisle, in his first year as coach of the Mavericks, hasn't seen the decline of the franchise. He's only been here long enough to try to reverse the trend.
He's gotten a lot of help from his players, particularly Kidd. Carlisle realized early that he was going to have to have Kidd as a catalyst if this team was going to shed the things that had polluted it over time.
"More than anything, one thing that I saw as being part of my job this year was to facilitate this team taking on their own identity and that it was going to be their team and it wasn't going to be the coach's team," Carlisle said. "I really feel like the players have done that. Halfway through the year, they sort of decided: Hey, we're going to put this on ourselves, and we're going to fight and take this to another level.
"Part of it has been an adjustment in style of play. We've been more of an up-tempo team, clearly."
The change became clear after the Jan. 25 blowout loss at Boston on national television. After that game, the Mavericks talked about what had to be done to take this team from the 25-19 record they had then to something better.
After that catharsis, they went 25-13.
"We've grown a good identity as a team that doesn't break under pressure and when the game's on the line can get the job done," Terry says. "It's a tremendous difference this year going in. Last year, we had a lot of distractions on and off the court. Mentally, we weren't clear. This year, physically, we're about as healthy as we're going to be. Mentally, we're real good. We played extremely well the last two weeks of the season. And matching up with San Antonio, we feel we match up good with them, and they match up good with us. It's going to be a crazy series."
Which will make it fit right in with a crazy season in which the Mavericks have morphed into something different.
The next couple of weeks will tell whether it's something better.
"I just have to use my wisdom and anticipation a little more than I had to when I was 20-something."