Add a name to the list of NBA title contenders, previously thought limited to the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Suns and Mavericks.
They are the Nets, the league’s hottest team, winners of 11 straight after their Friday win at the Hawks.
They can thank the leadership of Jason Kidd, who turned 33 recently and said he feels as good as when he was a young player coming up with the Mavericks.
“I feel great,” he said. “A little bit smarter, maybe a little bit wiser. I feel like when I was in Dallas. Maybe I just can’t dunk, but besides that, you know limitations and you go with that.”
Kidd seems to be getting stronger. He was averaging 10.5 assists and 8.1 rebounds in the Nets’ first 18 games after the All-Star break, and he’s been great defensively.
Another big reason for the Nets’ push is the development of Nenad Krstic.
If not for the Suns’ versatile big man Boris Diaw, Nenad Krstic might have a shot at the most improved player award.
The second-year Serb has averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds during the win streak.
“We may have to change that Big Three to the Big Four,” general manager Ed Stefanski said, referring to Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.
“We thought Krstic would get better, but we didn’t think this. Now I want to be selfish and hope there’s more there.”
THEN AND NOW
The Cavaliers are making their first appearance in the playoffs since the 1997-98 season, when they lost to the Larry Bird-coached Pacers in Round 1.
• LeBron James was 13 years old in the seventh grade at Reidinger Middle School in Akron.
• The Cavaliers’ payroll — $26.7 million — ranked 23rd in the NBA. Shawn Kemp ($8.6 million) earned the most.
• Bill Fitch, the Cavaliers’ coach in their inaugural season (1970-71), coached the Los Angeles Clippers to a 17-65 record. It was his 25th, and last, season of coaching.
JAZZ HONOR MAILMAN
The Jazz finally retired Karl Malone’s No. 32 and unveiled a statue of him on the Delta Center plaza next to the one of John Stockton.
And the city renamed 100 South as Karl Malone Avenue. So the statues sit at the corner of Stockton and Malone.
The ceremony was fairly unremarkable, with Malone rambling on about learning about life, respecting the game and honoring the troops in Iraq.
His most memorable line: When he was drafted, Malone said he was excited about playing in “the city of Utah.”
At the ceremony, he recalled that, saying, “I know now that it’s a state.”
Malone has shocked most people around the team by apparently being content out of the spotlight.
“At some point, you realize: It’s not about you.”
He’s now operating a timber company in Arkansas and owns his own earth-moving company, too. He sold his houses in Newport Beach, Calif., and Salt Lake City and is building a new home in Ruston, La., and raising his four kids with his wife, Kay.
Said Kay Malone, “I used to look out the window at the boats sailing around Newport Harbor. Now? Cows.”
KNOWING YOUR MARKET
The Clippers are allowing season-ticket holders reserve playoff seats for 20 percent of the total cost, instead of making them fork the whole bill up and then refund the unused games, as other teams do.
The Clippers are afraid if they follow the standard practice, their fans will fall down laughing and won’t send in their money in.
Said one club official: “It gets us around the awkwardness of billing fans for the maximum 16 playoff games. A lot of fans think the likelihood of most teams playing all 16 games is pretty much a long shot.”
“They turned into a ball-movement team; they hit the open man. Before, they dribbled it to death. I’ve played for (Magic coach) Brian (Hill), so I know how he wants to play. He wants guys to share the ball. They’ve been able to put some personnel together that’s doing that now.”
— Bulls coach Scott Skiles, on the Magic without Steve Francis.
The Jazz can claim a connection to the Final Four, even though all their former colleges have been eliminated from the NCAA tournament.
Utah borrowed George Mason’s arena for a practice on Jan. 10, the day after beating the Wizards. A few of the Patriots even stopped by to watch Jerry Sloan conduct practice.
Sloan said, “Maybe we should have been watching them.”
Did you know?
• LeBron James became the youngest player to score 6,000 career points, at 21 years, 89 days.
• Warriors coach Mike Montgomery, disdaining interest in the coaching job at Oklahoma University, said, “Why would I want to go to Oklahoma? I had a better job when I was at Stanford.”
• Knicks center Eddy Curry has 18 assists and 156 turnovers.
The Bulls play the 76ers Wednesday and Saturday in what may be the big battle for No. 8 in the East.