WALTHAM , Mass. -- Jason Terry did his best to downplay it after the Boston Celtics practiced on Tuesday, but there's no denying that, on some level, Wednesday's matchup with the Dallas Mavericks will mean just a little bit more to him than the average game.
Terry spent eight years in Dallas, but the Mavericks didn't make a full-court press to keep his services when he became a free agent last summer. As All-Stars Deron Williams and Dwight Howard held their gaze, the Mavs seemed pretty content to let Terry walk. And when Celtics coach Doc Rivers called him as soon as the clock struck midnight of the free agency period, it was pretty clear that Boston would be Terry's next destination.
Terry likely anticipated the Dallas-related questions that were thrown his way by reporters, and he did his best to keep the emphasis on his current team.
"Right now, we're just concerned about us and stringing together some games," Terry said. "We've won one, lost one, won one. We've got to put together three, four, five games in a row. So that's where our focus is right now. Dallas just happens to be the next opponent, and hopefully we can put together a string. That'll be two in a row for us.
"They've got the same team name, but it's not the same team," Terry continued. "Obviously that was last year, we didn't have the same team or we'd probably still be there. It's a totally different ballclub. Dirk [Nowitzki's] not even in uniform, Shawn Marion might not be out there, so those are the guys I won a championship with and they're not there.
"Definitely a different team, but same name. [Coach Rick] Carlisle is there, he'll be on the sideline, so that'll be emotional for me. I'll go up, give him a good hug. I miss him, he's definitely a good friend, one of the greatest coaches I've ever played for. But anything other than that, maybe if Tyson Chandler was over there, if Jason Kidd was over there, then it would be something extra special. But, honestly, it's really not."
Forgive us if we don't fully buy Terry's words. Without question, the current Mavericks barely resemble the team that Terry won a championship with back in 2011, but old teams often have a way of bringing out the best in players. The players try to diminish the significance (Kevin Garnett has brushed off playing the Timberwolves ever since he was traded to Boston in 2007, for example), but, as Rivers suggested, it's human nature to care just a little bit more.
"I'm sure it does [mean something more]," Rivers said after Tuesday's practice. "I mean, that's just human nature. What you don't want to make it is a bigger-than-life competition.
"Even last night, again, on football, I thought the difference in that game [between the New England Patriots and Houston Texans] was the Patriots came to play and the other team thought it was the biggest game of their franchise. I don't know what that is. That's too big. I don't know that, but I know that's too big. That's a big game, and you don't want that. But I'm sure Jason will have some stuff. He loved it there. But now it's his old team and you know how that goes."
Terry was willing to admit that returning to Dallas for the first time might be a bit more emotional. Even unprompted, he noted that the Celtics visit Dallas for the only time in March (March 22, to be exact), and playing again in the American Airlines Center, where his JET nickname is even more appropriate, might have some more meaning behind it.
It does seem clear, though, that the Mavs' halfhearted attempt to re-sign him last offseason has stuck with Terry. He wasn't shy in expressing his disappointment in his dealings with Dallas' front office after Saturday's win over Philadelphia.
"Definitely disappointed, but, again, it's free agency. It happens," Terry said after the Celtics defeated the Sixers. "They had their eyes set on Deron Williams and, you know, more power to them. I ended up in a good place, though. That's what I am blessed and happy about.
"I really haven't thought about it. I really haven't thought about how it went down. Again, at this point in my career, I had to go with the best offer, and the best offer was here in Boston. It offered me another opportunity to win a championship and they gave me the most money. So that's just being point blank, period. I love Dallas. Hopefully, one day my jersey will hang in the rafters there, and it's still home for me. My kids love it and we'll go back in the summer."
What might be most frustrating for Terry is the 2010-11 Mavericks not having the proper chance to defend their title. They returned the following season without key pieces -- Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson -- and when they were swept in the first round of the postseason by the Oklahoma City Thunder, more changes were on the horizon, including the departure of Terry.
He admitted that the rate at which everything changed following the championship -- changes influenced by the lockout, without question -- disappointed him even more than his own free-agent process.
"No, not at all," Terry said of whether he expected things to change the way they did. "I mean, that was probably the most disappointing thing coming off of a championship. Again, a lot of key factors played into that. I mean, the lockout, obviously. So it is what it is at this point.
"But do we wish we would have kept that team together? Have a chance to repeat? That's a big factor. You look at Miami, they added pieces. They didn't subtract. So you wish you could go back and change it, but you can't. And so now, we're going forward. I believe this team we have in Boston is just as talented, if not more than what we had in Dallas."
It's OK for Terry to care a bit more about Wednesday's game; it's probably even expected. But his comments Tuesday helped to reiterate a key point: He can entertain his past on Wednesday, but his true focus still rests in the present, with the Celtics.
Greg Payne covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.