Jason Kidd's minutes key for Mavericks

DALLAS -- All due respect to Tyson Chandler, but a full tank of gas for Jason Kidd might have been the most important addition for the Dallas Mavericks' championship run.

Kidd entered the previous postseason on empty, a major factor in the Mavs' continuing their maddening trend of one-and-done playoff appearances. He was rested and ready to roll at the end of the regular season a year ago, and the Mavs made remarkably quick work of the Western Conference bracket and offseason champion Miami Heat en route to the NBA mountaintop.

That's why managing the soon-to-be 39-year-old point guard's minutes might be coach Rick Carlisle's most important task during this crazy, compressed season.

The Mavs must have a fresh, rested Kidd to have any realistic hope of repeating. However, as competitive as the Western Conference is, the Mavs might need the 18-year veteran to play well and often to qualify for the playoffs.

That's quite a dilemma for Dallas, especially considering how hard this season has already been on a body that has logged more than 50,000 NBA minutes. He's missed 10 of 28 games due to back and calf injuries and has often looked his age and then some when he has been on the floor, averaging career lows in scoring (4.3 points per game), assists (5.6), field-goal percentage (.295) and 3-point percentage (.270).

That doesn't mean it'd be wise to declare that Kidd, the Mavs' crunch-time orchestrator and king of intangibles, is done. Just flash back to late March and early April last season, when he looked absolutely awful, and then remember what a critical role Kidd played in the Mavs' title run after getting a little rest.

Nor is it wise to offer the Mavericks advice on how to handle the future Hall of Fame point guard the rest of this irregular season.

That didn't stop me from suggesting that perhaps Kidd ought to come off the bench when he returned from a strained right calf. Carlisle ignored that advice the past two games, when Kidd stuffed the box scores with a total of 13 points, 18 assists, 13 rebounds and three steals in wins over a couple of West playoff contenders.

Actually, Carlisle didn't exactly ignore the advice. He referred to it as "nonsensical" and playfully but repeatedly ridiculed it publicly. And he had some pretty good company.

"You've lost all credibility!" Dirk Nowitzki scoffed when he caught wind of the half-baked Kidd-off-the-bench idea.

The thought process was to conserve a legend, not demote him. Kidd is averaging a career-low 28.7 minutes per game, but even that reduced workload has worn him down. The only reasonable way to get him to around 20 minutes per game is to bring him off the bench.

Kidd's value to the Mavs isn't at its highest in the first five minutes of the game. It's in the last five.

Ideally, Kidd's value to the Mavs isn't in the first 66 games. It's in the 16 wins they hope to get again once the playoffs begin.

"I don't know about doing it during the playoffs, but you never know." Kidd said of coming off the bench. "You might be on to something."

That's a case of Kidd being diplomatic and letting Dirk speak for him, in case you couldn't tell.

And given their shiny new championship rings, there's a decent chance the Mavs know best.

If Carlisle needs help managing Kidd's minutes, he'll ask. The lines of communication are open between Carlisle, Kidd and Mavs head athletic trainer Casey Smith.

If owner Mark Cuban is asked for his opinion, he'd offer this reminder: "We're going to try to win every game, but not at the expense of winning a championship. We know which games count more."

The Kidd Minute Management Committee understands that, as evidenced by Kidd sitting out the second overtime Saturday night. Backup point guard Delonte West's clutch performance ensured that didn't mean sacrificing a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, but that's a price the Mavs would have been willing to pay to avoid pushing Kidd too far a couple nights into his return.

It's a safe bet that Kidd will sit out some more games this season, even if he can stay healthy. For instance, set the over-under at seven games for Kidd in the seven-city, nine-game, 12-night stretch for the Mavs coming out of the All-Star break.

For now, the plan is to limit Kidd to 18 minutes entering the fourth quarter and ideally no more than seven more in the fourth quarter. That's easier said than done, especially if the Mavs keep struggling to put teams away after building big leads. Kidd's minute total got pushed to 27 in Friday night's win over the Timberwolves and 31 after Saturday's first overtime.

"I feel great," Kidd said as he left the American Airlines Center on Saturday night. "I feel great."

The Mavs' repeat hopes depend in large part of Kidd being able to say that again at the end of April.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.