Mason, Jefferson cleared for takeoff

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Gary Payton and Jason Kidd have been given top billing in the first-round series between the Milwaukee Bucks and New Jersey Nets, and deservedly so. Their common bond -- Oakland natives, All-Americans at Pac-10 schools, future Hall of Famers -- has made their clash at point guard the marquee matchup.

Watching them match dime for dime will be only part of the fun. Seeing who'll catch the passes, particularly the ones floating in mid-air above the rim, is well worth the price of admission (or, in the case of NBA TV viewers, your satellite dish).

The ones most likely to be the recipients of the alley-oops: 2003 slam dunk contestants Desmond Mason and Richard Jefferson.

"It'll be entertaining -- hopefully, for us," Nets guard Lucious Harris said. "They're great players. They almost play alike. They're high flyers and real aggressive. ... It's a good matchup."

In Saturday's 109-96 win, Mason outscored (14-10) and outrebounded (8-0) Jefferson, but Jefferson has the early advantage in the dunk department. For those not scoring at home, Jefferson leads 2-0, throwing down twice in Game 1 -- in the second quarter on the break off a Kidd feed and in the third quarter on an alley-oop by Kidd on a set play.

Kidd, the NBA's assist leader this season at 8.9 a game, helped the Nets tie for fourth in the league with 295 dunks. Jefferson was second on the team with 67 behind Kenyon Martin's 113. In case you're wondering, the Lakers finished first with 399 dunks, led by Shaquille O'Neal's 207.

"JKidd is one of the best passers to ever play the game," Jefferson said. "I'm just fortunate to have him on my team and be able to flow with him."

Mason, the 2001 slam dunk champ as a rookie, has always had Payton set him up for slams. The two came over from Seattle to Milwaukee in February in the trade-deadline deal for Ray Allen, and Bucks fans are still discovering what Mason is capable of in the open court. He doesn't need to be running the break to bring people out of their seats, however. His leaping-out-of-nowhere, soar-over-the-crowd follow slam to force overtime against Charlotte last season will always be part of Sonics lore.

Jefferson and Mason aren't your one-dimensional, Darius Miles clones whose shooting range is an arm's reach of the rim. Both can make the perimeter jumper. Both were acquired by their current teams via trade and -- after emerging in their second seasons -- are considered vital components of their respective franchises' future plans.

"We both play similar games -- high-energy guys, offensive boards, run in transition," Mason said. "We're still developing our game as young players. We just play extremely hard. So it's going to be a battle every game we play."

You never know when that next "I-can't-believe-he-did-that" moment is going to come. That's why you should keep an eye on Mason and Jefferson, or at least where Payton and Kidd are lobbing the ball.

"It's going to be fun," Mason added. "Me and Richard, we both know each other pretty well -- it's just going to be fun."

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.