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In the right place, at the right time, Irving laughs a lot more these days

Kyrie Irving is really no different than regular people, aside from the psychic handles, next-level shooting, and apparent immunity to any pressure situation.

There was a time when he wasn’t as mature as he is now, just like all of us. And Irving now has the benefit of perspective when looking at his past. It’s been a journey that has led him here, to the Mavericks, where, according to the people who know him best, the superstar guard has been smiling a lot more.

As coach Jason Kidd has said, deep dives into Irving’s past are no longer relevant. The insights from his days in New York or Boston or wherever don’t really apply to where Irving is now.Kidd

“From the outside you look at his calmness, he’s at peace,” Kidd said Sunday. “And sometimes that happens at a certain age in life. But maybe also with the people around him. . . that could also have something to do with it.

“But you can tell he’s smiling, he’s happy and I think that’s been the case since he arrived at the trade deadline last year. I thought you saw that he was happy and peaceful. And he has been very consistent in that so far. I think he’s just happy.”

Kidd has known Irving for a long time. And their bond goes beyond the relationship between coach and superstar. And for Irving, he’s really done the right things on the court and in the community to cement himself as a new fan favorite in Dallas.

That wasn’t always the case during his previous NBA stops.

And he doesn’t take what happened with the Mavericks for granted.

Kyrie“I’ve been in this league for a while now,” Irving said. “I’m just grateful for those who have been with me from the beginning and all the new supporters, I’m grateful for them. It’s a whole new generation looking at me now. So I am aware of that.”

And it also helped him realize that being in the spotlight doesn’t necessarily bring stress or drama.

“I’m very responsible with what I say and what I do and how I approach my daily life,” Irving said. “And as a young person I didn’t really think about that. I really had no idea who I was as a person. I had to find that out.

“And what you see now is a version of me that I am proud of. I look at myself in the mirror every day and give myself affirmations. I meditate, I pray. I’m just being more consistent in my daily practice to help me stay grounded. Part of knowing who you are is knowing where you come from.”

Irving said he felt some people had prejudices about him earlier in his career without knowing him, which sometimes happens with public figures.

But now that he’s reached basketball middle age, he’s learned a few things.

“That’s all just part of the process of growing up in life,” he said. “It’s not the time to blame anyone or hold grudges. I just look at it as an opportunity to help the next generation see that you can come through the fire and still rise like a Phoenix.”Kyrie

There’s no doubt as the Mavericks begin the second round of the playoffs against the Thunder on Tuesday in Oklahoma City that Irving has risen since arriving in Dallas. He carried the Mavericks in two games during the first round win against the Los Angeles Clippers and came up with a big performance in the second half to lead the team.

That was the case in the clincher in Game 6, when he had 28 second-half points to ice the series.

In his first playoff series as a Maverick, he averaged 26.5 points. These were the 18e playoff series he was a part of. Only in three other series did he average more points.

Rookie center Dereck Lively II said he and his teammates have learned how to see Irving’s hot streaks coming.

“Getting hot? Definitely,” he said. “You can feel when he’s really locked in. Sometimes all it takes is a missed shot, maybe a layup or even an assist and you can just see how well he is in tune with the game and how locked in he is trying to find his spots. He’s one of the most controlled players I know.”

And against the Clippers, Irving also stepped up on defense and asked to guard James Harden for stretches in the second half.

Taking on that kind of responsibility is something Irving wants to do more of.

“Some of the best players to ever play the game are recognized for doing it on both ends of the floor,” he said. “You have to have that extra equipment to guard the best of the best.

“I can make more of an impact if I do it on both ends of the floor. My transgression will come and go. I feel like I can play with the best of them on that side of the field. But defensively I want to make my mark there. And I know it stimulates the group.”

It certainly had an impact against the Clippers.

And that series also contributed to another Irving legacy. He’s now had 13 closeout opportunities. His teams are a perfect 13-0 when they have their opponents on the brink of elimination.

“When I think about going 13-0 in closeout games, I just know we have to get to that point, to be ready to make the other team submit,” Irving said. “It’s one of the hardest things to do as a competitor.”

And nothing does more to ingratiate a player with the local fan base than taking care of business on the floor.

But fans have also seen Irving not only play the game well, but play it the right way.

This isn’t New York or Boston. Are Maverick fans demanding? Naturally. But they also know what it’s like to see greatness. And Irving has been nothing short of that this season.

X: @ESefko