OAKLAND -- When Golden State hosts the Dallas Mavericks tonight in a rematch of last season's historic playoff upset, the player who led the Warriors' defensive charge will have the best seat in his house.
Stephen Jackson, the Warriors' tattoo-strewn emotional leader, is just past the halfway point of his seven-game suspension for pleading guilty to a felony charge of criminal recklessness. Though he can practice with the Warriors at their downtown training complex, he must stay on his couch when his winless teammates head to Oracle Arena.
"Just being away from the game is tough," he said Wednesday, still sweating after another workout. "My team is not playing well right now. I kind of take the blame for that. Not being able to play the game you love is definitely hard."
The last time Jackson had this much free time, he covered most of his torso in new ink during the summer -- a big gun on his chest, a jack of diamonds on his back, and a menagerie of imagery in between.
He's sticking to basketball and good deeds these days, taking his role as a team captain seriously and filling his idle hours with community service. While his teammates take their pregame naps today, he'll be at Lakeshore Elementary School near downtown Oakland, reading to kids and handing out goodie bags.
But wherever he goes in the Bay Area, Jackson still gets praise from long-suffering Warriors fans for his defensive play against Dirk Nowitzki during arguably the greatest upset in NBA playoff history. He's just disappointed he won't be able to help when Golden State attempts to extend its five-game regular-season winning streak against the mighty Mavs.
"Dallas is going to come in here with more to prove than we have," Jackson said. "We're trying to get to the point where we're playing well and we can win a game. Dallas is going to have something to prove from the way we beat them last year. ... We can't go back and live off that series. That series is over, so we're moving forward."
Yet the Warriors all have fond memories of that magical postseason series after their frantic late-season rally to secure their first playoff berth in 13 years.
Golden State dispatched the 67-win Mavericks in six games with a free-flowing offense and a defensive charge led by Jackson, who harassed the league MVP into an awful series.
"What really gave us confidence going into that series -- they changed their lineup," Jackson said, recalling the Mavs' switch to a small-ball lineup for Game 1. "They won (67) games last year, and they came into the playoffs against an eighth seed and changed their lineup? We knew we were in their heads some type of way.
"I think we have the greatest coach at playing mind games in Coach Nellie. He gave us the best information about them that anyone could."
Nelson doesn't have any tips for tonight's rematch. In fact, he's just hoping his injury-riddled club can stay close to Dallas.
As for Jackson, he's aching to get back on the court so the limping Warriors can repair the damage done by an 0-4 start that's likely to get even worse. After their visit from the revenge-minded Mavericks, the Warriors must face Detroit and the unbeaten Los Angeles Clippers before Jackson returns for an East Coast road trip.
"This is the end of all the drama I've been in the last few years," Jackson said. "The end of my probation, all this stuff. Once I put this stuff behind me, I'm moving straight forward. ... Everything that came to me, I put it on my plate and I dealt with it. I didn't make excuses. I was just a man about it."