Jason Kidd dribbles in front of Denver's Ty Lawson. (Dec....

Jason Kidd dribbles in front of Denver's Ty Lawson. (Dec. 9, 2012) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The Knicks originally signed Jason Kidd to be a mentor for Jeremy Lin. That never happened, but Kidd is teaching even his veteran teammates plenty about what it takes to win.

Kidd reprised his role of lead point guard in crunch time of Sunday's 112-106 victory over Denver at the Garden. He had six of his season-high seven assists in the fourth quarter, finished with 17 points and earned a hug from Carmelo Anthony.

"It's huge because I think he trusts me," Kidd said. "Coming down the stretch, he told me, let's play through you. Coach wanted to play through Melo and Melo's like, 'No, I want to play through Jason.' And I think that's just the greatest compliment a teammate can give."

The leadership and overall play of Kidd, 39, are big reasons the Knicks are an East-leading 15-5 heading into Tuesday night's game in Brooklyn against his former team.

Kidd had his best individual years when he led the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. He's not nearly the same player. But as the off guard alongside Raymond Felton -- who calls Kidd a "mentor" -- he still gets to run the offense, still makes big steals and is penalizing teams for leaving him open.

Never known as a good shooter, Kidd is second in the NBA in three-point accuracy at 50.8 percent (32-for-63).

"He's the difference-maker for us," Steve Novak said. "Everyone plays with confidence when he is on the floor. You know the right thing is going to happen."

"He's going to make the right decisions down the stretch," said Tyson Chandler, Kidd's teammate on Dallas' 2011 championship team. "It seems like he's going to take the right shot or put the person who is going to take the shot in the right position."

Kidd, whose teams have reached the playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons, missed the first Knicks-Nets meeting in Brooklyn on Nov. 26 with lower-back spasms. The Knicks missed his calming influence and playmaking ability down the stretch and lost, 96-89, in overtime.

The hype around this game isn't as great because the two teams seem to be going in different directions. The Knicks have won six of seven since then; the Nets are 2-4 and have dropped four straight.

"They're looking to stop a streak and we're looking to get better," Kidd said. "There's no hype about this game. We're just looking at it for us to be a complete team. You got to find a way to win on the road. That's the only thing we're looking at."

It's still an important game to the Knicks, even if many of them won't admit it. Before last month's game at Barclays Center, everyone but the Brooklyn-born Anthony downplayed its significance.

But the Knicks really wanted the game and were extremely disappointed that they didn't outlast their cross-city rivals.

"We'll be ready," Anthony said. "I think that first game, I don't think they really did anything to beat us. We kind of beat ourselves, so we kind of have that in the back of our mind."

The Knicks also have Kidd back, and that could make the biggest difference this time.

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