In the first round last year, Vince Carter delivered for Dallas the kind of last-second playoff theatrics that helped make that season’s first round the best one of them all.

He nearly fell into the laps of front-rows fans at American Airlines Arena with a catch-and-shoot play that won Game 3 against San Antonio. It also gave the Mavericks a brief 2-1 series lead they couldn’t hold against a Spurs team on its way to its fifth NBA title.

Carter faked Spurs guard Manu Ginóbili into the air before he launched a three-point shot from the court’s very corner that won the game. It also just maybe helped convince Memphis to sign him as a free agent last summer, hoping he has at least a little more playoff magic left in him.

He can’t do what he once did long ago for the Raptors in Toronto, where he inspired local kids named Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett to chase their NBA dreams. But at age 38 now, his jumper hasn’t aged much.

“I can still do that,” Carter said earlier this season. “I just can’t fly anymore.”

It’s the flying part that wowed Wiggins, Bennett and countless others kids in Toronto, in Canada and far beyond after Carter entertained nightly with high-flying dunks, particularly during the 2000 All-Star slam-dunk contest that forever changed the event.

Now Carter just admires youngsters such as Wiggins and Wolves rookie Zach LaVine who have followed him.

“I don’t jump in the air and try to jump over people and through people anymore,” he said. “It takes a toll on the body, so I just have to be smart as far as that goes.”

The Grizzlies signed him for his veteran’s savvy and sense of timing he displayed with last April’s game-winner. His Memphis team is built around Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Jeff Green now, but 17 years’ NBA experience could be helpful come playoff time.

With the Grizzlies battling Houston for the West’s second seed, Carter is aimed toward the playoffs for the ninth time, with his fifth different team. At his age, he said he’s just happy somebody still wanted him.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Carter said. “When you reach this age, you want to play for an opportunity to play in June. I work my butt off in the summers just to stay young, to keep up with these young athletic guys and try to play as close to the game as I used to play it. Of course, we know that’s not quite like I used to play, but it’s the mentality still. ... Maybe it’s just Father Time taking his toll, but I’m very thankful to still play and still compete at this level and to still be wanted by teams in free agency.”

Now he leaves the jumping and what he calls flying to the young guys.

“He had a big impact on every kid in Toronto or in Canada,” said Wiggins, who was 3 when Carter was drafted fifth overall in 1998. “He was the face of Canada for a long time.”

Carter has moved past those days, although he says every now and then he’ll watch his old self on YouTube videos.

“I’ll look at it and I’m like, ‘I wish I could do that again,’ ” he said. “I will admit that.”

He can’t do that anymore, so …

“I know how to stay out of their way because I remember how I did guys,” Carter said. “I know that I’m on the other side. I don’t want to be on their highlight film, not at all.”

NBA short takes

Bobcats coach knew ’em way back when

New Orleans coach Monty Williams played nine NBA seasons, three with San Antonio when two young power forwards named Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett had just started out on their road to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Williams said it just feels right that Garnett is back in Minnesota, even if he hasn’t played recently because of a bad knee and illness, and says Garnett never should have left.

“It’s appropriate for him go back there and finish his career,” Williams said. “Guys like that, you wish they’d just stay in one spot. He left and won a championship, it’s cool for him. But when I think of Garnett, I just think of Minnesota.”

Raptors fans at home

The Toronto Raptors came to Target Center last week for the only visit and so, too, did Canadian fans who drowned out Wolves fans with their cheers.

That left Wolves rookie Zach LaVine confused.

“I didn’t get that at first,” he said. “I didn’t know if Minnesota had a lot of Canadians or anything like that or if they just came down to see the game because it’s really close. It was kind of weird. I was like, ‘Where we at? This is a Timberwolves game and the crowd is talking trash to us? Wait a minute, man.’ You just got to deal with it.”

Tuning in at tourney time

Wolves coach Flip Saunders scouted an NCAA tournament regional in Cleveland recently while he was there to visit his ailing father. Otherwise, he has kept up on adopted alma mater Michigan State and his scouting duties as president of basketball operations like everybody else has: by watching on television.

He calls this weekend’s Final Four “an unbelievable coaching clinic” because it presents pal Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Bo Ryan and Mike Krzyzewski. It also presents Duke center Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, perhaps the top two prospects in the NBA’s June draft.

“I’ve watched all the games,” Saunders said. “They’ve been good. It’s a great time of year to watch college basketball.”

Wolves’ Week Ahead

Tuesday: 9 p.m. at Sacramento (FSN)

Wednesday: 9 p.m. at Portland (FSN)

Friday: 9:30 p.m. at L.A. Lakers (FSN, NBA TV)

Saturday: 9:30 p.m. at Golden St. (FSN)

 

Player to watch: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings

His team paid him like a superstar, and now the All-Star center plays like one. His 24-point, 21-rebound, 10-assist night in a loss to Houston last week was his second career triple-double.

 

Voices

« It’s like men against boys, and we’re just undermanned. »

– Wolves coach Flip Saunders after his injury-depleted team lined up against playoff-bound Toronto last week.