The Dallas Mavericks have their own version of the “Little Engine That Could,” except pint-sized guard J.J. Barea definitely can.
When we think back to the 2010-11 NBA Finals win for the Dallas Mavericks, the first name to pop up is generally power forward Dirk Nowitzki, and rightly so. Still the face of the franchise, this championship marked Nowitzki’s first in two attempts and avenged the horribly officiated 2005-06 NBA Finals which robbed him of his first title.
Another name from that run that, while not forgotten by any means, might not garner the same respect is point guard J.J. Barea, the sub-six foot pest that drove the NBA playoffs crazy that season. Barea was so irritating that he compelled Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum, a seven-foot giant, to commit a gross flagrant foul that up-ended Barea during a drive to the hoop in a series clinching sweep of the defending NBA chumps.
Despite that run to glory some five seasons ago, Barea was not retained by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban during the infamous and unsuccessful re-tooling of Dallas’ roster for the 2011-12 season.
Barea signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves following the NBA lockout, which erased the first month of the 2011-12 season. The $19 million he received was more than the Mavericks were willing to offer and that looked like the end of Barea with the Mavericks.
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Fast forward to this season, and already Barea is into his second season back with the Mavericks, and things are looking better and better.
It’s no secret that head coach Rick Carlisle likes to have plenty of guards to run his offense. He wants, not so much the best athletes at this position, but smart players who can distribute the ball and also make plays on their own.
Barea might be listed at six feet tall, although it’s a certainty that he’s not that tall wearing cowboys boots, but he’s been playing much taller than that lately. This especially includes the last couple of games the Mavericks have played, both without Williams and one without Harris.
Barea scored a career-high 32 points against the Brooklyn Nets on December 23 at Barclays Center in a game that ended up going to overtime. The 119-118 win would never have been possible without Barea’s constant scoring, which included his 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
Against the Chicago Bulls at American Airlines Center on December 26, Barea didn’t quite reach his single-game career high, but he did post some staggering numbers from beyond the arc again. Barea hit his first seven 3-point attempts in scoring 26 points in perhaps the biggest Dallas win of the season against Chicago.
Don’t think for a minute that Barea’s game is just about 3-point hot-streaks. Barea shoots well from mid-range and also drives to the hoops with a capability that seems out of place given his limited height and athleticism. His running ‘giant killer’ towards the rim is surpassed only by fellow guard Raymond Felton, who’s also elevated the Mavericks at the guard position.
Yes, Barea’s play has been huge during his temporary starter’s role in Williams’ absence. The Mavericks hope that this continues on Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that’s lost 12 of 13 road games this season and also a squad that’s lost their last five games against the Mavericks.
With a record of 17-13 and having won four of their last six games, it’s still hard to say what the Mavericks will accomplish in the Western Conference playoffs – assuming they even reach that point.
But whatever Dallas’ fortunes are this season, the small Barea will definitely play a big role.