Something Is Different About J.J. Barea

Last Saturday, the Mavericks took down a solid Eastern Conference team in the Chicago Bulls. This alone was noteworthy, as Dallas has often fallen short against quality competition this year, preferring instead to beat up on the bad teams and then call in sick when a real opponent shows up. Making the event even more noteworthy was the fact that the win gave them two straight victories, something they had only pulled off once all year outside of that nice six-game streak back in mid-November. That’s not all, though. J.J. Barea followed up his career-high 32 points against the Nets with another 26 points, and at this point I’m wondering if he’s the same person I watched for the first 28 games of the season.

It wasn’t long ago at all that Barea was the worst shooter on the team in terms of effective field goal percentage, and he was taking plenty of shots in the process. I was far from the only Mavericks fan who grew weary of seeing him on the court at all, and I recently swore that he’d done too much damage to our relationship for me to ever feel good about him taking a shot no matter what happened in the future. I may have to amend that statement after the past two games.

Not to diminish what Barea has done lately, but this just underscores the point that just about every player in the NBA has the ability to go off if given enough minutes on any given night. J.J. has been on fire from the field, and the flames just so happened to erupt right when Deron Williams‘s injury forced him into the starting lineup. A happier coincidence may have occurred at some point, but at the moment it sure doesn’t seem like it.

In the two games Barea has started for Williams, he’s shot a ridiculous 22-for-34 from the field, including 12-for-19 from three-point range. His long distance percentage is now up over 40 percent, almost double what it was a few weeks ago. Even better, as he’s finally started to knock down shots, his ability to penetrate, a skill he always brings, is that much more effective, and it turns him into an even better distributor. In short, he’s been an awesome point guard.

While this recent performance should be enough to at least temporarily quiet all his critics (self included), let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Barea is still a role player who must be utilized very carefully going forward, and Williams still needs to get healthy quick. Barea has been hitting everything lately, but Williams is generally a better shooter, has a much more well-rounded assortment of moves, and his size makes it harder for opposing offenses to exploit mismatches.

It took more than just Barea to overcome a tough team like the Bulls, however — there are other Mavericks who deserve space in this recap post. J.J. may have been the leading scorer for the Mavs, but Chandler Parsons was brilliant, adding in 20 points of his own and throwing in five rebounds and five assists as well. Parsons cleared the 35-minute mark for the first time this season, and while it may be rushing things to say he’s all the way back, this is as close as he’s been to full strength all season. He’s been a different player since the matchup against the Suns on the 14th, and it’s going to be exciting watching him get healthier and healthier from here. It also wouldn’t be fair to Zaza Pachulia if I didn’t mention his nifty 17-point, 12-rebound double-double.

This was a tight, stressful game that saw 15 lead changes and 11 ties. The win puts Dallas up to 17-13, and with upcoming games against the Warriors, Heat, Thunder, Cavs, and Spurs all in the next few weeks, they need as much separation from the .500 mark as they can get for the inevitable losses that will follow. I’m seeing a healthy Mavericks team with players that look like they’re getting much more comfortable playing together, and that makes me increasingly confident they can snatch the fifth seed at season’s end — and lose to the Clippers in the first round.

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