Blazers shouldn't discount diminutive Barea

DALLAS -- Poor J.J. Barea. Everybody is always so ready to dismiss the dribble-happy little guy out the back door, especially when the sexier Rodrigue Beaubois made his return in February. Well, just look at Barea now. Who has been the Mavs' most efficient, most effective guard over the last month, maybe even since Jan. 1?

Yeah, that's right, J.J. Barea (who, you might have heard, is dating Miss Universe 2006).

In his fifth season with the Mavs, the under-6-foot point guard takes a lot of ribbing from fans and even some more playful punches from teammates -- hello, 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler, who has been known to joke that he rolls Barea up and totes him around his shirt pocket.

Yet, it's Barea who could be a change-of-pace difference-maker in the Mavs' first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers. Beaubois didn't supply the team with the electric penetrations they thought he would and so Barea remains the one guy who consistently gets in the lane and makes things happen. Barea will also face plenty of challenges in trying to be positive force off the bench.

The Trail Blazers' backcourt is tall and stout with 200-pounders Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews and Brandon Roy, as well as the 6-6 Rudy Fernandez. Barea's job will to be the defensive irritant that has made him one of the NBA leaders in drawing charges and the unofficial leader in absorbing forearm shivers from bigger, frustrated guard trying to shoo him away like they would a gnat.

"I expect him to be aggressive and battle and give everything he has to give. That's what he always does," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "I've never worried about Barea, his aggression or anything else. He's a fighter and he's going to fight. He's become a big part of our team and that's because of who he is and the amount of work that he's put in."

This was Barea's best season. He averaged career highs in points (9.5), assists (3.9), minutes (20.5) and games (81). If not for a brutal start to the season where his 3-point percentage scrapped bottom at around 17 percent, he would have had a career-high there too. He finished at 34.9 percent because of blazing shooting after Jan.1.

In the final stretch of the season, Barea might have been the team's best player overall. In the final nine games, he scored in double figures eight times, averaged 13.2 points and 9.3 assists with a pair of double-doubles. Three times he logged 30-plus minutes.

"He's our backup point guard," Dirk Nowitzki said. "He obviously gives up a lot of size on a lot of point guards, but he makes up for it with gritty play, with being smart defensively, staying in front of people and he's going to be as key as anybody else coming off the bench."