DALLAS -- J.J. Barea must want to get paid. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle will tell you Barea, earning $1.8 million this season, has been a solid backup point guard for three seasons now. But, he set career numbers this season and after a mediocre first-round series, Barea has been a pint-sized, penetrating beast.
His 21 points in Tuesday's Game 1, including 12 in the fourth quarter to torch the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed his career playoff-high 22 points in the series-clinching Game 4 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Tallying up the numbers from those two games, Barea has 43 points in 43 minutes on 17-of-26 shooting and nine assists.
Barea is playing his best ball at just the right time. It hasn't been discussed much, but there's been some thought that the free-agent-to-be might be playing out his last days in Dallas. That, however, was before Rodrigue Beaubois' season turned into a giant bust. The franchise-appointed point heir apparent to Jason Kidd can't even get on the court while Barea perfects the high pick-and-roll and blows by defenders for size-defying attacks at the rim.
"He's fearless off the dribble, he can finish in there with the best of them and he knows how to use his body and his quickness very well," Dirk Nowtizki said. "He's been big for us ever since we got him."
That would be five years ago as an undrafted free agent out of Northeastern. Barea's gone from playing in three playoff games in his first two seasons to more than 17 minutes a game in each of the last three postseasons. This one is his best. He's averaging 8.9 points on 44.6 percent shooting. Perhaps most impressive while constantly driving and playing at a breakneck pace is he's taking care of the ball, averaging just 1.2 a game.
But, those numbers are depressed because of his slow start against Portland. Since, Barea is averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists. He's made 25-of-46 shots from the floor.
"He's an experienced player now," Carlisle said. "He's aggressive and he's aggressive to attack the paint and score."
The league has taken note and Barea, already dating a former Miss Universe, stands to pick where he wants to play next season with a likely hefty raise.