Barea Drops 26

Jose Barea scores 26 points on 9-14 shooting with seven triples to lead Dallas over Chicago.

Who’s better: J.J. Barea or Stephen Curry?

A week ago that wasn’t a question you thought you’d be asking yourself, and even still the easy answer is Curry. But after seeing Barea score 58 points combined in the last two games — both Mavericks wins, both due in large part to the point guard — maybe the conversation would hold a little more weight… right?

“I don’t know. I think I’m gonna give that one to Steph,” Barea confessed after scoring 26 points in a Mavs win Saturday against the Bulls.

OK, maybe not then.

Here are some numbers to show just how red-hot the point guard has been in his last three appearances. Since Dec. 22, Barea has hit 14 three-pointers. No one else in the NBA has hit more than 10. Only seven players have more than the 21 assists Barea has dished out in his three appearances since that date — even more impressive considering he played just 22 minutes in a loss against the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 22.

His complete per-game stats in the last three games — a team-high 22.0 points per game on 58.1 percent from the field and 73.7 percent from deep, and 7.0 assists against just 2.3 turnovers — are indicative of an All-Star-caliber point guard. While he’s been on the floor during that stretch, the Mavs have been scoring 122.1 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. For reference, the Warriors lead the league at 112.3 points per 100 possessions.

While the numbers might make you think Barea found a pair of Michael Jordan’s shoes, the Mavericks simply attribute the point guard’s success to getting hot — and to his teammates for continuing to feed him the ball.

“Our team is a lot about finding the hot guy, riding him when we have to,” Rick Carlisle said after Saturday’s win. “That’s a little bit of the way we’re built. Tonight, J.J. was red-hot again.”

“He’s playing out of his mind right now,” Chandler Parsons said. “He’s playing unbelievable. He’s shooting the ball with confidence. We’ve got to keep riding him. He’s got the hot hand right now. I don’t think he’s gonna average 30 the rest of the year, but as long as he is, we’re gonna keep riding him and keep giving him the ball in good positions.”

Parsons added that when a player steps up the way Barea has, starting for Deron Williams as the guard works through a strained hamstring, it has a positive contagious effect on everyone else.

“It’s contagious for all of us. It’s contagious for the crowd,” he said. “Everybody gets into it. Everybody gets around a guy like that. It just makes the game easier.”

He later added: “It’s all confidence, all momentum, and he’s got that right now, and our team’s starting to get it.”

You can see the confidence, too, when Barea comes off a screen and sees nothing but space. Instead of taking a couple extra dribbles to think about what to do, he’s immediately putting up a shot in rhythm.

Barea 3s

There’s no hesitation, no reticence. In this offense, every guard has the green light at all times, and it almost has to be that way. If the ball-handler has an open look but refuses to take it, the defense can keep conceding those open looks for the whole game and the offense will get all out of whack. During the last two games, teams have been leaving Barea open from deep in the pick-and-roll, especially when he’s partnered with Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s made them pay by shooting 7 of 9 from beyond the arc when coming off a ball-screen, per Synergy Sports.

While Deron Williams is reportedly close to returning to the rotation, in the meantime it will be interesting to see how teams choose to defend the Barea/Nowitzki pick-and-roll. Not known for his shooting, the point guard is now sizzling from deep, so normally you’d see a team react to that situation and try to eliminate the hottest guy from the picture. The problem, though, is that Nowitzki has also been shooting it at a high clip the last few games, so it’s really becoming a pick-your-poison situation. The good news for the Mavs is that, even when Williams returns to the lineup, Nowitzki spends plenty of time playing with Barea anyway, so that partnership should be able to exploit opponents’ second units for the rest of the season if the Puerto Rican can continue shooting at even a shred of his current rate.

Hot streaks come and go but all that matters is that, right now, he’s on fire, and, right now, the Mavericks are winning games because of it. Carlisle’s Mavs are never ones to look too far ahead — especially in a season like this, when so many players have been dealing with nagging injuries or recovering from significant ones. Barea probably won’t score 30 points per game for the rest of the season, and that doesn’t really matter.

But wouldn’t it be cool if he did?

“Hopefully it can stay like this a little longer,” he said.

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