Dallas Mavericks backup guard J.J. Barea got into Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns and quickly did what he does best.
He got buckets.
The Mavs were trailing the Suns, 36-24, when Barea entered the game for the first time with 10:16 remaining in the second quarter. By halftime, the deficit had been chopped to 60-55 thanks to six points and six assists from Barea. The entire team had just one assist when he entered the game.
“It’s good to be out there,” Barea said. “Things weren’t going well for us, so knowing coach, I knew he was going to throw me out there. I just played my game, be aggressive, bring energy and try to help the team out.
“I think in the first half I did a good job of keeping us close. I think in a bad first half we kept it close, and in the second half we just didn’t have it. But it was good to be out there again and staying ready for when they need me.”
Barea finished the game with a season-high 15 points and seven assists in only 23 minutes.
“He did some good things for sure,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s been doing well.”
Barea, though, admitted after Thursday’s practice at Lympo practice facilities that it hasn’t been easy not knowing when his playing time is going to come. The 14-year veteran has played in just 14 games this season and is averaging a very respectable 9.1 points in only 15.5 minutes per contest.
“It’s hard man, it’s hard — it’s not easy,” Barea said of his lack of playing time. “You’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to stay ready.
“But I love the game, I love to play for this team and this town, so whenever they need me I’m ready to go. I’ll go out there and try to get buckets and bring energy.”
Carlisle likes the fact that he can count on Barea to add a proverbial magic touch whenever he puts him in the game.
“He’s kept himself ready and he’s played well virtually every time he’s gotten in games,” Carlisle said. “So, he’s been good.”
Barea has been so good that he’s shooting a career-high 46.7 percent from the field and a career-high 46.7 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I’m shooting the ball better than I’ve ever shot it in my life,” Barea said. “So, it makes the game a lot easier.”
Of course, Barea couldn’t finish an interview without the subject turning to the legendary Kobe Bryant. The former Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar, his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash this past Sunday in Southern California.
Barea described Bryant as his favorite basketball player of all-time.
“Any time we played against him it was amazing,” Barea said. “I would bring the ball down and I would see, ‘Oh, Kobe’s guarding me?’
“It was incredible watching him play and competing against him. He’s the best competitor I’ve ever seen. What he did for the kids my age and my generation, it was like he was the Michael Jordan of our era.”
And like anyone with Jordan’s iconic skills, Bryant and the Lakers were a tough out. That’s why when Barea and the Mavs upset Bryant and the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers in five games in the second round of the 2011 playoffs, Barea had a good feeling about what was about to happen next.
“Our biggest thing is we couldn’t get over the Lakers, we couldn’t beat the Lakers,” Barea said. “Finally, when we beat the Lakers in 2011, that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, we really can win the championship now.’ “
Barea recalls the buzz around town whenever Bryant and the Lakers came to Dallas to play the Mavs. It was as if Superman and all of the other superheroes in the galaxy were going to be on display at American Airlines Center.
“Every time he came to Dallas to play, everything was different,” Barea said. “The fans were different.”
Now, with Bryant’s sudden death, Barea is heartbroken. But he was able to have a conversation with Bryant while the Mavs were in Los Angeles to play the Lakers on Dec. 29.
“We saw him a few weeks ago with his daughter, and that was the happiest I’ve seen him in my life,” Barea said. “When you have daughters – I’ve got kids, I’ve got daughters – you always take them to basketball stuff, you always want to be around them, so the way (he died), it’s awful.
“Kobe, to me, meant everything. He’s my favorite player, and to have my favorite player go away like that, it’s really hard.”