LOS ANGELES – J.J. Barea sprinted up the court and heaved a prayer. For a brief moment, it looked like it could be right on line, but it grazed the backboard and bounced harmlessly away. The Lakers escaped a one-point win over the Mavs, but they’ll be seeing Barea in their nightmares as he took advantage of some of the team’s younger defenders with a variety of drives, crafty maneuvering, and slight of hand.
His numbers against the Lakers the past few seasons are modest, but his impact has been felt greatly. Since 2014-15 (his return to Dallas), he’s averaged 9.9 points and 5.5 assists in a reserve role on 47.5 percent shooting vs. Los Angeles. This includes seven double-digit scoring games and four with at least seven assists.
“The Lakers have always preferred conventional big men who protect the paint but can’t hedge high on ball-screens,” Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room says, “As a result, they’re vulnerable to guards who can hit pull-up jumpers and floaters. Barea is just carrying on the tradition of small guards who torture the Lakers, like Mike Bibby and Troy Hudson before him.”
While the Mavs haven’t won a playoff series in Barea’s second stint with the team, he’s still offered a calming hand to a team that has shuffled veterans in and out and largely had to face a youth movement they staved off for as long as they could.
At 34, Barea is the third-oldest player on the team behind 35-year-old Devin Harris and the immortal Dirk Nowitzki (40). He commands a second unit that includes Dwight Powell, Dorian Finney-Smith, Max Kleber, and Jalen Brunson, whose combined service time averages out to a player entering their third season in the league. For the slow-starting Mavericks, while it’s critical rookie Luka Doncic and second-year player Dennis Smith Jr. make big strides, it’s just as important that the bench mob maintains some sense of stability for the team to improve on its 24 wins from a year ago.
That starts and ends with Barea.
“I feel like J.J. is the ultimate pro, so it’s not just the Lakers he plays well against,” DeAndre Jordan said after the 114-113 loss on Wednesday. “I think he plays well all the time. He’s such a great playmaker, getting guys like Dwight involved and Maxi [Kleber], our young guys, Jalen, and Dodo [Dorian Finney-Smith]. Those guys play really well together and he’s the head of the snake out there, so when we have him healthy and aggressive, we’re a really good team and our second unit’s really great.”