Barea could be key to the Mavericks' title hopes

By Steve Ginsburg

The Mavericks are 2-0 since Barea, popularly known as J.J., entered the starting line-up against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

Dirk Nowitzki, the likely MVP if the Mavericks claim the championship, said it was no secret how Dallas was able to erase Miami's 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"The major change was obviously starting J.J.," he said. "He's been phenomenal for us attacking the paint. He was shooting the ball well last game.

"They were going under his screen and rolls. He was able to knock some big shots down."

Barea scored 17 points, hitting four of five from three-point range, and had five assists to help take some of the pressure off Nowitzki in the paint.

"I'm going to play my game, keep attacking and see what happens," said Barea, a six-foot (1.83-meter), 26-year-old Puerto Rican.

GETTING RESPECT

Barea, untouched in the draft after leaving Northeastern University in 2006, came through the NBA Development League and was signed by the Mavericks.

He is finally getting respect as a slashing guard with a dangerous shot from beyond the arc.

"I notice defenses are paying more attention to me, definitely on the pick-and-roll," he said. "I hear them talking about how they're going to guard me."

Earlier this season, a security guard refused to let the baby-faced Barea into the arena to play the game.

"I came out to say hi to some friends," he recalled. "When I came back to the door, they wouldn't let me in. Another guard had to come over and say, 'He's playing tonight'."

Barea and fellow guard Jason Terry could be the keys to the game because, if they are shooting well, Miami's guard cannot fall back and help to guard Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler.

"I remember being back in our locker room, myself and Darrell Armstrong holding each other and just crying the night away; something I'll never forget."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)