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Wolves guard J.J. Barea has made a habit of heading for the hoop and scoring, no matter the large obstacles in his way.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune file

Barea cuts a dashing figure

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD
  • Star Tribune
  • December 14, 2012 - 12:44 AM

 

He does it time after time. J.J. Barea will go rushing into the lane, the smallest man on the basketball court, defying the notion of common sense.

You saw it again in the Timberwolves' victory Wednesday over Denver at Target Center. Barea, driving the lane, twisting, turning. A guard, listed at 6 feet (and that's very generous, folks) managing to get a shot off -- and get a shot down -- against much, much taller men.

It's almost uncanny.

Asked about it, Barea grinned. "It's something I've been doing all my life," he said. "Since I was growing up in Puerto Rico, I've been doing it. I think it's something that helps our team."

More and more recently, as his sprained foot has healed, Barea is helping the team quite a lot. He has scored in double figures in five straight games, four of which the Wolves have won. Wednesday, he came off the bench to score 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight assists in 27 minutes of play.

And it often started with a headlong rush into the lane. Barea can drive and dish, which he often does. He can drive and launch the teardrop shot that he and teammate Luke Ridnour love. Or he can go airborne and contort his body in any way necessary to get the shot off, usually off the glass, often with a big forward or center flailing unsuccessfully at the ball.

It has to be annoying for the big guys trying to swat that shot. Remember the 2011 playoffs? Barea was with Dallas. In the second game of a second-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Barea came off the bench to score 12 points, leading a Mavericks comeback. With the game already decided, Barea was fouled hard by Ron Artest, which led to Artest's suspension.

"They were tired of me getting into the paint," Barea said with a grin.

More and more, Barea is starting to look like he did in Dallas, the player good enough to earn a four-year contract before last season. It didn't happen enough during last year's lockout-shortened season, as a litany of injuries kept Barea from finding a rhythm. In all, he missed 25 of 66 games. It wasn't until late in the season -- when injuries to others pushed him into the starting lineup for the final 11 games -- that Barea really found his stride.

"Last season I had back luck with it," Barea said. "I didn't get myself ready for the season. It was a short season, so it was really up and down. But I finished that season strong, and I was prepared for this season. I had that little setback with my foot, but my body feels great. Finally, I'm getting in a good rhythm here lately. Hopefully, I'll keep it going."

With Ricky Rubio set to return soon, the team's rotation at guard will only get better. Barea, who missed five games in November because of the sprained foot, figures to be a regular sparkplug off the bench, motivating his team not only by scoring, but by how he scores.

"He has a swagger to him," Kevin Love said. "He's not going to back down from anybody. I don't know if it's because of his size or his mental makeup. But he brings a fire to our team."

Denver coach George Karl has watched Barea for years now, and he has a theory on the guard's fearless drives to the hoop.

"I think he just loves the macho-ism of it," Karl said. "I mean, fearless is a good word. He's got courage."

And he always has had it. A point guard from the minute he picked up a basketball, Barea has spent his life figuring out how to score against bigger guys.

"I like doing it," he said. "It's something I have to do. I've taken my hits in the NBA and in college. Pretty good hits. But nothing really bad has happened."

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