The NBA's J.J. Barea: Little Guy In A Big Man's Game

He's listed officially at 6 feet, but hardly anyone believes it. What's undisputable is that J.J. Barea, the diminutive point guard of the Dallas Mavericks, is tearing up the NBA playoffs. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

After a day off, the NBA playoffs resume tonight, with the Western final between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks, tied at one win apiece.

We'd like to offer a little viewing suggestion. Try and keep an eye on a backup guard for Dallas named J.J. Barea, if you can. He is the quintessential little guy in a big man's game, darts like a water bug. And as the playoffs unfold, he's turning NBA courts into his own big, happy pond. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN: Jose Juan Barea - J.J. - is listed on the Dallas roster as six feet tall, which usually elicits a laugh. Mav superstar Dirk Nowitzki said this week: I think if his head would be normal size, he'd be 5'4". But his head's so big, it makes him about 5'9".

Barea is used to this kind of big brotherly teasing. He got it from his real older brothers growing up in Puerto Rico. They still kid around when the three of them get together and compare their successful careers: one a civil engineer, one a pediatrician, J.J. the emerging NBA star.

Mr. JOSE JUAN BAREA (Professional Basketball Player, Dallas Mavericks): Well, I'm the disappointment in the family.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: Nah. He knows his family and all of Puerto Rico are - mixing cultures here - kvelling about their native son, all sub-six feet of him.

The only disappointment is coming from playoff opponents, like L.A.'s Kobe Bryant, who, after watching Barea repeatedly blow by the Lakers for layups and sink long-range three-pointers, said, essentially, J.J. Barea has kicked our butts, which is what Bryant's teammate, L.A. center Andrew Bynum, tried to do to Barea.

Unidentified Man: Barea - oh, look at that. That is Bynum. He will be ejected. And that's one of the biggest bush-league things I've ever seen.

GOLDMAN: Bynum's frustrated elbow-to-the-ribs takedown of an airborne Barea left the Mavs' mini-guard crumpled on the court.

Mr. BAREA: Oh, yeah. It hurt. And I'm just glad nothing seriously happened to me. But it definitely hurt.

GOLDMAN: Makes you wonder why that doesn't happen more, considering Barea's frequent fearless forays to the hoop.

Mr. PAUL MOKESKI (Coach, NBA Development League): He does what we like a lot of players to do. He makes quick decisions.

GOLDMAN: Former NBA player Paul Mokeski coached Barea in the NBA's Development - or D - League.

Mr. MOKESKI: He takes what's there, and he makes quick decisions. And that helps him by not getting into trouble and maybe penetrating too deep to where now all the guys with all the height and the length are under there, and you can't make the correct decision.

GOLDMAN: Barea seemed to make all the right decisions in 2007, when he did a short stint with the D-League's now-defunct Fort Worth Flyers. He played in eight games, scored at least 40 points twice, and performed so well that reportedly - the facts are sketchy, here - he got his D-League jersey retired.

No such talk about that in the NBA yet. But there is plenty of talk about Barea being a bona fide weapon off the Mavs bench, whose size gives him at least one unique advantage.

Mr. BAREA: My dribble is always low to the ground, so it's tough for the big guys to get it.

GOLDMAN: Which brings us back to frustrated big guy, Andrew Bynum. After Barea's 21 points helped Dallas beat Oklahoma City in game one, Bynum tweeted: J.J. Barea has a great story. Worked his butt off, and now killing on the big stage. Congrats. You deserve it.

A pat on the back - always better than an elbow to the ribs.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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