DALLAS – J. J. Barea came back to the Dallas Mavericks just in the nick of time.
Out for the previous 20 games with a stained left calf, Barea was the impetus the Mavs used to grind out a hard-fought 105-96 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night before a sellout crowd of 20,022 at American Airlines Center.
Barea played 14 minutes, scored nine points, dispended three assists and helped orchestrate the Mavs’ zone defense that finally slowed down the Nets’ offensive attack. His impact was precisely what the Mavs needed on a night when they turned the ball over 16 times and shot just 42.3 percent form the field.
"I thought that Barea in the second half gave us some good direction on offense (and) he played smart on defense,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "We were playing zone, which was something that helped us, so it’s good to have him back.’’
Barea hadn’t played since suffering the calf injury during a Jan. 20 game against the Utah Jazz. The Mavs were cautious on when he would return, since this is the third injury this season to the same leg.
"I’m excited to be back, it’s been awhile, but it felt good,’’ Barea said. "I was helping my team out and we got a win, so it’s good to be back and get a win and help my teammates out.’’
Carlisle likes the veteran leadership Barea provided on a night when the Mavs struggled mightily to get some traction.
"I thought he was the key, particularly in the second half,’’ Carlisle said. "He gave us some leadership at the offensive end, got us organized, out the ball in the basket a few times and he played smart in the zone.
"He knows the zone better than a lot of our guys because he’s played it a lot over the years with the international team. The key tonight was to get him a reasonable stretch of minutes and then get him shut down and try to get him ready for tomorrow."
Harrison Barnes led the Mavs with 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting, Seth Curry tallied 18 points and Yogi Ferrell notched 17 points against his former team.
Dirk Nowitzki almost had the exact opposite game that he turned in during his magical 25-point night this past Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers when he became the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 30,000 points. Against the Nets, Nowitzki misfired on his first four shots and finished the night with just 13 points on 5-of-12 shots after scoring 18 points in the first quarter alone against the Lakers.
Nowitzki, however, did bury a pair of 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter and stun the Nets, who dropped to 11-53.
"Well, Dirk got loose twice,’’ Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "He hit those two big threes and it started an avalanche and we took some tough shots, contested shots and that got them going.
"Those two good threes gave them momentum to kind of push them over the hump.’’
This was the final game of a two-week, eight-game road trip for the Nets. But they surprising came out more energized than the Mavs.
"Well, we struggled because they were playing well and they were playing harder than us,’’ Carlisle said. "At halftime we talked about it and I thought we had a better second half.’’
A better second half that gave the Mavs their fourth straight victory, which ties for their season-high.
The Mavs (28-36) host the Phoenix Suns on Saturday at 8 p.m. as they try and go a perfect 5-0 on this home stand. And they’ll face the Suns knowing that the zone defense was the catalyst they used to get by the Nets.
"The zone is a changeup to throw,’’ Carlisle said. "It’s something to try to disrupt rhythm.
"We actually went to it in the third and had some success with it. It’s one of those defenses that you’ve got to play it actually harder than man (to man) defense, because there’s communication involved and you’re constantly switching responsibilities out there, but guys did a good job with it and it helped give us some momentum at (the defensive) end, and then on offense.’’
The game started with the Mavs looking downright awful as they fell behind 10-4 while missing six of their first seven shots. That trend continued throughout the rest of the first half, which ended with Brooklyn ahead, 49-46.
The Nets’ fast pace seemed to bother the Mavs, who uncharactercially kept turning the ball over. But the Mavs win the board battle, 47-35, and that helped keep the Nets at bay.
"They came out and hit us in the mouth a little bit, but we bounced back,’’" forward Dwight Powell said. "They are a physical team, a very athletic team.
"In a lot of ways more athletic than we are. So we definitely had to focus on rebounding."
And that focus paid off big time in the end for the Mavs.