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Imagine that -- the Dallas Mavericks' point guard trio is making things happen

DALLAS -- In a more literary atmosphere -- and to paraphrase in the spirit of the season -- Thursday night could have been billed as:

The Point Guard of Mavericks Past vs. The Point Guard of Mavericks Yet To Come.

Steve Nash vs. J.J. Barea.

Barea laughed at that one because he in the process of living a dream. It’s been a short dream thus far but when you’re a kid from Puerto Rico and you’ve watched great point guards like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash on TV and suddenly they are your peers, well, even short dreams are exhilarating.

“It’s fun, especially tonight when I’m playing with J-Kidd on my team and I’m guarding Steve, so I can’t describe it,” Barea said after scoring a season-high of 18 points in the Mavericks’ 112-97 victory over Phoenix Thursday. Those two are like the perfect point guards. It’s a lot of fun out there.”

After playing well in the last three games, Barea got his first start of the season. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle inserted the 5-10 1/2 Barea at shooting guard in place of Gerald Green, who has struggled lately.

“He adds a different dimension to our team,” Carlisle said. “He’s played well so he deserves to play. The challenge for him is to continue playingat this level because teams are going to start game-planning for him.”

Imagine that. Opponents designing defenses to stop the undersized Barea.

With Josh Howard missing his seventh consecutive game with a sore left ankle and Antoine Wright (groin) and Jerry Stackhouse (right heel) also sidelined, Barea’s contributions have been important. In the last four games, he has averaged 12 points and 5.8 assists per game.

Barea will be the first to tell you, however, that he has benefited from not only playing with Kidd, but also with Jason Terry, who has gotten a lot of attention lately. In the last seven games -- six of them Dallas victories -- Terry has averaged 25.4 points.

This may be surprising to some, but Terry is quietly having the best season of his career. His average of 20.4 points per game is the highest of his 11-year career and along with Dirk Nowitzki -- who led Dallas with 39 Thursday night -- Terry has given the Mavericks a boost with Howard sidelined.

“He’s stepped up big time,” Barea said of Terry. “He’s just great, the way he comes off the bench and his jump shot goes right in. The way he runs the lane on the fast break and the way he attacks is just great. He’s a playmaker and a scorer, so I try to learn from that.”

The Mavericks got their first quality win of the season Thursday, making the Suns look as bad as the Mavericks have been accused of looking themselves. The teams have been powerhouses not only in the West, but also the NBA for the last four years and both have been accused of being on the decline.

Both teams have new coaches and the Suns may be going through more of an adjustment than the Mavericks. Phoenix players enjoyed playing for Mike D’Antoni and his fast breaking style created a lot of shots and a lot of victories -- but not a championship.

New coach Terry Porter has put more of a emphasis on defense, but the Suns hardly looked like a team of stoppers as they gave up 39 to Dirk and 112 to the Mavericks.

Mavericks players, meanwhile, had tired of the grinding system employed by Avery Johnson and have embraced the new faster system of Carlisle, who also has made adjustments to take advantage of player strengths during the season.

Still, they had not beaten a healthy team with a record better than .500 before Thursday. Dallas had victories over the Rockets and Spurs, but Yao Ming and Manu Ginobili did not play in those games.

The Mavericks have won eight of nine games and they have a 6-1 record without Howard. Nowitzki’s importance is obvious, but the Mavericks have had important contributions from their guards.

At the beginning of the season, it seemed unlikely that the trio of Kidd, Terry and Barea would form the classic backcourt. But at this point in the season, they are doing an effective job as The Point Guards of Mavericks present