Life without Rajon Rondo started in earnest for the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night, and their first outing without their mercurial point guard wasn’t exactly a masterpiece.
And now the Mavs may be without another point guard.
Playing against the Minnesota Timberwolves — owners of the NBA’s worst record — the Mavs nearly blew a 21-point lead before hanging on for a hard-fought 100-94 victory before 19,989 at the American Airlines Center.
The Mavs (33-17) will now take their modest three-game winning streak to Northern California and play Wednesday at Golden State and Thursday at Sacramento. And the Mavs know they’ll have to play better against the Warriors than they did against the Timberwolves (8-40), who have lost eight of their last nine.
J.J. Barea started in place of Rondo, who missed Monday’s game and will also miss at least the next two contests with an orbital fracture in his left eye and a nasal fracture after teammate Richard Jefferson inadvertently ran into him with his knee during Saturday’s win at Orlando.
Backup point guard Devin Harris, meanwhile, left the game late after the Timberwolves’ center, 6-foot-11, 295-pound Nikola Pekovic, fell on him.
Harris went out for good with just over two minutes to go and was replaced by Barea, who wound up scoring the game’s key points.
The Mavs took a seemingly comfortable 45-24 lead with 7:07 left before halftime following a dunk by Charlie Villanueva. But after that, the Mavs started to coast too much. The next thing they knew, the Timberwolves had whittled the deficit down to 96-94 after Mo Williams popped in a pair of free throws with 1:52 left.
But Barea, who played the previous three seasons for Minnesota, stormed down the baseline and squeezed in a hoop with 52.9 seconds left for a 98-94 lead. After Williams then misfired from 3-point range, Barea added a pair of free throws with 17.1 seconds remaining to close out the scoring.
“I drove and I gave it to [Chandler Parsons] for the shot, and he didn’t have it and he gave it back to me,” said Barea, who collected 10 points and eight assists with just one turnover. “So I just took my time and I made sure I got my feet set... and I went up hard and thank God it went in.”
The Mavs are also thankful that Chandler Parsons was back at his customary small forward spot after missing the last two games with an illness. Parsons was a business-like 8 of 12 from the field and contributed 18 points and six rebounds.
“I was more frustrated I couldn’t be out there and play with my guys,” said Parsons, who played 35 minutes. “But I’m glad they got the job done and I’m glad we went 2-0 without me.
“I’m just glad that I’m healthy and back, and I was happy to be out there tonight.”
Monta Ellis once again was the table-setter for the Mavs, finishing with a game-high 23 points — 14 in the third period. Dirk Nowitzki (16 points, seven rebounds) also had a productive night, converting 7 of 10 shots, and Tyson Chandler picked up his 33rd double-digit rebound game of the season with 10 boards.
For Barea, the finish couldn’t have been sweeter.
“I’ve got some good friends on that team,” Barea said. “But yeah, it’s always good to help my team win and we did our job tonight.
“We had a 21-point lead and we let it slide, but that’s a good team. They had some great players out there tonight, so it’s a good win.”
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760