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Barea is feeling the heat

Ex-NU standout has been off mark

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 7, 2011

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DALLAS — J.J. Barea is not lacking in confidence, despite missing 18 of 23 shot attempts in the NBA Finals. He was considered an X-factor in this series, a speedy, shifty guard who could use his quickness and size to slide through the aggressive Miami defense and get to the rim.

That’s how things were supposed to work out for Barea. The NBA Finals was supposed to be his coronation as an established point guard, a player ready to take over the starting job from the aging Jason Kidd.

Barea shot nearly 50 percent from the field (39 of 80) in the series against the Lakers and Thunder, but against the athletic and precise defense of the Heat, he has been relegated to that unheralded guard who waited years to make an impact for the Mavericks.

The former Northeastern standout is facing a foe greater than he has seen in his five-year career. The Mavericks face a must-win situation tonight in Game 4, and the bench has taken a beating for its lack of production.

Not counting superstar Dirk Nowitzki — who scored 15 of the team’s 22 fourth-quarter points in Sunday’s 88-86 loss, including the final 12 — the Mavericks are shooting 40 percent in the series. Barea, who averaged 11.4 in the Western Conference finals against the Thunder, has just 13 points.

“We’re having some bad luck now, but hopefully it changes,’’ Barea said yesterday after practice at American Airlines Center. “I try to relax. I’ve been through it before. I’m just going to keep shooting, keep doing what brought me here.’’

He was peppered with questions about the lack of help for Nowitzki, who called out teammates after another game of watching them miss open shots. An especially difficult sequence occurred with less than one minute left. Jason Terry missed an open 21-footer from the baseline and Miami’s Chris Bosh responded with the go-ahead basket with 39.6 seconds to go.

Terry is shooting 38 percent in the series, stymied by the brilliant defense of LeBron James. Many projected James would check Nowitzki, but that hasn’t happened. The Heat’s strategy has been to force Nowitzki to produce mammoth games, and so far he has been bogged down with double and triple teams.

“We have to find a way to get Jet [Terry] some freedom and get him off some movement, and he’s got to make some shots for us,’’ said Nowitzki, who is shooting 46 percent in the series. “He’s a big reason why we’re here, because he’s one of the great fourth-quarter players we have in this league.’’

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra spoke glowingly about the Mavericks’ versatility and offensive weapons, but they haven’t converted outside shots. Dallas is shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line in the series, and take away Nowitzki and the streaky DeShawn Stevenson, and that number dips to 29 percent.

Barea is 1 of 8 from beyond the arc after converting 35 percent for the regular season. He didn’t rise to this level by lacking confidence but Miami’s defense has certainly made him hesitant at times. He has struggled with his customary runners and hasn’t finished at the rim. He sparked the Mavericks in the previous two series with his ability to squirt to the basket.

“I missed a couple of penetrations [Sunday] that I always make,’’ said Barea, a two-time America East first-team selection at Northeastern. “There were some I thought would go in that didn’t go in. They’re paying more attention. They’re being more aggressive. They like to play defense.

“My confidence has stayed [the same]. I’m going to keep doing every night what got me here. I’m going to keep shooting the ball. This team needs me and everybody else to step up a little for us to win games.’’

This is the game’s biggest stage and every missed shot, turnover, or missed defensive assignment gets noticed. Nowitzki, who has become more of a vocal leader, has not hesitated to question teammates’ production, and that includes Barea.

“You have to give them credit. We just looked at the film,’’ Nowitzki said. “We had some opportunities — I remember J.J. had two or three good looks in a row to start the fourth quarter. And if we get those opportunities, we’ve got to make the most out of it.’’

Barea still has time to make a good impression. He has turned heads with his postseason performance, even frustrating the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum into a flagrant foul because of his relentless drives into the paint. But that aggression has dissipated, replaced by anxiety.

That has to change quickly.

“I think it will be too hard to win [the series] like that,’’ Barea said of the overdependence on Nowitzki. “I think we need more help. We need everybody.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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