DALLAS — Just 5-foot-10 and in a land of giants, Dallas Mavericks reserve point guard Jose Juan (J.J.) Barea is livin' large these days.
He had 21 points off the bench Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, doing pretty much as he pleased in a 121-112 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Barea beat the Thunder inside and out, shot 8 for 12 from the field in what often amounted to a layup drill, and also buried two 3-pointers while standing calmly behind a teammate's screen beyond the arc.
Barea did all this damage in 16 measly minutes. Dirk Nowitzki had 48 points in 41 minutes. Had Barea played 41 minutes, he'd have had 54 points.
Nowitzki stands 7-foot, but there's no denying Barea stood just as tall on Tuesday.
Lately, some have compared Barea to a young Steve Nash. "Oh, no. That'd be awesome," the 26-year-old Barea said. "I love Steve Nash. Him and J-Kidd (teammate Jason Kidd) were my favorite players growing up."
Barea was so impressive against the Thunder, even Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum sent out a tweet commending him for his performance: "JJ Barea has a great story, worked his butt off and now killing on the big stage! Congrats you deserve it!"
Bynum is the one who chopped Barea out of mid-air the day the Mavs swept their second-round series against two-time defending champs. Bynum was fined $25,000 for the flagrant foul and will commence next season with a five-game suspension.
All of Puerto Rico adores Barea, especially Puerto Ricans who live in the Metroplex. He has become the local basketball ambassador to his country, much like former Oklahoma standout and Mexico native Eduardo Najera did when he played for the Mavericks a decade ago.
When we say all of Puerto Rico loves Barea, that includes girlfriend Zuleyka Rivera, who was Miss Universe 2006.
Man, this kid really is on a roll, and will try to continue that roll in Game 2 on Thursday at 8 p.m. inside American Airlines Center.
Barea averaged 11.5 points and 5.5 assists against the Lakers. He is listed at 6-foot in the team media guide, which is a flat-out lie.
Asked how tall Barea actually is, teammate Jason Terry smiled and said, "Uh, midget." Yet, Barea seems most comfortable driving amongst the trees.
"I love it," Barea admitted. "That's what I live for, man. I enjoy every second of it."
Barea took advantage of the Thunder when it went with a smaller lineup.
"When they went small, I knew they only had one big guy," Barea said. "If I get by that big guy, I'm clear to the rim, so I don't have to deal with anything like Portland with (Marcus) Camby and them. So I just enjoy it."
Terry said he initially underestimated Barea. "If you look at him, he's not the first guy you'll pick up at an open run or at a park. Maybe (opponents) underestimate him, but he's not flying under the radar anymore."
Barea certainly is on his coach's radar.
"He's a resourceful player," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "He's been told he's too small. Undrafted. Not enough this, too much that, but he's an important guy for us."
Barea in his fifth season out of Northeastern University in Boston. He signed as a free agent with Dallas in 2006, which leads to the next bit of good news: This is the last year of Barea's contract, which pays $1.815 million.
Livin' large figures to get much larger.
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.