Some of the fellas, just the other day, were giving J.J. Barea the business, reflecting on his career-high 32 points in a win at Brooklyn -- a game in which Dirk also vaulted past Shaq to sixth on the all-time NBA scoring list -- and wondering if JJB might also forge a late-career threat at the likes of Nowitzki and O'Neal.
But on Saturday, the joke was on the visiting Bulls, 118-111 losers to a Mavs team led this week by Barea, the diminutive swing guard who now has 58 points in his last two games.
"J. J. has been on fire,'' Nowitzki said of his little buddy, who is 22-of-34 from the floor (64.7 percent) and 12-of-15 (80 percent) from the arc. "Incredible the last two games. It seems like he can't miss, really attacking off the dribble and he's been kind of our catalyst. Everybody has been playing great off of him.''
That "everybody'' includes Chandler Parsons. Unlike Barea, who is being called upon to join the starting lineup while Deron Williams nurses a hamstring problem, the franchise requires Parsons to perform like a centerpiece on and off the court. He's done the work in rehabbing his way back from the "minor-hybrid'' microfracture knee surgery ... and the climb is starting to pay off.
Parsons came off the bench but did so early, just five minutes into the game, and filled the boxscore with a season-best 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals ... and he's clearly blowing through "minutes-limits'' issues, having played in a pair of recent back-to-back challenges and logging 36 minutes.
"This whole stretch of coming off the bench just trying to be aggressive, trying to bring energy, something I've never done before,’’ said Parsons, who joins JJB as a leading contender for your vote for "The Dirkie.'' "Just play absolutely as hard as I can, just try to make plays and make it easier for others, and every time I play I feel like I'm getting better and more comfortable.’’
Said coach Rick Carlisle of Parsons, who was 8-of-15 from the field: "He’s feeling good. This is the second night in a row he’s played 35 (minutes). ... His all-around game was great. It really was key.’’
I might suggest that while Raymond Felton as a SmallBall starter has been extremely helpful in Dallas building its 17-13 record, there are matchup advantages to be had when Parsons assumes his usual role. A lack of matchup-ability greatly contributed to the Mavs' 12-3 deficit to to start this game.
"I’m not exactly sure what (the Parsons-for-Felton move) did,’’ Carlisle said, downplaying his button-pushing, as he so frequently does. "We were going to play better anyway; I’m pretty sure of that.''
I'm never quite that certain with this bunch, which left its coach so unsure a few days ago that he threatened its collective job security. But Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban like to tout the Mavs' depth, and with D-Will out (and Devin Harris just coming back for this game) they've been proven right. People inside the team also laud Dallas' unselfishness, and Barea -- a national hero in Puerto Rico and a Mavs hero, too, for his first-stint-in-Dallas involvement in the 2011 title run -- embodies that.
"I’ve got to give love tonight to my teammates and coaches,’’ Barea said, deflecting the credit for his hot week. "They gave me the confidence and wanted me to be aggressive, especially early in games. And I was able to get in a rhythm early tonight and it was able to help us win.''
Dallas went back to Felton late, and his steal in the final minute helped the Mave to a 112-108 lead. The Mavs also get credit for a game-changing defensive play when they forced Derrick Rose into a five-second violation with Dallas up three with 11 seconds left.
"I thought down the stretch we got good stops there,’’ said Nowitzki, who scored 16 points. "Everyone was up, everyone was denying ... Both ends of the floor we made big plays to pull this out.''
And in the middle of all of it? A continuation this week for J.J. Barea. And a climb this season for Chandler Parsons.