Dallas Mavericks

Dear Jose Juan Barea: I'm Sorry

Consider this my public apology to one J.J. Barea.

Dude, I was dead wrong.

You are not, in fact, a 5-foot-2 pick-up game liability whose shot I could block. Not a novely act nuisance; the obtuse opposite of Shawn Bradley. Not some twisted Criss Angel mind-fuck. And not, after further review, a boyish bench-warmer with the look and skills of a Minyard Mavericks' Ball Boy.

Okay, maybe still the look.

But after watching Saturday night's 13-point, 3-assist performance in Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs, you are a legitimate contributor to a dangerous NBA playoff team.

Furthermore, you are the Streakin' Puerto Rican. Dare I say even, Steve Nash - sans the hair, the hype and the hardware.

I'm not saying Barea is going to snuff out Chauncey Billups and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James en route to leading the Mavs to a championship. But I am saying I was wrong. The guy can play.

And if he keeps staying in front of and driving around Tony Parker, the Mavs will beat the Spurs.

I'm not shocked the Mavs won Game 1 - I'll be surprised if they win tonight's Game 2, right? - but more by the way they won it. Dirk Nowitzki limited to 19 points. Jason Terry took only eight shots. Josh Howard not on the court for most of the fourth quarter. Dallas held to 18 points in the first quarter, trailing by 13 midway through the second only to ...

Score 105 points in a relatively comfortable 8-point win, their first playoff road win since June 3, 2006 - the night they won in Phoenix to clinch their only berth in the NBA Finals. The heroes? Brandon Bass, Erick Dampier, Antoine Wright and, yes, the shortest man on the court.

Parker, whose quickness has continually deteriorated Jason Kidd from Hall of Famer to statue, waltzed into the lane 13 times in Game 1's first quarter. Then Barea somehow stayed in front of him, using his pitter-patter feet to draw two charges and stagnate San Antonio's offense. At the other end Barea was probing and penetrating - he was Parkering - the Spurs off the pick-and-roll. Left open, he made floaters in the lane (seven points in the fourth quarter). Guarded, he found Bass for dunks and Wright for wide-open 3-pointers.

He was fast. He was fearless. He was phat. He was Devin Harris in Game 2 of the 2006 of the Western Conference Semifinals in San Antonio. Remember?

Even though he looks like a battered ship captain out of a Steinbeck novel, you figure Spurs' coach Gregg Popovich will find a way to shrink Barea's effectiveness. Post him up on defense. Slough off him and make him hit outside jumpers.

Whatever, the Spurs have a legit problem with Barea's energy and effectiveness. To do it in a regular-season December game against the Atlanta Hawks is one thing. In San Antonio, against Parker, in the playoffs?

That's called validation.

ESPN's Mike Tirico referred to Barea the other night as a "professional pest."

Perhaps he, too, should prepare an apology.