Barea Bringing Energy, Consistency Off Bench

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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When JJ Barea’s at his best, his style of play is maddening for opponents. He drives. He slashes. He hits from outside. When Barea comes into the game, particularly early this season, the Timberwolves’ tempo changes because of the energy he brings.

Over the past two weeks, Barea has brought that type of consistent play, and it’s paying off for the Wolves. Playing about 25 minutes over the past five games, Barea is scoring, facilitating and adding a punch off the bench during the team’s 4-1 stretch.

Barea has been in and out of the lineup due to injury since he joined the Wolves last year, and he missed five games with a left mid-foot sprain in November. But since he’s been back, he’s looked about as comfortable as he’s been since arriving in Minnesota last December. Part of that is health, and part of it is simply getting the extra reps in practice and getting better acquainted with what coach Rick Adelman and his coaching staff expects of him.

“One year under the system, I get more comfortable,” Barea said. “I know what coach likes, what he don’t like. Then when I’m healthy, me being able to move and get to the paint is big for us.”

On the stats sheet, Barea is currently having one of the best months of his Wolves career.

Heading into tonight’s game at New Orleans, Barea is averaging 12.0 points per game and is adding 5.8 assists per night in December. He’s scored in double figures in each of his past five games. He’s coming off a 17-point, eight-assist effort against the Nuggets on Wednesday in which he shot 50 percent from the field and was the team’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter. He had 11 points in the fourth, hitting 5-of-7 free throws and assisting on four of the team’s 12 field goals in the final frame.

When Barea returned for camp this fall, he said he felt like his body was in great shape and prepared to make this type of impact while staying injury free. He had that foot setback in November, but since then he’s made good on that pre-camp goal.

“I’m getting into a good rhythm here lately,” Barea said. “Hopefully I can keep going and help this team as much as I can.”

His teammates know how important that contribution has been.

During this recent stretch the Wolves’ backcourt as a whole has performed well, including a nice complement between himself and Luke Ridnour at point guard and a rotation at shooting guard between Alexey Shved, Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard.

When Barea enters the game, he’s been able to push the pace.

“JJ is one of those players that comes on the floor and has always been in aggressive mode, which is creating a lot of opportunities not only for himself but for other guys as well,” forward Andrei Kirilenko said.

Kirilenko and Barea teamed up to make the play of the game against Denver on Wednesday, double-teaming Ty Lawson with 25 seconds left and forcing a key turnover. Dante Cunningham picked up the loose ball, hit Kirilenko with an outlet pass and pushed Minnesota’s lead to five. The Wolves won 108-105.

That type of energy on both ends of the court has served the Wolves well in the last five games.

“He’s aggressive; he’s fast,” Cunningham said. “Guys can’t keep him in front of them. He makes the next pass. He finds guys if they’re underneath the basket or on the perimeter for 3s. He does a good job of finding a good balance of scoring and moving the ball.”

Barea made a name for himself throughout his career for all those reasons, and he continues to shine this month as a result.

“I feel comfortable in my role, what it is and what I’ve got to do every game,” Barea said. “I just come off the bench, do what I’ve got to do and help the team. It’s working for us.”

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