Dallas Mavericks: Despite another loss in the standings, J.J. Barea’s return provides reason for optimism 

DENVER — For the first time this season, the Mavericks had all of the members of their backcourt available for a game Monday against the Nuggets.

The results didn’t change as they blew a 16-point first-half lead and fell to a hot-shooting Denver team 117-107 in a defense-optional kind of game.

Still, while the Mavericks weren’t perfect, they did have times when they looked like a different team, largely because spark plug J.J. Barea was back after missing a month with a left calf injury.

Actually, they simply looked like a team that could score, which hasn’t always been the case with various guards missing extended periods.

Barea was limited to the first half only and he was a force in his 13 minutes on the floor. He had 11 points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal. More importantly, the Mavericks were plus-10 when he was on the court for just 5:48 in the first quarter.

He also was on the court for much of the time when the Mavericks were outscored 28-8 in the second quarter.

Despite that, it was a positive seeing Barea back on the floor. He played the first half only because Devin Harris agreed to sit for that half. He played his minutes after halftime.

“It was fun, I missed it,” Barea said. “I was excited before the game. I didn’t know how I was going to feel, but it was fun and I felt better than I thought I was going to feel.

“I got to give credit to Devin. He’s a great teammate. He made the change and I know it was tough on him. But he was good about it.”

Said Harris: “He’s my little brother, I got to take care of him. We haven’t been together, but we’ll figure it out.”

Coach Rick Carlisle now must go about the process of figuring out how the backcourt fits together going forward. Youngsters like Seth Curry and Jonathan Gibson have gained experience, but if the Mavericks want to be competitive the rest of the way, Harris and Barea have to be the heavy lifters off the bench behind Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams.

“Me and Devin did a great job playing together last season,” Barea said. “Now everybody’s back, so it’s tough for coach. He has to sit down and see what he wants to do. But everybody’s ready to go. It’s something we didn’t have early in the year.”

And it’s something that the Mavericks are looking forward to. They still think they are a competitive team, even though the 7-21 record so far suggests otherwise.

Another consideration is that a 16-loss team (Denver or Portland) currently has the inside track for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A 21-loss team like Dallas isn’t that far behind, strangely enough.

“I want to see us all together and see if we can make a run,” Barea said. “You never know what can happen. I see this team working hard and trying to win as many games as we can no matter what.”

What they can’t afford is many more nights like Monday, which Harrison Barnes called “an embarrassing loss.”

The Mavericks were up 48-32 early in the second quarter. Then they melted down.

Nikola Jokic, who narrowly missed a triple-double with 27 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists, led the Nuggets on a massive assault on the Mavericks’ flimsy defense.

“We hit a lull and kind of stopped playing at the middle part of the second quarter and I thought that was where the game kind of got away from us,” Carlisle said. “When you get that kind of cushioin and then just give it up, you’re putting yourself up against it.”

The Mavericks never recovered in the second half, trailing by as many as 13, although they did get within 105-99 late.

They would get no closer. When Jokic got his ninth assists with a baseball pass to Chandler for a layup, the Nuggets were back up 113-101 with 2 minutes to go.

All five Nuggets starters scored 14 points or more.

The Mavericks were going for their second win in a row, something they’ve accomplished only one other time this season.

But it already felt like a victory in the respect that Barea was back.

Now they’ll try to fit their weaponry together going forward.

“He was one of the reasons we got the lead,” Carlisle said of Barea. But he also was out there when they made the big run on us. It’s one game back. We’re running the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA Recovery Boutique where we’re playing the guy just the first half because it’s the right thing to do. I expect his minutes will go up as we go forward. There’s a possibility he could play in the second half at Portland, but I don’t know that.

“The guy has busted his tail to get back earlier than expected. So give him a lot of credit for that. And we’ll go from here.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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