MINNEAPOLIS — Every time the Mavericks come to town, J.J. Barea gets to relive it.
A stunned Miami Heat crowd. LeBron James walking off the floor, bitter disappointment in his eyes. Dirk Nowitzki doing the same with tears of joy in his.
Then came the championship parade and celebration upon the 2011 champions’ return to Dallas, winding through downtown’s heat-blanketed streets before culminating inside the American Airlines Center. That summer, Barea signed with Minnesota for four years and $19 million, leaving the metroplex a changed man.
“It’s always going to be in my head and on my heart,” Barea said of his five years with the Mavericks. “It was great what we had over there, and I’ve got some good friends, so whenever we play them, it’s special. I always want to beat them.”
Barea has remained closest with Nowitzki, the 35-year-old face of the Dallas franchise who’s still producing at an elite clip in his 16th NBA season. Those two and some members of the Mavericks’ training and equipment staffs met for dinner Thursday night ahead of the teams’ first 2013-14 clash.
It allowed them to reminisce on Barea’s four huge 3-pointers in Dallas’ Game 6 clincher at Miami. Or Corey Brewer — now a Timberwolves starter, then a little-used, late-season addition — coming off the bench to provide a spark in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Lakers.
Nowitzki earned Finals MVP honors. Three seasons later, he’s a little slower and more fragile. “His better years are gone,” Barea said.
But he’s still got the scoring touch and came into Friday averaging 19.4 points per game.
“He loves to hoop, like we say,” said Barea, who predicts his old German friend has at least two Dirk-like years left in him. “Him and Kobe, I think, are the hardest workers in the NBA. So he’s going to be around.”
Brewer had similar praise for Nowitzki. That same 2011 season, Minnesota traded Brewer to New York — who subsequently waived him, allowing him to sign with the Mavericks — then re-signed him as a free agent this offseason. He manned spot duty in six games during the Mavs’ playoff run but gleaned lessons on detail from Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler.
Then he took them to Denver the past two seasons and blossomed into the feisty swingman the Timberwolves inked to a three-year, $14.1 million deal this summer.
“I feel like every little thing matters, I guess you could say,” Brewer said. “Little things matter, too. . . . Dirk, the little things he does, it means a lot at the end of the day.”
Both Brewer and Barea are off to notable starts this season. Brewer has locked down on most of his defensive duties and is scoring 13.2 points per game (third on the team). Barea continues to be the sparkplug point man behind Ricky Rubio the Timberwolves brought him here to be.
The 29-year-old Barea still possesses the quick first step and long-range ability that gave opponents — most notably the Heat — headaches during that memorable title jaunt in 2011.
“He was a headache when we had him, too,” joked Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who took the reins from Avery Johnson ahead of the 2008-09 campaign. “No, he’s a terrific player, and you know the (three) years with him were great years for me and great years for our club.”
Dallas’ Carter suspended: Another veteran on one of the NBA’s most seasoned clubs, swingman Vince Carter, won’t be allowed to suit up for Friday night’s contest.
Carlisle called the loss of Carter “significant” but said he’s confident in Jae Crowder, Wayne Ellington and Ricky Ledo to plug the gap by committee. A career 20.8-points-per-game scorer, Carter averaged 9.2 points through the Mavericks’ first five games.
“We’ll have to use our depth to make up for the loss,” Carlisle said. “That’s where we’re at. There’s not a lot of analyzing here. We just have to be ready.”
Pekovic mentoring Dieng: Nikola Pekovic remembers what it’s like to be Gorgui Dieng.
A new city, new teammates, new coach and dealing with much stronger, more physical play than even muscular big men like Minnesota’s two active centers had experienced can make for a difficult rookie transition. Pekovic went through it in 2010, and Dieng’s experiencing it now.
“I’ve been in his situation,” Pekovic said. “I know it’s kind of frustrating. I always try to help him, try to teach him how to play against big guys.”
One of the toughest challenges is avoiding foul trouble, especially for a rim protector like Dieng. In 23 minutes spread across three games, he’s up to 10 whistles and just three blocked shots.
Pekovic’s game has always been more scoring- and rebound-oriented. But he, too, struggled to adjust defensively during his first NBA action.
The big man from Montenegro committed four fouls in each of his first three NBA appearances as a rookie.
Pekovic and Minnesota’s other leaders can give Dieng pointers, but it’s ultimately up to the new guy to discover his own line between aggression and overzealousness, Pekovic said.
“He’s a rookie,” Pekovic said. “He wants to show that he really belongs here. He’s a really hard worker. . . . He’s a great guy, but sometimes we talk to him. He’ll need to figure out by himself, you know, that you can be really aggressive all the time.”
Williams out: The Timberwolves were without forward Derrick Williams in Friday’s game due to back spasms.
In five games, the 2011 No. 2 overall draft pick is averaging 22.3 minutes, 7.3 points and three rebounds. He was active but did not play in Minnesota’s season opener.