MINNEAPOLIS — J.J. Barea has heard the catcalls from less-than-sober Timberwolves patrons with prime-seat season tickets voicing their displeasure toward his play of late.
"They pay to come see us," Barea said, "so they can say whatever they want. As long as they don’t disrespect me or my family, they can say whatever they want. They want to boo or whatever, that’s part of the game."
During the first three stages of Minnesota’s homestand, some negative attention was warranted. In Tuesday’s 112-101 victory over Milwaukee, though, there was none to be found.
Slapping salve on the Timberwolves’ putrid start in the first half and teaming up with Ricky Rubio to finish the job in the second, Barea broke out of the mold enveloping him the past two weeks. His 19 points were his most since scoring 21 on Feb. 23 at Portland, and his 70-percent shooting effort was his most efficient since Nov. 15 at Denver.
In his previous eight games, Barea shot 32.1 percent and went 7-for-23 from 3-point range. In the past three, he’d gone 5-for-25 from the floor and 2-for-6 from beyond the arc.
Tuesday at the Target Center, Barea knocked down two of his three distance attempts.
"He got it going," Adelman said. "He made shots, cut to the basket, and we needed him to. We really needed it."
After Minnesota (32-31) allowed the league-doormat Bucks — who came in with the NBA’s second-worst offense — to shoot a season-high 71.4 percent in the first quarter and take an 11-point lead, Barea entered and immediately went to work.
First, back-to-back sweeping layups, the second part of a 3-point play that made it 33-28 Milwaukee after a quarter. Barea then hit a 3 1:15 into the second, found Chase Budinger with an in-the-air, no-look pass that led to a reverse layup and at the 5-minute, 37-second mark gave the Timberwolves their first advantage since less than 3 minutes into the contest.
Barea finished the first half with 17 points on 6 of 7 shooting. The rest of his team: 16 for 40 (40 percent).
"I think that was the summer league team" during the first two quarters, shooting guard Kevin Martin said. "(Barea) was a key to us hanging around in the first half despite our defensive lapses every time down the court, and he was just big for us tonight."
Barea didn’t re-enter until 1:05 remained in the third quarter. He cooled off from a shooting standpoint, but worked with Rubio in a rarely seen, two-point-guard tandem to counter Milwaukee’s use of point guards Nate Wolters and Ramon Sessions at the same time.
After Martin (26 points, 12 in the third quarter) and Love (27, 8) put Minnesota firmly in control via a 31-point third frame, Barea and Rubio helped hold off Milwaukee in the fourth. The Timberwolves outscored the Bucks 26-17 in the period, and Wolters and Sessions combined for three points.
"We knew they were gonna play two point guards together a lot, so I was gonna play those two guys together," Adelman said of Barea and Rubio. "It just gives us two ballhandlers and makes it harder for the other team to guard us."
It’s an off-the-ball role Barea filled often during his four years in Dallas alongside Jason Kidd. Adelman used the ploy more in 2011-12 and 2012-13, mostly due to injuries, but individual matchups haven’t called for it as frequently this season.
"I love it," Barea said. "I miss it. I think playing off the ball a little bit, especially with Ricky and especially when I’m making shots, I think it’s great for our team."
It was Tuesday, as the Timberwolves remained within five games of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot and kept Milwaukee (13-51) from earning consecutive wins for the first time this season.
Rubio finished with 11 points and 10 assists, helping counter 21 points from Brandon Knight and five other double-figures evenings — including 14 points from Wolters, the rookie originally from St. Cloud, Minn.
"We got off to a good start, and we knew we could score on them," said Wolters, whose team began the game 12-for-12 from the field. "It was just a matter of getting stops, and we just didn’t get enough of them."
The Bucks certainly didn’t have any answers for Barea, who admitted Monday he was frustrated with the way he’d been performing. And although he’s an open and honestly emotional player, he said the criticism he’s been hearing — from himself and others — didn’t fuel his performance Tuesday.
"I’m not gonna look at the negativity," said Barea, who’s averaging 8.7 points and 3.6 assists per game this season. "I stay positive. I come the next day and keep working and see what happens."
It’s what the Timberwolves have come to expect from their No. 2 point man, Love said.
"We don’t worry about him," said Love, who said he "wasn’t feeling too great" before the game but finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. "He plays hard. He’s a gamer. The lights come on, and he’s gonna give you all he’s got."