The Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves have nothing to play for in the last week of the NBA season.
And, it seems to be a race to the Western Conference Finals (the actual NBA championship, before the consolation against an Eastern Conference team) between San Antonio and Golden State, with no other team seemingly able to beat them (in seven games).
So, why not talk about former Minnesota great, J.J. Barea.
Who? What? No.
I'm going to anyway.
Just picture him walking into the gym for noon ball. He's a guy you might hope was guarding you (granted, I've never seen him in person but just look at him over there. You can't score on that?).
Barea is listed at 6-feet tall, but that's giving him a few inches. He's old (31). He's white.
He's never been thought of as any good, except that he about single-handedly won the Dallas Mavericks an NBA championship over the LeBron James' Miami Heat.
In those Finals, he guarded James, who would not take Barea in the post ... or maybe could not take him?
And Barea's been an afterthought since, until about the last week or so. He's been on fire and it just has to give a lot of guys over 30 and under 6 feet a little hope that they, too, can ... well, get in the lane and hit a floater at noon ball? I don't know. It's just fun to root for the little guy, the underdog, and that's what he is and the Mavs are.
At least, if you end up watching him, you can kind of, sort of relate.
Barea scored 27 points Wednesday in beating the Houston Rockets 88-86. Sure, sure, James Harden, the NBA's worst defender, probably guarded Barea some, but who cares?
Harden is at least five inches (if we're pretending Barea is 6-0) and 35 pounds (if we're pretending Harden weighs 220) larger.
The Puerto Rican — oh yeah, Barea is Puerto Rican — went 10-for-16 from the field and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. He dished out eight assists and grabbed five rebounds — the same number of boards as Harden, who played seven more minutes.
Over the last four games Barea is averaging 26 points. He's 13-for-26 from beyond the arc. And, he is averaging six assists — seven if you go back a fifth game, where he dished out 11 assists.
And over those five games, Dallas is 5-0 and sitting seventh in the Western Conference playoff hunt — a game up on the Utah Jazz and, now, two games up on the Rockets.
It's an amazing feat by Barea and the Mavs, whose roster is centered around 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, my favorite player of all time — we're also the same age, and basically the same skill level #sarcasm — and a bunch of castoffs (mostly white), including the notorious Zaza Pachulia, whom I hate.
Just to note, Nowitzki stripped Harden with 5.4 seconds to seal the win and said: "I've tried to strip him maybe 100 times over the last couple of years, and he's so smart getting that contact and he always gets to the line. I was actually surprised that I got really all ball."
If you want to root for a team heading into the playoffs (at least for four games) not named the Warriors, this is the team.