At first glance, Dallas Mavericks teammates J.J. Barea and Charlie Villanueva seem like the unlikeliest of duos. Although both were born in the summer of 1984, the 6-foot Barea hails from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, while 6′ 11″ Villanueva represents Queens and his Dominican roots. Barea is a former champion who has excelled on basketball’s grandest stage, and Villanueva reached the playoffs for only the first time in his career last season, his 10th in the league.
Yet there they were just last week standing toe-to-toe with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma Thunder in a losing effort. A standout irritant on the defensive end, Barea quickly got under Westbrook’s skin until the two had to be separated. Not one to back down, Barea squared off against Westbrook before Villanueva quickly came to his teammate’s aid. Villanueva was ejected from the game for his efforts, and Westbrook later followed after another tussle with Barea.
“I feel like when I play for Dallas I’m playing for Puerto Rico,” Barea told KESN reflecting on the game. “I play with everything I’ve got, leave it all out. I just want to win.”
Things were a lot quieter last night in San Antonio, where the Spurs silenced the Mavericks to extend their home winning streak to 33 games. Barea and Villanueva combined for nine points, five assists, and four rebounds off the bench in a game that got away from the Mavs in the third quarter. The duo was outplayed by San Antonio’s superior bench, which, anchored by Manu Ginobili, has been overwhelming opponents all season.
Away from the court, Villanueva writes regularly for Sportsblog, and is a spokesman for Alopecia areata (a hair loss disease) awareness. The Dominican-American is working on a documentary about his life and living with alopecia titled Season X, which he hopes to complete this year.
Villanueva and the Mavs are back in Dallas tonight as part of the league’s MLK Day lineup, where they will host the Boston Celtics, who are currently holding down the final playoff spot in the East. The duo should see plenty of minutes on the second night of a back-to-back game. Barea, in particular, will have his hands full against fellow sparkplug Isaiah Thomas, who is averaging 21 points and six assists per game.