Updated: March 11th, 2014 11:38pm
Notebook: Barea sheds slump to keep Wolves afloat early against Bucks

Notebook: Barea sheds slump to keep Wolves afloat early against Bucks

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- One game doesn't fully reverse a trend, but J.J. Barea's scoring outburst on Tuesday was about as close to a slump-busting performance as you can get.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were stumbling through the first half, finding themselves being thoroughly outplayed by the 13-win Milwaukee Bucks. The Wolves could barely keep up as leading scorers Kevin Love and Kevin Martin labored to find a scoring rhythm.

But Minnesota (32-31), almost miraculously, did not fell behind by any more than 11 points, kept afloat early on in large part thanks to Barea.

Entering Tuesday, the veteran point guard had shot 28.3 percent (15-of-53) in his previous six games. That was far from the case against the Bucks.

Subbed in late in the first quarter with the Wolves trailing by five, Barea went on to score 17 of Minnesota's final 33 points of the first half. By halftime he had missed only one of his seven shots, while the rest of the team hovered at or below a 40 percent shooting clip.

"J.J. was aggressive tonight from the start," Martin said after the Wolves ultimately pulled out a 112-101 victory. "He played very well. He was the key to us hanging around in the first half despite our defensive lapses every time down the court. He was just big for us."

As coach Rick Adelman would say later, the Wolves were "fortunate" to trail by only six points at halftime. The rest of the squad eventually awoke with a commanding second half, fueled by a combined 30 points by Love and Martin in that stretch. But without Barea, who only scored two points in the final 24 minutes, the damage earlier in the game could have been much worse.

Barea had put a positive spin on any questions about his latest slump, but frustration from two weeks of poor shooting at a critical juncture in the Wolves' season had admittedly begun to rise.

Tuesday served as a much-needed release.

"I was due for something," Barea said, flashing a grin. "I was going to keep being aggressive, but I was patient tonight, took some good shots and it got me going. I'm just happy I helped my team out tonight."

It will take more than one night to deem him out of completely out of his slump, since Barea has had similar scoring bursts followed by obvious lapses throughout his up and down season. But if Tuesday was an indication of an upward trend, it could be enough to break the Wolves' bench out of its seemingly chronic funk of inconsistency.

Mbah a Moute's cheering section

Reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute had his own fan club in attendance on Tuesday.

Twelve teenagers from the French youth basketball club, Basket-Club Nyonasis, finally saw their wish fulfilled after a long quest of trying to make it possible.

Two years ago, the kids started closely following the career of Mbah a Moute, who is a native of French-speaking Cameroon with close ties to France, and decided to begin raising money to make their first trip to the United States in order to see their favorite NBA player in action.

The tickets and plans had been made to come see Mbah a Moute, then with Milwaukee. But in July of last year, he was traded to the Sacramento, forcing those plans to quickly be changed.

Not to worry, the club altered their arrangement, setting up a trip to New York City to catch the Kings' game when they came to town to face the Brooklyn Nets.

However, it proved to not be that easy. Mbah a Moute was traded once again, landing with the Wolves in late November. But by that point the kids were out of the money needed to switch their tickets.

Mbah a Moute soon found out about the group from a close friend who had played for the club when he was younger. When he got word, Mbah a Moute, taken aback by the outpouring of support, immediately made arrangements to bring the kids to Minneapolis.

"I thought it was amazing," Mbah a Moute said. "I can't imagine being a kid and doing something like that for someone they don't know, to just go out and say, 'we're going to go out and watch him play.' That shows you a lot about their support. It shows me a lot a gratitude, so it's pretty special for me."

After a stop in New York, the crew made finally made it Minnesota, where they were given the VIP treatment at the game. Mbah a Moute took them out to dinner on Monday and met with them again in the locker room after pregame warm-ups.

It turned out that the only negative was that the kids still haven't seen Mbah a Moute play in person. He was the only available player on the Wolves' bench Tuesday who did not end up entering the game.

Notes

• The Wolves' comeback in the second half marked only the second time this season they have rallied for a win when down by 10 points or more. A stat like that is a good example of why they have not been able to shed their identity as a .500 team. Minnesota sits five games out of eighth place in the Western Conference with 19 games remaining.

"It's been a weird year to say the least," Love said. "We're capable of really good games. The stats show that we should be a lot of games better than we are, but the fact is that we're still on the outside looking in."

• Backup point guard A.J. Price was back with the team Monday but still moving slow, two days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Adelman was unsure of when Price would be cleared to practice again.

• Sidelined for more than two weeks with an injured right knee, Ronny Turiaf is expected to be put through a few light workouts this week with team trainers, Adelman said. Turiaf has missed 40 games this season, having been out with a fractured elbow for a 31-game stretch earlier in the year.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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