After struggling for a good portion of this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves came into the American Airlines Center as one of the hotter teams in the NBA as winners of three straight, which included W's over these same Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. But just when it seemed that the youngsters had found their stride, the Mavs took 'em to the woodshed, defeating Minnesota 98-87 on Sunday at American Airlines Center.
“We just didn’t win,'' said Karl-Anthony Towns, who did show off his array of skills to some degree. "We didn’t do anything that we usually do to win the game. That’s why our winning streak is over and now we’ll have a losing streak.”
On the year, Minnesota was one of three teams in the league to have three players averaging 20-plus points per game in Towns (21.9), Andrew Wiggins (22), and Zach LaVine (20.4). The Mavs however, were able to hold all three kids to less than 20 in the game, thanks to great defense throughout, and balanced play of their own on the offensive end of the floor.
Said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle: “We are doing better and the key for us to win is going to be balance on offense. We have a lot of guys sharing the scoring responsibility, moving the ball, etcetera. It is pretty clear we are picking up the pace with Dirk and Barea back in there. We are showing signs of making some progress and ... two things were really important, we did a better job on the boards, and I thought our energy and determination were terrific.”
After trailing early in the contest, the Mavs used a 21-4 run at the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter to jump out to a 15-point lead, and never looked back.
Defensively, Dallas held the T-Wolves to 43.8-percent shooting from the field and 23.8-percent shooting from three, while holding the Minny Big Three to a combined 48 points. They also limited Minnesota’s bench just to just 10 points, all of which came from Nemanja Bjelica. The rest of the Wolves bench, which included Shabazz Muhammed, Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones and Brandon Rush, were held to a combined 0-12 from the floor.
Gorgui Dieng was the Wolves leader, scoring 21 points (on 10-of-12 shooting) and grabbing eight boards.
The Mavs on the other hand put forth a balanced effort, with six guys going for double figures, and the bench contributing 29 points. Wes Matthews led the Mavs in scoring with 19 points, while Dirk added 17, and Deron Williams and Harrison Barnes added 13 apiece. Williams also added 10 assists, giving him his second-straight double-double. Oh, and Dirk played 28 minutes and recorded three blocks against high-flying Minny.
"Those kids,'' Dirk joked about his rim-protection prowess, "better learn."
The unsung heroes of the afternoon came off the bench, with J.J. Barea and Devin Harris combining for 25 points. With nine of his 15 total points coming in the fourth quarter, Barea helped slam the door shut on Minnesota’s comeback bid. After going just 1-12 shooting from the field in his last two games, Barea responded with a 5-5 performance from the field, while also going 4-5 from the line. (More quotes and discussion here on DB.com Boards.)
"I knew the bench had to do a better job in the second half, and I was aggressive and got in a little rhythm,'' said Barea, who at one point scored 11 straight. "I made a couple shots and kept being aggressive.”
Sunday afternoon’s win gave the Mavs their second straight victory, and moved them to a 13-27 overall record on the year, which is just four games out of the eight seed as we write this. Following the win, the Dallas hits the road for a short two-game road trip that begins in Chicago against the 20-21 Bulls on Tuesday. The Mavs blew out the Bulls in their previous meeting in Dallas, without the Big German, J.J. Barea, and Seth Curry in the lineup.
“We’re in a good place right now,'' JJB said. "We’re almost there, and we have a lot of work to do. ... Coach is going to keep saying it: if we rebound and play the defense we’re playing a little bit better, we’re going to be fine.”