Despite being the second night of a back-to-back for the Wolves, Monday night’s tilt in Dallas was a game that the Wolves should have won. The Wolves had already beaten the Mavericks twice this season, and J.J. Barea’s (relatively) healthy return to Dallas should have provided an additional spark for the visitors. Unfortunately, the beaten-up, coach-less, road-weary Timberwolves were unable to finish their swing through the south on a high note, and once again played a horrendous third quarter en route to a disappointing loss.
The Mavericks shot out of the gate with more intensity than the visiting Timberwolves, and quickly pulled out to a double digit lead. The Wolves’ shooting was horrific and appeared even worse than it has all season, which is certainly a serious indictment. Dante Cunningham missed every single one of his mid-range jump shots, starting the game 1 of 8 with the only conversion coming from underneath the basket.
Dallas’ Darren Collison vastly outplayed the beaten-down Luke Ridnour, stealing the ball from him at will and running circles around him on the offensive end of the floor. Nikola Pekovic again kept the Wolves in the game early on as the only real offensive option for Minnesota, although it certainly appeared as thought the Wolves could have gotten the ball to him in the post more often — especially after both Chris Kaman and Elton Brand found themselves into foul trouble.
The Wolves started the second quarter behind by the a score of 26-19, but managed to pull within just two points multiple times before allowing the Mavericks to pull away again. The second unit, led by Ricky Rubio and former Mav J.J. Barea played well, with Barea knocking down his first three three-point attempts and pairing with Rubio to provide a more active and relentless back-court duo than the starters did for Minnesota.
Unfortunately, acting head coach Terry Porter waited too long to mix some of his starters (namely, Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko) in with Barea and Rubio, and the Wolves again let the lead expand to double digits. Cunningham continued his uncharacteristically putrid shooting, ending the half shooting just 3 of 11 from the floor. At halftime, the Wolves found themselves in a 55-45 hole at the break, with a crazy 58%-38% field goal percentage differential mostly to blame.
The third quarter looked exactly like the past few third quarters for the Wolves, spiraling out of control at a dizzying rate. Inexplicably, the Wolves’ defense failed to provide any resistance to what became an onslaught by the Mavericks. The Wolves’ rotations were certainly poor, but Dallas simply could not miss. On the offensive end of the floor, the Wolves continued to suffer without any real offensive options outside of Pekovic.
With stagnant offense and porous defense from the Wolves, the home team played a nearly flawless third quarter. The Mavs outscored their unworthy opponents by the score of 36-25 in the frame, and pushed into the fourth quarter with an impressive 91-70 lead.
The fourth quarter featured a nice run from the Wolves, led by the same players that keyed the solid play back in the second quarter: Rubio and Barea. They finally fed Pekovic more in the final frame, and started the fourth with a 12-4 run, eventually getting the score down to 97-87 with six minutes remaining. After trading buckets for the next few minutes, a J.J. Barea pull-up three-pointer in transition cut the Mavericks’ lead all the way down to 101-93 with 3:14 remaining.
After a Mavs’ timeout, the ball was entered in to Dirk Nowitzki in the post. A soft double-team from Rubio caused Barea to leave Darren Collison on the left wing and rotate to Rubio’s man, and Vince Carter cut from the left corner into the lane, taking Kirilenko with him. Nowitzki skipped a pass across to the left wing to a wide-open Collison for a back-breaking three-pointer that stretched the lead back to 104-93, effectively stopping the Wolves’ comeback attempt in its tracks. After the Wolves’ failed to answer, the Mavericks’ added a couple cheap steals and dunks to bring the final score to 113-98.
– Pekovic should never play a full game and only attempt 11 shots, especially without Kevin Love on the floor. On the other hand, the 78% free-throw shooter was an extremely disappointing 4-10 from the charity stripe on Monday night. Those extra six points would have gone a long way when the Wolves were fighting back from a 23-point deficit in the fourth quarter, to say the least. Pekovic’s final line was still an impressive 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting with 12 rebounds, a steal, and just one turnover.
– The career-highs in minutes played continue to take their toll on Cunningham. He was 6 of 18 from the floor (his career high in shot attempts is 20, back in April of 2011 with Memphis), and played a team-high 39 minutes, while Kirilenko and Pekovic were in a distant second with 32 minutes played. Cunninghams’ normally reliable mid-range jump shot again looked flat, and if he had simply managed to hit at his usual consistent rate this game may have had a different outcome.
– Why doesn’t Brandon Wright play more minutes for the Mavs? Instead, Dallas continues to waste court time on the very poor Chris Kaman. Wright is easily leading the Mavericks in Win Shares per 48 minutes at .171 (.100 is a league-average, starting caliber player). Kaman is tenth on the Mavs’ roster, behind the already-released Troy Murphy, with a WS/48 of .057. He has been overrated for much of his career, and the normally savvy Mavs’ basketball staff is simply throwing away minutes on the Caveman. Wright is a very good defender and a reliable shooter from in the paint that rarely turns the ball over.
– The Wolves have fallen to 16-19, and things are not getting any easier. They face the Los Angeles Clippers and their sparkling 29-9 record on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. in Minneapolis.