The Minnesota Timberwolves saw their four-game winning streak snapped with a close, late loss to the Dallas Mavericks on the road on Monday night.
Takeaways from Timberwolves’ road loss to Mavericks
The Timberwolves came into Dallas with their preferred starting lineup available, and largely riding high after a win over the (Giannis-less) defending champion Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
Early in the game on Monday, however, it became apparent that a solid Mavericks team with something resembling a full complement of players would be a much tougher out than the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, or the Portland Trail Blazers.
Still, the Wolves went toe-to-toe with the Mavs and were in the game throughout, despite trailing by a deficit hovering around double-digits for much of the middle stages of the game.
The Wolves tied the game late and were within three points in the final 30 seconds, but a pair of take fouls committed by the Mavericks with the deficit at three points forced Patrick Beverely to try to intentionally miss a pair of free throws. Both were rebounded by the Wolves but the all-important field goal was never converted, and the Wolves fell by two.
Timberwolves Takeaway No. 1: The Mavericks’ defensive game plan was on point
The Mavs’ goal was to force anyone besides Karl-Anthony Towns to beat them.
If Towns caught the ball with his back to the basket, there was an immediate double team. If he had the ball on the perimeter, the Mavericks would shade their entire defense to that part of the floor, risking leaving wide-open shooters dotting the perimeter.
There was one play in which Towns got to the elbow, and all five Mavericks defenders had at least one foot in the paint in an attempt to slow down KAT. Towns delivered a strong pass to the corner, and after a couple of swings of the ball, the Wolves converted a wide-open 3-point attempt.
When the Wolves were patient, they were still largely able to get decent shots on offense. But that was the Mavs’ entire bet: they didn’t think the Wolves would be patient enough to execute regularly. Towns did minimal damage scoring just 22 points and only attempting four free throws on the night.
Timberwolves Takeaway No. 2: The Wolves’ defensive game plan for Luka Doncic mostly worked
The Wolves decided to open the game dropping Towns in pick-and-roll coverage, trying to force Doncic and Jalen Brunson to win with outside shooting. But lob dunks for Dwight Powell and enough made 3-pointers forced head coach Chris Finch to ask his team to switch each pick-and-roll action.
The Wolves switched back and forth between drop and switching coverage in the first half, but by halftime, they flipped back into their preferred high wall coverage, which basically means having the big man play at the level of the screener.
Doncic had six turnovers at halftime and eight for the game, and it took him 17 shots to get 15 points.
Timberwolves Takeaway No. 3: Non-Prince bench players were too quiet
Taurean Prince scored 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting and was a bit too much of a focal point of the Woleves’ offense when he was on the floor.
The rest of the bench — Malik Beasley, Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell — were a bit too quiet in this one. Beasley had just seven points and one made 3-pointe. Nowell had six points on four shots in 14 minutes but missed a crucial layup.
Reid only played 11 minutes, but somehow managed to only grab a single rebound in his time on the floor.
If the Wolves are to beat playoff-caliber opponents, they’ll need more consistent production from their bench unit.
Next for the Timberwolves…
The Wolves head back to Target Center to host the NBA’s best squad in the Phoenix Suns before another date with these Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.