MINNEAPOLIS — With a trip to the playoffs on the line, the Dallas Mavericks aren’t just focusing on one game at a time, they’re focusing on one possession at a time.
Dallas played like a team that can smell the playoffs Sunday, pulling away late to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 88-78.
J.J. Barea led the Mavericks with 21 points as Dallas extended its win streak to four games. Wesley Matthews had 19 and Devin Harris added 16 points off the bench as the Mavs (39-38) remained in the thick of the fight for a Western Conference playoff spot.
“It’s a minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour thing,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “You’re in the fight and every possession going whistle to whistle could be the one that turns it one way or another. With 220 possessions in a game, they all count. So our guys are doing a good job of concentrating and we’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
Minnesota saw its losing streak grow to three in a row despite looking like determined spoilers for the game’s first 30 minutes. Andrew Wiggins was the top scorer for Minnesota (25-52) with 30 points, while rookie Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points, a season-best 21 rebounds and nine assists, just missing the first
triple-double of his career. Zach LaVine also scored 11 for the Timberwolves.
“Everything adds up, so we didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” said Towns, after turnovers plagued the Timberwolves. “We kept making mistakes and it cost us at the end.”
Leading by five points heading into the final quarter, the Mavericks went on an 11-0 to put the game out of reach. Team leader Dirk Nowitzki had a rough night, shooting just 4-of-18 from the field, but still managed 13 points. Justin Anderson was the leading Dallas rebounder with 10.
“I actually started off pretty well and felt OK, and then fell of strong,” Nowitzki said. “It’s a good thing this is a team sport. If this was tennis or track and field I would’ve been in trouble today, but guys came through.”
The Mavericks attempted 40 three-pointers, which was the most by any team at Target Center since the building opened in 1990.
Wiggins hit his first six shots of the game and led all scorers with 15 at halftime. Minnesota led by as many as eight in the first quarter but the Mavericks got the final basket of the first, spurring an 8-0 run and led 41-40 at halftime. Barea led Dallas with 14 first half points, while Towns was the half’s top rebounder with 13 at the break. The Mavericks led 41-38 after Adreian Payne scored on a slam with 4:15 to play in the half. That was the last field goal by either team before halftime, as Ricky Rubio’s free throws with 8.4 seconds to play closed the scoring.
“We’re using my strengths to their advantage, using the pick-and-roll with for a shot or to get somebody open,” said Barea. “Our defense is picking up and we’re being a little more aggressive on defense. That’s helped big-time.”
Dallas opened up a 68-63 lead after three quarters, and led by as many as eight at one point. Minnesota was up by three points with five minutes to play before the Mavericks started hitting from long range, draining a quartet of three-pointers — three of them by Matthews — during a 14-3 run.
“There’s going to be a lot of peaks and valleys,” Timberwolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said of his team, which is led by young players like Wiggins and Towns. “Those are the growing pains. Yeah, they’re talented. But we’ve got to let them grow up. They’re going to have nights like this.”
Dallas was 14 of 40 from three-point range for the game.