Inside Report: Timberwolves-Mavericks recap — Mavs out-claw Wolves to 11th straight 50-win season
Earl K. Sneed recaps the action from the Mavericks' hard-fought win Thursday night against the Timberwolves, as the Dallas team finished off a three-game homestand by calming its 50th victory for the 11th straight season.
DALLAS — Coming into his team’s matchup against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle stressed the importance of refining his rotation with just 12 games left in the regular season before the playoffs.
The coach, who has utilized his full 12-man rotation all season long, confessed before the game to reporters that he’d like to settle on a set rotation, while also closing the revolving door at the starting small forward spot.
So, with the versatile Shawn Marion back from a one-game absence due to a sprained right wrist, Carlisle named his starter for the night. Meanwhile, sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic remained on the bench after returning Sunday following a six-game stint that kept him sidelined with a stiff neck. That left newcomer Corey Brewer as the odd man out, leading to his name appearing on the inactive list.
“I’m not gonna say that this is written in stone at this point, but both Peja and Marion have played very well starting and off the bench. So, we’re gonna take a hard look at this,” Carlisle said.
The coach got his first look at the new rotation Thursday night with his team hoping to sweep the three-game season series against the Wolves. And although it took virtually every bit of 48 minutes to do so, the Mavericks (50-21) accomplished just what they intended to, heading out for their longest road trip of the season — a six-game, 10-day journey — after a hard-fought 104-96 win.
With the victory, the Mavericks became just the 3rd franchise in league history to collect an 11th straight 50-win season, joining the current San Antonio Spurs and the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers from 1979-91, both of which with 12 consecutive seasons of reaching the feat.
“Yeah, it’s nice, but I think I’ve said it the last couple of years, I’d rather trade it in for a championship,” leading score Dirk Nowitzki said of the consecutive 50-win streak. “Really, 11 50-win seasons don’t mean anything. But it shows that we’re consistently good, we have a good team and we play well in the regular season. So, hopefully we can top it off in the next couple of years and win a ring.”
“Obviously, everyone knows that 50 wins don’t get you a championship, and that’s always been the goal. So, hey, we got to 50, now let’s take care of the other part,” sixth man Jason Terry added.
Fortunately for the Mavericks, the Timberwolves took the court without All-Star forward Kevin Love, who stayed behind in Minnesota to receive treatment on a strained left groin. But the Mavericks would have their problems from the opening tip-off, as center Tyson Chandler found himself in early foul trouble while his team struggled to find a rhythm on the offensive end. And despite eight first-quarter points from Marion, the Mavs trailed 23-17 after 12 minutes of play, hitting just 8-of-25 from the floor in the period compared to Minnesota’s 8-of-21 at the other end.
Marion would be the catalyst behind a 7-0 Dallas run to start the second quarter. However, Anthony Randolph would once again place the Wolves (17-55) in front on the scoreboard. But it was only to see Stojakovic’s deadly perimeter shooting lift the Mavs to a 13-4 spurt. The three-time All-Star would then get assistance from Nowitzki, but only enough to take the Mavericks into the locker room at the intermission with a 49-47 edge.
On pace to shatter his career-high of 28 points, Randolph led all scorers at the midway point with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
“First, he hit outside shots, which set up his drive game. He’s a tough cover when he’s got his outside shot going,” Carlisle said of Randolph. “He’s a guy we needed to do a better job on, without question…But tonight, Randolph was the key guy for them.”
But the trio of Marion, Stojakovic and Nowitzki combined to score 34 points through two quarters, as the Mavericks outshot the Wolves, 48 percent to 44 percent.
“We looked a little rusty there in the first half. We weren’t really shooting the ball well, but I thought defensively we weren’t really that bad, holding them in the low 40s. It was decent,” Nowitzki explained.
Nowitzki would bring the Mavericks out of the locker room strong, though, scoring eight points in the midst of an 11-3 run. But Randolph would keep Nowitzki and the Mavs from pulling away, surpassing his previous career-high in the third quarter. And after Terry and Timberwolves point guard Jonny Flynn exchanged 3-pointers to end the period, the Mavericks’ edge was just four, 76-72, heading to the final period.
“You’ve got to give them credit in the second half. We’d try to make runs, got up by eight one time, and they kept coming back. They kept making shots, they got hot from 3 there, and we really had to dig deep and grind it out,” Nowitzki said.
Again, Nowitzki would try to put the Wolves away with an array of jumpers early in the final period. But the Wolves continued to respond, taking an 88-87 edge on Wayne Ellington’s transition score with 6:28 remaining.
The two teams would then exchange blows and the lead, until Chandler’s timely and-1 finish inside gave the Mavs a 96-94 lead after the free throw with 2:38 left. Nowitzki padded the lead with a driving score as 1:55 remained on the clock, but it would be Terry who would provide the knockout punch, finding nothing but the bottom of the net on a 3 with 55.6 ticks remaining to give his team a 101-96 advantage.
“Dirk was saying in the timeout that we can’t lose this one, we had to do whatever it took to get the win,” Terry explained. “And we were able to get stops. Offensively, he and I made big baskets. And at all cost it was just let’s get this win and let’s get out of here.”
The Mavs’ zone defense would do the rest, forcing late-game stops which would lead to game-sealing free throws by Nowitzki and Marion down the stretch, as the home team finished the game on an 11-2 run.
Overcoming Randolph’s career-high 31 points and season-high 11 rebounds, the Mavericks relied heavily on Nowitzki, who tallied a team-high 30 points on 12-of-26 from the floor and 11 boards of his own. In the starting five, Marion pitched in 17 points. Meanwhile, Terry added 18 points and Stojakovic registered 16 — hitting 4-of-8 from 3-point range — off the bench.
“Whenever your name is called you’ve got to be ready to play,” Stojakovic said. “At this point of the season we all have the same goal. The main thing for all of us is we have to all be ready. It doesn’t matter how many minutes it’s gonna be, you have to be ready.”
Despite Minnesota’s 8-of-18 shooting from 3-point range, compared to Dallas’ 8-of-27 from deep, the Mavericks’ 49.4 percent shooting from the floor just bettered the Wolves’ 48.8 percent. The Dallas team also held a 43-38 rebounding edge. And although the Mavericks surrendered 25 points off their 16 turnovers, they were able to convert 19 Minnesota giveaways into 29 points of their own.
“I was under no delusion that we were where we needed to be,” Carlisle said after the win. “We had two very good days of practice. I liked a lot of the things that happened in the game. It’s a close game and it went to the last possession. But I’m not going to make a win feel like a loss. You’ve got to give Minnesota some credit, too. They battled hard, and they kept coming at us. They threw in eight out of 18 3’s, and a lot of them were difficult. But we’ve got to keep going.”
The Mavericks will now turn their attention to their six-game road trip, which begins Saturday night in Utah in the third showdown of the season against the Jazz. Dallas leads the season series 3-0 and will go for the season sweep. The Mavs have a league-best 24-10 road record heading into the trip.
“It’s one of the toughest road trips I’ve been on in this league … so it’s gonna be tough. But we’re a good road team, we’re not scared to play on the road, we’ve won big games on the road before. We’re just gonna go out there, play hard and hopefully get some wins,” Nowitzki said while looking ahead.
“It’s a 10-day trip, we’ve got three back-to-backs, so for us to be a deep team maybe this is definitely something that maybe is to our advantage, having so many guys you can go to,” point guard Jason Kidd added. “It starts in Utah and we’ve just gotta take it one game at a time.”
Note: The Jazz-Mavericks matchup will tip off at 8 p.m. CT on Saturday night, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest.
The team returns to Dallas to host the Denver Nuggets on April 6. The Nuggets lead the season series 2-1 including a 121-120 win over the Mavs in Denver on Feb. 10. That game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Great seats are still available and tickets can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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