Wolves coach Flip Saunders calls it popcorn basketball.
The ball moves fast, like popcorn popping. Too fast for a defense to catch up. Fast enough that, eventually, an open shot awaits.
Wednesday at Target Center was an exhibition in popcorn basketball. Saunders and his staff have to hope their young roster was taking notes. Because it was the Dallas Mavericks, one of the NBA’s most offensively efficient teams, doing the popping in a 98-75 victory over the Wolves.
“That’s what they do,” Saunders said. “They’re an offensive juggernaut. That’s what we have to get to. They were an offensive clinic tonight.’’
Not so the Wolves.
While losing their ninth consecutive home game, the Wolves turned in season lows in points, shooting percentage (34.8) and, perhaps, energy level. After a high-energy start to the recently concluded road swing, one that saw the Wolves win twice in three games, Saunders has seen an energy shortage the past two games, both 20-plus-point losses.
“I don’t know if it’s because we’re tired, but we’re not playing with the same energy we did,” Saunders said. “Our energy level the last two games was not where we need it to be.”
The Mavericks (30-13), meanwhile, were a smooth offensive machine. Coach Rick Carlisle basically sat his starters for the fourth quarter, and the Mavericks got double-figure scoring from two only players — Chandler Parsons, who hit on four of six three-pointers on the way to 22 points, and Dirk Nowitzki, who added 16.
But up and down the team’s deep roster there were contributions. Thirteen Mavericks scored and 10 had five or more points. Former Wolves guard J.J. Barea came off the bench to score seven points and dish out 10 assists.
“They’re just a good basketball team,” Wolves guard Mo Williams said. “They consistently make good plays. We’re learning. So we’ll make good plays in spurts, then show our youth at times. Against good teams, mistakes have to be minimized, and tonight they weren’t.”
Center Nikola Pekovic returned after missing 31 games because of a sore ankle to score 14 points off the bench. To Saunders, Pekovic looked at times like the Wolves’ best player, at least from an energy standpoint.
As the Wolves ended their losing streak it was Williams and rookie Andrew Wiggins who carried the load. The last two games, both have had their struggles. Wiggins scored 18 points Wednesday but needed 17 shots. Williams went 2-for-12 with three turnovers.
Wednesday, there was nobody to pick up the slack.
“A lot of us couldn’t get our shots to fall, especially me,” Wiggins said. “I haven’t really been hitting anything.”
The Wolves had a first-quarter lead erased by an 11-2 Mavericks run, and Dallas never looked back, stretching the lead to 21 by halftime and to as many as 25 in the second half.
And so the Wolves end the first half of their season with a 7-34 record, still waiting for the return of Kevin Martin (close) and Ricky Rubio (not so close).
And Saunders again is looking for more energy and better offensive execution.
“When you don’t make shots, it sucks the energy out of you,” Saunders said. “We didn’t execute great. We didn’t cut hard. We didn’t set hard enough screens. So those are things that we have to clean up.”