DALLAS - The last time these two teams played, the Timberwolves surfed the sound and emotion of Ricky Rubio's return after nine months away to a rousing overtime victory over the Mavericks at Target Center.
Fast forward only a month from that night's promise to Monday's solemn 113-98 loss to Dallas.
This time, the Wolves flew north late Monday winless from a four-game trip that started with them one game over .500 and ended with their season in danger of slipping away, unless they reverse course playing nine of their next 12 games at home.
"We just have to forget about this trip," Wolves acting head coach Terry Porter said.
The Wolves have gone from one of the NBA's best defensive teams statistically in November and December to one of its worst in January. They have surrendered more than 100 points in all but one of nine games this month, and they ended this southern swing through Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas losing each night by an average of nearly 17 points a game.
Monday, they trailed by 23 late in the third quarter and got within eight but no closer with 3:21 left.
In the four games, they were outscored 96-38 in fast-break points, including 63-21 in the past two games.
"Just something to do with some guys getting a little bit tired, some to do with injuries, some with other teams shooting the ball better," Wolves guard J.J. Barea said about his team's defensive regression. "Maybe a little bit of everything."
Barea played his first game in Dallas since leaving the 2011 NBA championship team as a free agent before last season and led the Wolves with 21 points during a game in which the Mavericks dared Wolves forward Dante Cunningham all game to shoot.
Cunningham accepted the invitation, shooting a season-high 18 attempts but making only six for a 12-point night.
"I guess tonight was him," said Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, who supplemented Barea's offense off the bench with his own 20 points and 12 rebounds. "Doesn't matter, whoever's there. That's how we've played all season. Whoever's open, he needs to shoot the ball. What else?"
The Wolves are 16-19, three games under .500 for the first time all season, and have lost by double digits five times in January after doing so only three times in the season's first two months.
"We've got injured guys now, but even then back in November and December we also got some injured guys," Pekovic said. "We're just playing through. This is one part of our growth as a team. We just need to go back home to try to clear our minds, try to be focused. We need to show we can come back from all this. We can fight back. I know we can."
Following losses at Oklahoma City, New Orleans, San Antonio and Dallas, the Wolves headed home Monday, bound for games at Target Center on Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers and Saturday against Houston.
"I think we're ready to go home," Barea said. "It's a young team. This trip is one of the longest for the new guys. It's a good learning experience. It's a tough trip. I told them just remember how this feels. I just keep talking to them. Long season, tell everyone to stay positive and stay together. We've just got to get better at home."
The Wolves are 10-5 at home and are 6-14 on the road.
"We've had some issues, have players injured, but that's no excuse," said Rubio, who played a season-high 26 minutes in the second of back-to-back games. "If we keep playing as a team, we will get through this. We just have to get through, keep playing, keep trying to get some wins at home. We will get through this."