DALLAS – Reeling from a hectic November schedule that has sapped some of their energy and perhaps some of their early-season optimism as well, the Timberwolves on Saturday started a challenging four-game week that their coach said would tell much about his team and its future.
So the Wolves went to Dallas on Saturday three days after they fell under .500 for the first time this season and pushed themselves back to even, winning on the road for the first time in nearly three weeks with a 112-106 victory over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
They also ended a three-game losing streak by beginning with a victory in a four-game week in which they also play Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami, three remaining opponents who combined have won 86 percent of their games this season.
“It’s very important,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said about Saturday’s victory, “but like I told them it doesn’t mean you can’t come out and win tomorrow.”
The Wolves ended a five-game road streak and climbed back to 9-9 by beating a Dallas team that had lost at home only once in nine previous home games but now has lost four of five overall.
The Wolves did so when starting center Nikola Pekovic made his presence known early by making his first five shots and by their two Kevins — Love and Martin — doing the same late, each with a big three-point shot in the game’s final minutes.
In between, newcomer Luc Mbah a Moute made his debut after only a morning shootaround to familiarize himself with his new team and played 26 minutes, including nearly the entire fourth quarter.
In one night, he appeared to do what Derrick Williams — the guy for whom he was traded —didn’t do in 2½ years: Win Adelman’s trust with his defensive positioning and rebounding that included four of his seven on the offensive end.
“Maybe not 26, but I knew Coach was going to throw him out in the fire,” Martin said of his new teammate, who defended everybody from Monta Ellis to Dirk Nowitzki. “He looked very comfortable out there. He’s a great addition to our team. He’s been guarding elite scorers for a long time.”
Ellis scored 26 and Nowitzki 23, but the Wolves led by as many as 11 points on a night when Mavericks starting point guard Jose Calderon didn’t play because of a bruised ankle sustained in Friday’s loss at Atlanta, a game in which Dallas led by 17 points and lost in the final five seconds.
On Saturday, the Wolves led 103-92 with 3:13 left after Martin made a three-pointer that pushed his team’s lead back to double digits. He then nearly skipped his way down the court into teammate J.J. Barea’s arms in celebration.
When the Mavs got back within seven points a minute later, Love took a clever bounce pass from Ricky Rubio and made a three of his own that pushed the lead back to 10 with 1:55 left.
“I knew he had to make up something, and luckily he has a good imagination,” Love said, referring to Rubio. “That was big.”
Adelman relied upon both Mbah a Moute and Dante Cunningham for their defense throughout much of the fourth quarter. They were on the floor with Love, Martin and Rubio for most of an 11-2 fourth-quarter run that turned a 92-90 lead with 6:33 left into that 11-point bulge after Martin’s made three.
Martin scored 27 points, Love and Pekovic 21 each, but it was his team’s defense that Adelman mentioned most after the game.
When asked about his newest player, Adelman said:
“Luc was terrific. You can tell right away he really knows how to play. He’s really smart. He guarded three different people out there and each time he guarded them the way we wanted him to play them. He figured it out. He’s done that his whole career. With him and Corey [Brewer] out there, we have a lot of length and quickness.’’