DALLAS – You could see the buzz saw rolling down the plains of Texas like a tornado.
The league’s most efficient offense in Dallas had all of its horses present Monday, while the rebuilding Wolves brought in the league’s fourth-worst defense since remaking their roster at the trade deadline.
With Luka Doncic present after missing a game Saturday and Kristaps Porzingis also back, the Mavericks chopped up the Wolves’ defense, winning 139-123 at American Airlines Center.
“This is the storm,” Wolves guard D’Angelo Russell said. “Weather it and we’ll be fine.”
That can be easier said than done for a team that is still figuring things out, and perhaps the Wolves’ greatest challenge, along with figuring out each other and how coach Ryan Saunders wants them to play, is dealing with what could be bumpy final two months of the season.
“Our communication was not up to par tonight,” Saunders said. “But we need to learn from that, and it’ll be a learning experience.”
They had plenty of material to draw from Monday.
Yes, the Wolves are a work in progress, but there’s still professional pride. They’re still competitors and losing is no fun for anyone.
“It’s tough to not be mad and be mad,” guard Malik Beasley said. “It’s a tough line to do. But the best thing to do in that situation is hold each other accountable, talk to each other and that’s what we did after the game. We just told each other, ‘Look, we got to be better, but let’s do it together.’ That’s what it’s about.”
The Wolves said some glaring communication issues popped up Monday night against the top-rated offense in the league.
Doncic filled up the stat sheet as one might expect for the ascending star, with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in just 25 minutes. Tim Hardaway Jr. was able to exploit the Wolves defense to the tune of 23 points as Dallas opened up a 22-point lead in the first half. The Wolves, who never led cut it to nine in the third quarter, 86-77, but the Mavericks regained control from there.
Russell, returning from a day of planned rest, finished with 29 points. Beasley added 21 while Jake Layman, who made his first appearance since Nov. 18, had five off the bench. James Johnson added 19.
Offensively, there were bright spots, but the fluidity with which the Wolves want to play isn’t there yet.
“The execution to not be where we’d like it to be at this point in the season,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “You can tell Dallas has been playing together, but it’s something we have to speed up that process ourselves.”
Added Russell: “It’s hard to [assess yourselves] when we lose the way we lose, but we find a way to put points on the board. It’s hard to scout for a team like us that you don’t have a system in play right now. We’re not executing 100% of the time. It’s hard to scout for that. It’s also hard to gauge for ourselves where we are.”
Especially defensively. The Wolves are a work in progress, and watching them the rest of the season is going to require patience. While there were moments of frustration on the floor at some of the easy baskets the Mavericks were getting, the Wolves tried to stay upbeat in the huddle, talking with each other during timeouts with Johnson taking leadership reins before coaches entered the huddle.
“I know that as young guys get more solidified — in their roles and in NBA games — then you become a more natural communicator,” Saunders said. “A lot of rookies playing right now and young guys just in general, so when you put that together, there can be some mishaps.
“But we got to learn from it.”
The Wolves received a master class, courtesy of the Mavericks.