DALLAS – The Timberwolves were down five players in COVID protocols in Tuesday's 114-102 loss to the Mavericks. That included three starters in Anthony Edwards, Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt.

Still, to Karl-Anthony Towns there was no excuse, especially against a team in Dallas that was also down several key contributors, including Luka Doncic and Kristaps Prozingis.

The Mavericks were even rolling out some of their replacement players like Theo Pinson, who played 22 minutes and scored seven points.

"They were calling stuff; I had no idea what it was," Pinson told reporters after the game. "I was just reading off of my teammates."

It's a tough look for the Wolves to lose to a team using players it had just signed. For Towns, there was a lot of disappointment in the loss because expectations for this group of Wolves is higher than his last few seasons.

"We got to do a better job of playing Timberwolves basketball, playing that aggressive, gritty defense and if we would've did that, we'd be having a different story," Towns said.

That was harder for them to do without Vanderbilt and Beverley, two of their best defenders.

That, to Towns, was no excuse for the loss.

"The elephant in the room, we always know, is those guys bring a lot to the table for our team," Towns said. "But again, this is Timberwolves basketball, I said it last time. Our identity as a team can't be judged by who's out there on the floor. It has to be something that's a culture we had built. That should be sustained regardless of the players on the court and the jerseys on the court."

Specifically, the Wolves missed the energy Vanderbilt brings to the table each night. His hustle and ability to come out of nowhere to grab rebounds can be "inspiring" to the Wolves, as coach Chris Finch has said.

"It's more just his energy he brings to the game and the way he impacts defense, you know?" Towns said. "[With me] taking out the big heavy hitters out there trying to rebound, using my strength to neutralize their strength, but then having Vando fly from nowhere to grab it.

"It makes it easy and it's a different kind of game. I hope you pick that up on that mic."

But if the Wolves are trying to become a playoff team, they need a culture that will let them overcome key absences, especially when their opponents are going through the same thing.

Towns feels like the Wolves have made some progress there, especially as expectations rise this season with the early success the Wolves have had.

"Just to hear the conversations of us not meeting our standards and not playing the game of basketball the way we know we should be playing it," Towns said. "It speaks to the culture that's being built here.

"It's kind of second nature now to know that when we're slipping up and not playing our game, so to realize right away the culture is not being held to the highest standard, it's a good sign but obviously something we can't talk about. We got to fix it right away."