DALLAS - Reversing their course, the Timberwolves trailed early Wednesday night at American Airlines Center, then tried to revive themselves as their opponents have so often this season, but they lost for the 11th time in their first 13 games, 109-103 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Until Wednesday, the Wolves made a habit of building big leads, only to fritter them away in the game's final quarter.
This time, they attempted to erase a 20-point, third-quarter deficit with a 25-11 run that left them only six points away to start the fourth quarter, and down only 86-83 with less than nine minutes left.
The surge was sparked by reserve forward Craig Smith's inside scoring and another impressive night from starting forward Al Jefferson.
But three points was as close as they came. A flying, contested Rashad McCants' dunk that bounded wildly off the rim, a 10-4 Dallas burst and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki's 27 points and guard Devin Harris' 22 points made sure of that.
"We were a couple of bounces away," Wolves coach Randy Wittman said. "That's what these guys do. They fight."
This time, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson juggled his lineup in an effort to shake a three-game losing streak for a team that won 67 regular-season games a year ago and then got dumped by Golden State in the playoffs' first round.
By moving former Timberwolf Trenton Hassell and center DeSagana Diop to the bench in favor of Jason Terry and Erick Dampier, he also intended to prevent the poor starts that had led to losses to Eastern Conference foes Indiana, Milwaukee and Washington.
His reconfigured lineup ensured a rousing start, but couldn't stop the Wolves from challenging at the finish. Minnesota nearly made it a one-possession game in the final minute.
"That's part of our character," said Smith, who delivered a 17-point game on a night when an ankle injury that has nagged him much of the season felt better.
The only lead the Wolves nurtured Wednesday night was 2-0, courtesy of a Jefferson basket that started a 31-point, 14-rebound night.
"He was a monster down there again," Wittman said.
The Wolves won their first road game in New Orleans on Monday with both of their healthy point guards -- starter Marko Jaric and reserve Sebastian Telfair -- on the floor together, an experiment that Wittman promised he would revisit against the Mavericks.
In the first half, Harris and the Mavs exploited the Wolves and that guard combination with their running game and a 17-8 second-quarter run.
"He's one of the fastest guys in the league," Wittman said of Harris. "Give him a head of steam and he'll probably go by you. I thought we did a better job in the second half."
In the third quarter, Jaric and Telfair were part of the answer when the Wolves produced that 25-11 burst that got them back in the game. Thirteen of those 25 were second-chance points.
"They had way too many offensive rebounds that kept them in the game," Nowitzki said. "Not a great effort, but after you lose three in a row it's important to get a win somehow."