– At last it’s time to go home.

A grueling two-week road trip filled with pain and suffering finally ended Saturday. The Timberwolves ended it with a 131-117 loss to a Mavericks team starting to hit its stride.

But unlike Friday, when the Wolves took a direct shot to the chin early in New Orleans and never recovered, Saturday the Wolves at least kept fighting. Indeed, coach Flip Saunders was able to find some things to be happy about after his team had lost for a fifth straight time.

“Considering the circumstances, with the long road trip, the three games in four nights, we could have rolled over, with what happened last night,” Saunders said. “But our guys fought back. We found some guys who went out and played with a little energy. There are some things we can take from that.’’

But there are also things that need considerable work, problems that go deeper than playing without Ricky Rubio and Thaddeus Young.

The Mavericks (7-3) used relentless dribble penetration to set up open shots all night. Six Dallas players scored in double figures, led by Monta Ellis’ 30 points. After allowing New Orleans to shoot 66.7 percent Friday, the Wolves saw the Mavs shoot 55.3 percent Saturday at American Airlines Center. The Wolves forced just nine Mavs turnovers and ceded a stunning 76 points in the paint (matching a Dallas franchise record).

After an even start the Mavericks essentially won the game with a 16-5 run that began late in the first quarter and carried into the second. Dallas — the league’s highest-scoring team — led by as many as 26.

But, unlike Friday, this time the Wolves played hard until the end. Both teams scored 38 third-quarter points, and the Wolves finished the game by outscoring Dallas 35-30 over the final 12 minutes.

Minnesota’s biggest scorer was Kevin Martin, who had a wonderful game, hitting 12 of 17 shots on the way to 34 points. But it was the Wolves bench that stopped this from becoming a New Orleans-style rout. Shabazz Muhammad’s 18 points — 11 in the fourth quarter — led a Wolves bench that scored 62 points, with Mo Williams and Corey Brewer each scoring 13 and Gorgui Dieng 12.

The Wolves’ 117 points was the most allowed by the Mavs this season, and the team shot an even 50 percent.

“This was not as bad as [Friday] night,” Brewer said. “We got our butts kicked, but that’s a good team over there. They’re going to be competing this year, one of the best in the West. And we didn’t give up.’’

That said, there are a lot of problems. Nikola Pekovic’s right ankle, such a problem last season, has flared up again. The Wolves have allowed 270 points the past two games, which is why defense will be Job 1 when the players return to practice this week at home.

Home being the operative word.

The past two weeks have been hard on the Wolves, who lost Rubio to injury and Young after his mother died. It was an eye-opening experience for the rookies and a grind on just about everyone.

So, getting ready to board a plan headed home was a big deal.

“Especially with the rookies, the trip and the back-to-backs caught up with them,” Saunders said. “They were starry-eyed a little bit tonight. Just mentally drained.”

So it’s time to recharge.

“We need to go back home,” Brewer said. “I never missed Minnesota this much in my whole life.”