The Timberwolves had to make do in their preseason finale without guard D'Angelo Russell, who was kept out largely as a precaution because of right ankle soreness.
Russell's seemingly minor injury underscored an important point about how the season may go — with a compressed training camp and the long layoff for many players since their last competitive games, there could be an uptick in injuries. It also underscored the need for the Wolves to have depth at the point guard position.
In Thursday's 129-127 overtime win over the Mavericks in Dallas, Ricky Rubio started in Russell's place while Jarrett Culver and Jaylen Nowell took over ball-handling duties at times. But another reinforcement was on the way as just before tipoff news leaked that Jordan McLaughlin agreed to sign his qualifying offer, a two-way deal that will allow him to potentially earn more in free agency next year, according to a source.
McLaughlin was a staple of the Wolves' rotation late last season. He was a restricted free agent. His signing was one of the few outstanding pieces of business the Wolves had before next week's season opener against Detroit.
The rest of the team was trying to clean up an uneven first two games. The Wolves' reserves overcame a 15-point difference to tie the score late in regulation and pull ahead in overtime thanks to the efforts of players such as Culver and Naz Reid. Reid made his preseason debut and scored 14.
Culver continued his strong preseason with 18 points on 5-of-12 shooting to go with 6-of-6 from the free-throw line, an area of concern for him last season. Luka Doncic had 20 points and seven assists to lead the Mavericks.
"We've got some guys competing for minutes right now that are all earning minutes," Saunders said.
By that, Saunders meant the Wolves have seen flashes from wing players like Culver and Josh Okogie, who had some strong defensive moments guarding Doncic.
Culver said he wasn't concerned with how Saunders would dish out playing time.
"I'm always working hard, always wanting to get better and improve on my game, regardless of the minutes or however much time I play or not," Culver said.
That group also includes rookie Anthony Edwards, who dazzled in the first quarter. He finished with 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting, but the first quarter showed how he can affect a game. It started with a solid defensive stop against Doncic, and Edwards fed off that play on the other end of the floor in hitting his first three three-pointers of the night.
Karl-Anthony Towns also had his best performance of the preseason. It has been a tough two games for Towns as he deals with playing for the first time since the death of his mother, Jacqueline, and multiple other family members, and Towns said it was going to be hard to play basketball again.
Towns was more like the offensive presence he has become in the league Thursday than he was at any point this preseason in scoring 20 points.
"I've been more focused on making sure we have everything we need to get done defensively," Towns said. "Offensively, I'm not worried about it. The thing that has kept us from being great is defense. Just locking in there and everything else will take care of itself."
McLaughlin's signing of a two-way contract will create room on the 15-man roster for a player who might have otherwise been waived, such as forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the standout in the second preseason game.
The Star Tribune reporter did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.