DALLAS – The Wolves came to Dallas in October to play their second road game of the season, and on Wednesday they returned to American Airlines Center to complete that symmetry by playing their second-to-last road game, a 110-108 win over the Mavericks.
In their own ways, both games provided a snapshot of the Wolves’ season. In the first meeting, Jimmy Butler did not play, opting to stay in Minnesota to rest before the Wolves traded him in November. The Wolves allowed 140 points in a loss that night, one instance in a long line of systemic defensive issues that ultimately contributed to their elimination from the playoff race.
So perhaps it’s worth an ironic chuckle that the Mavericks shot 18 percent from three-point range Wednesday, the worst an opponent has performed from deep against the Wolves this season.
A lot of the faces from that first game weren’t present in the arena — no Tom Thibodeau on the sidelines and no Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Luol Deng or Derrick Rose on the court because of injuries.
Karl-Anthony Towns had a big game on both occasions, scoring 31 points in October and snapping out of his recent slump by scoring 28 on 12-for-15 shooting. Towns had shot 25 of 72 (35 percent) over his past four games.
“I’ve been having a very rough stretch, to say the least,” Towns said.
Towns also grabbed 13 rebounds while Andrew Wiggins added 19 points and seven assists for the Wolves. A Wiggins layup with 19 seconds remaining provided the difference as a Jalen Brunson three-point attempt missed at the buzzer to give the Wolves a win with owner Glen Taylor and wife, Becky, making a rare appearance on the road at the prodding of interim coach Ryan Saunders.
“I enjoy a family atmosphere with things,” Saunders said. “I told him you’re always welcome any time you want to go. It was pretty open-ended. I didn’t know if he was going to take me up on that. He’s a busy man with a lot of things going, so it’s nice to have him around.”
After the game, Saunders went over to the Taylors to campaign to have them join the team for their regular-season finale in Denver now that the Wolves are 1-0 with them present on the road this season.
Rookie of the year candidate Luka Doncic led Dallas with 27 points, 12 rebounds and six assists while Dwight Powell added 25 points.
For the Wolves, Wednesday represented a bounce back from defensive struggles, specifically at the start of each of their past three games.
“We’re definitely at the point of the season where we’re trying to improve, still trying to work on things,” guard Tyus Jones said. “That was a challenge from Ryan. We wanted to accept it and step up to the challenge.”
The Wolves led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter. For Saunders, that start meant a lot.
“That’s one of the reasons I love being a part of this group,” Saunders said. “Things haven’t gone our way in a lot of different ways this season, but usually when you challenge them and they take it to heart, they perform and they respond.”
Towns did so in a big way, shaking off his recent slump and having the kind of dominating offensive performance that has become his norm in the second half of the season. Before Wiggins’ go-ahead layup, it was Towns who hit a pair of shots to turn a two-point deficit into a two-point lead with 48.4 seconds left.
“My dad always taught me if you want to be the guy, no matter how bad you struggle from the field, when the game is on the line, you’ve got to make the shot,” Towns said. “I just tried to do that. It was good to have some confidence from a game like [Wednesday], but I got to carry it over and finish strong.”
That’s what Saunders is hoping to see from the rest of the team. In a departure from recent events, he came away happy with the team’s defensive effort.
“We made a commitment to ourselves, especially after we were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, that every time we’re together, we’re going to strive for next year,” Saunders said. “You don’t want to feel this way. You want to be playing for something at the end of the year. We got to use every moment we have.”
Wednesday was a good moment.