DALLAS – It’s been more than four years since the Timberwolves last put together four consecutive victories.
And the clock still is ticking.
The Wolves came to American Airlines Center on Sunday to play a Mavericks team they beat less than a week ago in Minneapolis, the first game in a three-game winning streak. But that streak came to an end, thanks to lethargy and brutal bench play, in a 98-87 loss.
“I thought we played a low-energy game,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And that hurt us on both sides of the ball.”
Thibodeau wasn’t sure why. Sunday’s game, originally scheduled for 3 p.m., was pushed up to 1 p.m. because of the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff game. Were the Wolves body clocks not reset?
After moving the ball on offense and moving their feet on defense in a three-game winning streak that included victories over Houston and Oklahoma City, the Wolves did little of that Sunday.
After averaging 27.3 assists over three wins, the Wolves had only 20 Sunday, with players choosing to go one-on-one rather than move the ball.
On defense? Not enough foot movement. The Mavericks, second-to-last in the NBA in free throws attempted, had a 17-5 edge in attempts in the first half, while building a nine-point lead.
Dirk Nowitzki, at 38 the oldest player on the court, made three of four three-pointers and scored 17 points for Dallas. Mavericks backup guard J.J. Barea, at 6-0 the smallest player on the court, came off the bench to score 15, including Dallas’ first nine points of the fourth quarter.
That’s the long (in the tooth) and short of it. Wes Matthews scored 19 for Dallas.
“We just didn’t win tonight,” said Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who scored 18 points with nine rebounds. “We didn’t do anything that we usually do to win the game. We didn’t do that tonight. That’s why our winning streak is over and now we have a losing streak.”
Gorgui Dieng scored a season-high 21 points for the Wolves, on 10-for-12 shooting. The rest of the Wolves combined to shoot 25-for-68 (36.8 percent). Andrew Wiggins had 19 points. Zach LaVine, back after missing two games because of a hip injury, scored 11.
The Wolves bench? Outscored 29-10, and four reserve players were a minus-13 or worse.
“If you don’t play with energy you’re going to have a problem,” Thibodeau said. “So, they had their way. They made shots. They spread us out. I thought we had a good walk-through this morning. But you have to bring energy to the game.”
The Wolves were up by two late in the first quarter when Dallas went on a 21-4 run to go up 15 on Nowitzki’s three-pointer 4:25 into the second quarter. Down 14 early in the third quarter, the Wolves put together their best stretch of the game. Dieng had nine points in a 16-4 run that pulled the Wolves within 68-66 on Dieng’s steal and end-to-end drive for a layup with 4:16 left in the quarter.
That’s as close as Minnesota got.
Up three late, the Mavericks scored the last six points of the quarter. Then Barea took over to start the fourth quarter, when Dallas’ lead grew as big as 17.
“We lacked energy,” Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said. “We were on a good streak, winning against top teams. We beat this team three games ago. We knew they would come with an edge, and they beat us. The energy just wasn’t there.”