By protecting a double-digit lead and prevailing 101-92 Monday night at Target Center, the Timberwolves did more than banish Dallas beneath them to last place in the Western Conference.
They also moved within 3½ games of Portland and Sacramento for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Yes, the NBA is an unpredictable place, and its 82-game season can be wild and wacky.
“It’s amazing how long the season is,” Wolves young star Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Don’t count us out any time … There are a lot of things that could happen. We got a win tonight. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
The Wolves still are three games away from the season’s halfway point, with a 12-26 record after beating the now 11-27 Mavericks, but they are still in sight of the playoffs in a Western Conference where only 4 ½ games separate the bottom nine teams.
Monday, they stopped a four-game losing streak and sent the Mavs to their third consecutive loss by building leads of 21 points early in the second quarter and 14 with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining. That was after aging, creaky Dallas pulled within four with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter.
They made Dallas pay early when the Mavericks refused to double-team Towns to start the game. Towns responded by scoring 20 of his 34 points in the first quarter alone on 8-of-9 shooting.
Then they made Dallas pay late as Ricky Rubio took command in the fourth quarter of an offense that shot 56.3 percent for the night. Little-used Tyus Jones played beside Rubio in the backcourt for the final 11 minutes after Zach LaVine left the game because of a hip contusion.
By winning, the Wolves avoided falling into last place all alone and sent the Mavericks there instead.
“We’re trying to look high, not low,” Rubio said. “We know our record is not what we want it to be, but we’re working to get out of those last spots and trying to look high.”
Rubio helped assure that with 13 points, 15 assists, five rebounds and five steals, a performance that stabilized his team in the closing minutes after it gave up the game’s final 11 points to Utah on Saturday and lost by two.
So, too, did Towns with his 34-point, 11-rebound night that started with him scoring at will against single coverage until Dallas changed strategy. It also included Towns, at 7 feet tall, and Harrison Barnes, at 6-8, battling in a power forward matchup that offered mismatches at either end.
“This is my lucky day, I don’t know what to tell you,” Towns said.
His start pushed the Wolves to that 21-point lead before halftime. The Mavericks twice pulled within three points late in the third quarter, and they were within six when LaVine hurt his hip and fouled to get himself out of the game 51 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“I just ran into somebody,” LaVine said as he hobbled to his locker after the game.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau summoned Jones rather than veteran Brandon Rush because the Mavericks had ball-handling guards — J.J. Barea and Devin Harris — in the game.
Over the last 11 minutes, Jones went 3-for-3 from the field and made a three-pointer with 2:45 left that pushed the Mavericks away for good.
“Tyus gave us great minutes,” Thibodeau said. “He came in ready to play and made big plays for us, timely plays.”
Jones had played in only seven of the past 20 games and only four seconds in his most recent appearance, last week against Portland. He said he didn’t see LaVine get injured but just heard Thibodeau call for him.
“I don’t think anybody saw it,” Jones said. “He was in some pain and Thibs just called my name. That’s what they say: Just stay ready.”