J.J. Barea drives to the basket and makes the layup while drawing the foul.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Entering Saturday’s showdown against the Minnesota Timberwolves hungry for their second win of the season, the Dallas Mavericks knew they’d have to raise their level of play in order to collect a coveted road victory.
Limping on a five-game losing streak, the Mavericks quickly tried to move on after Friday’s 99-94 loss at home to New Orleans. The Mavs also attempted to begin their two-game road trip with a much-needed win, hoping to complete a difficult back-to-back on a high note. But despite another dazzling performance from rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., the Mavericks (1-10) couldn’t bring their losing streak to an end after a 112-99 loss.
“We’ve got to help each other out,” Smith said after the loss. “Help each other and get open. I really think that’s the main thing. If we can just set screens and help each other get open, it would be a lot easier.”
Getting a lift off the bench during Friday’s loss from Tunisian center Salah Mejri with 13 rebounds in a reserve role, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle made the executive decision to slide the 7-footer into the starting lineup Saturday in place of 23-year-old big man Nerlens Noel. But after picking up two early fouls, Mejri was forced to take a seat during the beginning stage of the opening quarter.
“Look, he’s got to play the way he plays. And at the beginning of the game against a guy like [Karl-Anthony] Towns, who is good at drawing fouls, it can be tough. But he’s got to stay aggressive,” Carlisle would later say of Mejri’s foul trouble. “We need that energy. We need that personality and force he brings to the game.”
Meanwhile, leading scorer Harrison Barnes picked up where he left off at after a 26-point effort in Friday’s loss, opening the scoring with a driving lefty layup. An alley-oop connection between backup point guard J.J. Barea and Noel followed as the Mavericks tried to keep pace with the Timberwolves (6-3) in the quarter. But after a three-pointer from reserve Devin Harris tied the game at 13-all, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and the Timberwolves closed the first quarter on a 14-5 run to take a 27-18 advantage into the second stanza.
After surrendering 13 first-quarter points to Wiggins, the Mavericks tried to lock in at the defensive end in the second quarter. Barea also tried to pick up the scoring against his former team, providing an offensive punch off the bench. However, Barea wouldn’t be enough to keep the Timberwolves from assuming a double-digit lead after Tyus Jones’ three gave the home team a 38-24 advantage with 9:28 left in the half.
Minnesota continued to find success from long range later in the period to keep the two teams separated on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Barea did his best to lend Barnes some offensive assistance. Still, despite Barnes’ 17 first-half points, the Mavericks trailed 59-49 at the halftime intermission.
Led by Wiggins’ 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, the Timberwolves outshot the Mavericks through two quarters, 55.8 percent to 46.7 percent. Minnesota also held a 25-18 rebounding advantage, converting the Mavs’ six turnovers into 11 points at the other end.
Continuing to have a hard time containing Wiggins and Towns, the Mavericks would once again see the Timberwolves extend their lead early in the second half. A transition score by point guard Jeff Teague then gave the Timberwolves a 23-point lead at 77-54, forcing a timeout by Carlisle with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
The Dallas deficit reached 28 later in the quarter as the Timberwolves remained on the attack. And despite a late barrage in the quarter from Harris, the Mavericks looked up to a 93-69 disadvantage entering the final period.
“You know, I thought we just moved it in a different way,” Barnes said of the third-quarter struggles. “You know, defensively we let them get loose, and then they kind of blew open the lead from there.”
Opening the fourth quarter with a pair of three-pointers from Smith, the Mavericks continued to put up a fight down the stretch. Smith followed that sequence with a coast-to-coast score to bring the Mavs within 16, 93-77, as the team’s veterans continued to rest on the bench. Towns then did his best to close the Mavericks out, taking over down low once again. But after Smith’s three-point play, the Mavericks inched within 15 at 102-87 with 4:40 remaining.
“I think a lot of those plays were against their starters,” Smith said of the sequence. “It was just a group with a lot of energy. We gave a lot of effort on both ends, and I think it showed.”
Smith didn’t stop there, throwing down a baseline slam to bring the Mavs within 13 with 4:03 remaining. However, the Mavericks’ attack would grow stagnant before two-way signee Gian Clavell’s three-pointer made it a 106-92 deficit. Carlisle then conceded the loss soon after that, subbing out Smith and finishing the loss with the Dallas reserves.
Scoring 18 points (13 in the fourth) on 7-of-15 shooting and 3 of 5 from three-point range, Smith led the Mavericks in a losing effort. Barnes added 17 points in the first unit, and Harris pitched in 15 points off the bench. Meanwhile, Barea finished with 14 points, four rebounds and six assists in a reserve role.
“You know, Dennis did a good job of attacking the rim and making some things happen,” Carlisle said. “Other guys scrambled on defense, and (Maxi) Kleber is doing some good things right now. You know, he’s just on the floor, and his numbers are very positive. He plays a real solid overall game of basketball, and he can help us.”
Towns led four Timberwolves in double figures with 31 points on 11-of-18 shooting, grabbing 12 rebounds to boot. The Timberwolves also outshot the Mavericks for the game, 54.4 percent to 46.5 percent, adding a 48-31 rebounding advantage and converting Dallas’ 16 turnovers into 23 points.
“I mean, any time you give a team live turnovers, you can’t set your defense and they’re getting transition threes and easy dunks left and right. The offensive rebounds that we did give up resulted in dunks, so that just breaks the back of your defense,” Barnes admitted.
“We have a practice on Monday. We haven’t had a practice in a long time, because of the way the schedule has fallen, and that’s a very important practice for us to sure some things up,” Carlisle confessed. “We need to work on avoiding the catastrophic turnovers, do a better job rebounding the ball and those kinds of things. The possession of the ball stats are hurting us in a big way,.”
Note: The Mavericks will now travel to the nation’s capital to complete their road trip Tuesday against the Washington Wizards. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.
The Mavs return to American Airlines Center next Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Dorian Finney-Smith (left knee soreness) — out
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — out
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — out