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Wolves Fall Back to Earth, Lose to Mavericks 98-87

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A Gorguieous effort from Gorgui Dieng not enough as the Wolves’ three-game win streak is snapped.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Sunday afternoon’s game against the Dallas Mavericks playing their best basketball of the season.

And they left Dallas with one of their worst losses of the season.

Minnesota ultimately fell by a score of 98-87 to fall to 14-27 for the season with road contests against San Antonio and the L.A. Clippers on deck.

The loss does not fall on the shoulders of Gorgui Dieng, who turned it one of his best performances of the season. If not for Dieng and his efficient 21-point scoring performance and repetitive hustle plays, this game would have turned into a blowout quickly in the third quarter.

Offensively, the Wolves reverted back to old habits as Zach LaVine reentered the lineup. Head coach Tom Thibodeau saw his team sloppily execute countless two-man offensive sets often to no avail. Stagnation was a common theme in the first half. As a result, Ricky Rubio or Karl-Anthony Towns was often trying to force something that wasn’t there.

Minnesota’s defensive struggles resurfaced once again. Dirk Nowitzki turned back the clock in the second quarter to ignite a run on the Wolves bench. Wes Matthews hit four of eight spot up three-point attempts and Harrison Barnes took advantage of mismatches via switch at the high post.

J.J. Barea provided the annoying scoring spark he was known for during the Rick Adelman era in Minnesota, tallying 15 points on 5-for-5 from the field. Tyus Jones — the entire Wolves bench, really — had no answer for Barea’s craftiness in the paint.

Speaking of the Wolves reserves, did they know there was a game today? Outside of Nemanja Bjelica hitting a few tough shots, the bench performance was completely abysmal. He was literally the only player to put the ball in the hoop besides the starting five. Shabazz Muhammad, Kris Dunn, Jones, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich combined to shoot 0-for-12 in 40 total minutes. Yuck.

Karl-Anthony Towns saw his double-double streak end at 10 games, finishing just one rebound shy to go with his 18 points on 8-for-17 from the field. Andrew Wiggins added 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting and eight rebounds while Ricky Rubio barely recorded double-digit assists once again as his 10th fell through the hoop with 0.4 seconds remaining via a Towns jumper.

The bench was largely incompetent. The chemistry was in disarray after the return of LaVine to the starting lineup. The energy and effort was lacking — and no, the early afternoon start is not an excuse for that.

Minnesota has tallied quite a few ugly losses this season, and today was just another unfortunate example. Momentum can be derailed quickly.

Quick Notes

  • Ricky Rubio gets a lot of flack for his inability to shoot accurately from the outside — and it’s mostly justified (although his mid-range numbers are very good this season). But Kris Dunn’s jumper is far more broken than Rubio’s.
  • In fact, it seems pretty apparent that Dunn is the third-best point guard on this team right now. Will Thibodeau acknowledge it and decrease minutes for the first draft pick that was “his own”? Probably not.
  • It’s fascinating how much different the offensive game plan is with LaVine as compared to without LaVine. The successful offensive looks the Wolves generated the past few games were absent from today’s game. Is it difficult to run a similar game plan with LaVine in the starting lineup instead of Brandon Rush? Absolutely not.
  • The next two road games (at San Antonio, at L.A. Clippers) will be nice tests to see how the youth responds after such a tough loss to snap a season-long three game win streak. Grabbing one of two this week before heading back to Target Center would be a win for the Wolves.