01/06/2008 Mavericks @ Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS – The Mavericks treated this last-place team like a last-place team. The outcome was never in doubt, as Dallas out-classed the rebuilding Timberwolves 101-78 Sunday afternoon at the Target Center.
The Mavs (23-11) completed this end of the two-game sweep of the worst teams in each conferencewith considerable ease. Unlike the two stops they needed in the closing seconds Friday to outlast injury-riddled Miami, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Co. dominated Minnesota from the opening tip.
“We didn’t want to play to the level of our competition,” Howard said.
The reigning MVP scored a game-high 30 points, working mostly against smaller defenders such as Craig Smith and Mark Madsen. The Mavs’ other All-Star forward, Howard, hit 20 points for the first time since Dec. 19 with 22. He added eight rebounds.
“It’s important for both of us to continue to do that,” Howard said.
Even with Erick Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse out, Avery Johnson was able to rest several of his main guys. None of the five starters played more than the 32 minutes logged by Nowitzki and Howard. Eddie Jones, Devin Harris and Jason Terry played between 23-24 minutes. All 12 on the active roster saw action in the Mavs’ fourth straight win and ninth in the last 11.
“When we’re playing the type of basketball we’ve been playing here recently,” Johnson said, “we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The extra rest likely isn’t much of an issue since the team is off until Wednesday’s showdown with Detroit. The Pistons, in contrast to Miami and Minnesota, are positioned to make a title run this season. The Mavs will get their work in before facing one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
“I know one thing that doesn’t work: Two complete days off and then play the next day,” quipped Johnson, alluding to similar break followed by a dud at Utah the day after Christmas.
The Mavs were awake early, thanks in part to a morning walk-through, and hit their first double-digit (17-7) lead before the game was six minutes old. Nowitzki or Howard scored the team’s first 13 points and combined for 24 in the first quarter, as Dallas took a 31-16 lead.
“We came out with a lot of energy,” said Devin Harris, who scored 12. “We go out in transition, made stops and rebounded the ball. We obviously didn’t do everything perfect, but we played with confidence.”
The onslaught didn’t slow down much in the second quarter. A brief Minnesota run cut the deficit to nine (33-24) before the Mavs took off again. Three consecutive 3-pointers – two from Jones and another from Terry – pushed Dallas’ edge back to 18.
The Mavs eased into the half up 58-35 and would enjoy as much as a 31-point lead in the third quarter. Without much help around power forward Al Jefferson, the Wolves (4-29) weren’t able to mount much of a challenge.
“We opened focused and I thought we stayed focused,” Johnson said after holding a seventh consecutive opponent to less than 100 points. “One of the toughest things to do in this league is to keep a big lead.”
Jones (six points) left the game after jamming his left knee in the third quarter, but he would have been available to return had the game not been a blowout.
Injury update: Damp and Stack
Erick Dampier’s swollen left knee appears to be a concern, while Jerry Stackhouse (sprained right thumb) plans to return Wednesday against Detroit. Dampier has missed the last two games after injuring the knee last Wednesday against Golden State.
The swelling has remained and Dampier limped badly in Saturday’s walk-through before the team left Dallas. He stayed back to get extra rest and rehab. He’ll be evaluated again Monday and, depending on what the doctors find, an MRI exam could follow.
Stackhouse is wearing a soft cast to protect his sprained right thumb. He suffered the injury Friday against Miami.
“It was a freak thing,” Stackhouse said. “I was going up for a layup, a guy blocked my shot and the ball wasn’t out of my hand yet. When he blocked the ball, my thumb went back with it.”
The palm of his right hand is swollen, which is affecting his grip on the ball. Stackhouse expects to play against his former team.
“It’s getting better, though,” Stackhouse said. “I think it happened at a good time. We have three days off before we play again.”
Ager recalled, Barea stays
Moe Ager rejoined the Mavs after a seven-game stint with D-League Tulsa. Ager actually played Saturday night in Provo, Utah, before boarding an early morning flight out of Salt Lake City for Minneapolis.
“Watching him on film I thought he was trying to do some of the things we talked about in terms of being aggressive, decisive, playing defense without cheap fouls,” Avery Johnson said. “I thought he was pretty solid down there. With Damp and Stack not being healthy, we needed to get him back.”
Johnson had planned to assign JJ Barea, but needed the point guard to have 12 healthy bodies on the active roster. Ager had a solid stint with the 66ers, averaging 16.3 points and 32.7 minutes in seven games (four starts).
“I did a lot better than I did last year,” he said, referring to a stint with the Fort Worth Flyers. “It was good to go down there and work on my game.”