MINNEAPOLIS -- The new year started the same way the old year ended for the Dallas Mavericks:
With many concerns about what has happened to the defending world champions.
Those concerns escalated Sunday at the Target Center when the Minnesota Timberwolves ended the game on a blistering 15-0 run in zipping past the Mavs 99-82. The loss dropped the Mavericks to 1-4 going into tonight's home game against the 5-0 Oklahoma City Thunder.
Practically nothing has gone right for the Mavs this season, other than last Friday's win over the Toronto Raptors. The Timberwolves received 25 points and 17 rebounds from Kevin Love, and a flashy performance from rookie point guard Ricky Rubio that left the Mavs wondering when these subpar performances will come to a halt.
"You're always concerned when you lose," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 21 points. "When you lose by 30 twice at home -- [actually it was 11 and 22] -- we were concerned then.
"Definitely the one win against Toronto doesn't really make the world great. So we've got a lot of work to do."
The Mavs worked hard to slice a 60-45 deficit to 84-82 with 5:35 to go after seven straight points from Nowitzki.
But with a chance to tie, Vince Carter was whistled for an offensive foul.
After that, Love took over. Love made back-to-back 3-pointers -- the latter one on a pretty step-back jumper -- then scored inside off a nifty pass from Rubio for a 95-82 Minnesota lead.
The Mavs had no answers.
"We made some good runs, but it's very difficult playing from behind in this league," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's become too much of a consistent theme.
"We've got to correct it; we've got to be really good at the beginning of games, and we've got to carry it forward."
The Mavs shot a frosty 37.7 percent from the field and lost the rebounding battle by a sizable 54-35 margin to the T-Wolves, who are 1-3 on the season.
"We've got problems at both ends, but I'm always going to err on the side of feeling the defense is the most important," Carlisle said. "In the 10 years now that I've been a head coach in this league, the defensive end is always the key to success."
The game was tied 25-all after the first period, but the T-Wolves closed the second period on a 13-2 surge to lead 50-41 at the half. Ex-Mavs guard J.J. Barea scored all eight of his points in the first half, and finished the night 4 of 11 from the field.
A 3-point shot at the third-quarter buzzer by Lamar Odom sent the Mavs into the final quarter only down 74-69.
But Rubio had seven of his 14 points and five of his seven assists in the final period, and the Mavs seemed shell-shocked at what he and Love were able to accomplish.
"Their point guard made some great passes,'' Delonte West said of Rubio. "The one he threw between guys' legs -- the bounce pass -- me coming from the Celtics, that was very Bob Cousy-like.
"But we've just got to tighten up. Coach can only do so much. They can draw the plays up, but we've got to go out and execute.''
That execution will be put to the test when the Mavs entertain Oklahoma City at 7:30 tonight at American Airlines Center.
"There are no excuses," Carlisle said. "We've just got to play better."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760