With their eyes squarely on the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks did exactly what they needed to do against an inferior opponent Sunday night at the Target Center.
Taking advantage of a tired and weary Minnesota squad, the Mavs built a double-digit lead in the first half and kept the pressure on in the second half before walking away with an easy 100-77 victory over the Timberwolves.
It was the Mavs’ largest margin of victory since they pounded Sacramento 123-100 on Feb. 13 and left coach Rick Carlisle impressed with the way his team manhandled the Timberwolves.
“We’ve got to keep an edge as we keep going on this trip,” Carlisle said. “Each game is too meaningful. With everything we’ve been through and everything else, we owe it to ourselves and everybody that follows us that we’ve got to stay right in this and really focus.”
The Mavs (29-33) are now 2-0 on their four-game road trip and have moved within three games of the Los Angeles Lakers, who have control of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Unlike Friday night, when the Mavs blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead to Detroit before rallying to defeat the Pistons, Dallas kept its feet pressed firmly against the Timberwolves’ throats and never let up. Minnesota never got closer than 10 points in the second half, which saw the Mavs’ lead swell to as many as 24 points.
“At halftime, we just said we’ve got to keep playing sticky defense and getting rebounds and make it as much of a tempo game as we can without turning it over, and we were able to do that,” Carlisle said. “We wanted to go ahead and extend the lead and be able to finish the game.”
Dallas, which has won three straight games, plays at Milwaukee on Tuesday before concluding their trip Thursday in San Antonio.
The Mavs kept the crowd out of Sunday’s game and did some heavy lifting on the boards, where they outrebounded the Timberwolves 59-40. Elton Brand led Dallas with 12 rebounds and added 10 points.
The Timberwolves were playing without injured starters Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko. Still, the Mavs don’t have the time to feel sorry for an opponent, especially with all the hardships they’ve encountered this season.
“There’s no such thing as comfortable this year,” Carlisle said. “I’m pretty certain of that.”
The Mavs took the lead for good at 19-18 via a Darren Collison free throw with 54.5 seconds left in the first period. Dallas then scored the first 14 points of the second quarter — six on a pair of 3-pointers by Vince Carter — to silence the crowd and assume a commanding 35-20 lead.
“The biggest thing is we are just moving the ball regardless of what the plays are called for,” said Carter, who had 22 points and nine rebounds. “We are just finding the open guy. I think when we do that, everybody feels like, ‘When I’m open and they throw the ball to me, I need to knock it down.’ ”
Going into the game, the Mavs knew it was imperative to knock Minnesota out quickly. Minnesota played in Denver on Saturday night and flew home after the game. Coach Rick Adelman said he didn’t get to his home until 4:30 Sunday morning.
Throw in the fact that Sunday’s game started at 6 p.m. on the first day of daylight saving time, and the Timberwolves were gassed by the time the second half started.
“Tough circumstances — you come from Denver and you lose an hour with daylight savings,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who collected 16 points and nine boards. “They looked a little flat to me. We did what we were supposed to do, especially in the second half. This was a game we needed to have, and I’m glad we got it.”