I’d be lying if I told you that I enjoyed watching the Mavericks play the Timberwolves on Sunday. I thought I would enjoy watching it. I wanted to enjoy watching it. Despite my high hopes, however, it just didn’t happen that way. On paper, Minnesota is a fun team, because while they may be bad, they’re the fun kind of bad — young, high upside, too inexperienced to put it all together yet. I’ve been eager to get my first glimpse of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns all season, actually, but by the time the final buzzer sounded, I was all too pleased to be done with the game.
Much of this displeasure had to do with what felt like an especially plodding pace. Neither team ranks particularly high in team pace; the Wolves are in the bottom third and the Mavericks are right in the middle, so combining the two led to a very slow-paced game. For instance, the Utah Jazz run what is essentially the slowest offense in basketball with something around 91 possessions per 48 minutes. On Sunday, Dallas and Minnesota barely topped that number, finishing with a pace rating of 92.46. Yawn.
Another major factor was that officials blew the whistle on a combined 44 personal fouls, which isn’t an absurd number but still felt like too much in an already slow game. Minnesota is averaging about 22 fouls per game, a number they exceeded by three, while the Mavericks check in just a little over 19, a number they hit right on the nose. Again, it was nothing ludicrous, but when you have so few possessions in the first place, the last thing you want is a foul to stop the clock and slow things down even more.
Although Dallas continued its habit of starting the game ice cold, they actually finished well. They ended up shooting 46.8 percent from the field, more than 2 percent better than their season mark. The three-ball wasn’t falling at an especially impressive rate, but the team was downright on fire in the second half, hitting 18-of-35 shots. Oddly, despite this high field goal percentage, they scored just 45 points over those final two periods thanks to that plodding pace I referenced earlier.
As for the Timberwolves’ wunderkinds, I didn’t get to see vintage Wiggins until the fourth quarter, and Towns barely showed up at all. Finding himself in early foul trouble, Towns played in just 25 minutes and managed a mere 10 points and 4 rebounds. As for Wiggins, he entered the fourth quarter with just 11 points, a number he was stuck on until around the 4:30 mark. As Minnesota mounted a late but ultimately futile comeback, last year’s number one pick found his form, scoring 10 points in a variety of ways to finish with 21.
Without question, the best news that came from this boring game was the resurgence of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk’s game log has not been pretty from a shooting standpoint for some time — before Sunday’s showing, he hadn’t shot over 50 percent from the field in a game since the day before Christmas Eve. That’s a long time, and I’ll admit I was getting a little concerned that he was tired in a way that couldn’t be easily remedied. This may still be the case, as one game doesn’t mean a lot by itself, but I’ll take that solid 12-for-22 performance any day. He finished with 29 points, his second-highest output of the season, and he also grabbed 7 rebounds as well.
Only two other Mavericks even cracked double digits. That would be Zaza Pachulia, who of course added another double-double, and Chandler Parsons, who contributed 14 points on 6-for-7 from the field. He even knocked down his first three-pointer since the buzzer beater game against the Kings.
Now the schedule gets interesting. I may not have cared much for this game, but I did care very much about it coming out a victory. This is clearly the toughest stretch of the season for the Mavericks, and it begins now. They will host the Cavaliers on Tuesday and then turn right around and fly to Oklahoma City for a back-to-back on the next night. The challenges don’t stop there by any means. I want to take the time to point out that Dallas is 22-16 at the time of this writing and still holding that fifth seed. I have no idea if either of those things will be true in the near future, so it’s important to get it down in print. Time to take the plunge, Mavs.