The Dallas Mavericks head into the third game of a four-game road swing Sunday for a matinee at the Target Center in Minneapolis against the sputtering Minnesota Timberwolves.
Since the conclusion of the All-Star break, Dallas slipped to seventh in the Western Conference, a game behind Oklahoma City for sixth and 1.5 games behind Utah for fifth. The Mavericks dropped to 3-2 post-break on Friday with a 126-118 loss at Miami.
Second-year sensation and Most Valuable Player contender Luka Doncic scored 23 points with 10 assists and four rebounds in the loss, but went 0-of-6 from 3-point range. Doncic sustained a thumb injury Wednesday in the first game of the road trip at San Antonio, requiring a splint.
"I wasn't myself today, obviously, but we just got to learn from that and move on," Doncic told reporters after Friday's game. "I couldn't catch the ball. I didn't know how important the thumb was until I couldn't hold the ball, so it was tough."
Doncic returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for seven games just before the All-Star break. He sat in the second night of a back-to-back to rest the ankle on Feb. 22, a 111-107 Mavericks loss to Atlanta.
The tight playoff race in the Western Conference puts a high premium on every win -- and loss. After dropping two in the past week, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters in Miami his team needs to put together a complete, 48-minute performance.
"We just got to be better on both sides of the ball from start to finish," he said.
One of Dallas' two wins since the break, meanwhile, came against the same Minnesota bunch the Mavericks face on Sunday.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 23 points and Doncic posted 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a 139-123 win over the Timberwolves on Feb. 24. Minnesota was without leading scorer and rebounder Karl-Anthony Towns, who sustained a fractured left wrist.
Towns -- who missed 15 games from mid-December to mid-January due to a knee injury -- played just one game with newly acquired D'Angelo Russell before injuring his wrist.
Minnesota traded Andrew Wiggins to Golden State for Russell on Feb. 7. Russell made his debut on Feb. 10, scoring 22 points in a loss to Toronto.
The defeat at Toronto kicked off a five-game losing streak for the Timberwolves, which concluded in the Feb. 24 matchup with Dallas. Russell scored 29 points against the Mavericks, and he posted another 27 points with six assists and five rebounds in a 129-126 win over Miami on Wednesday.
But Minnesota lost at Orlando on Friday, 136-125, continuing an unfortunate trend: The Timberwolves have not won consecutive games since Jan. 2 and 5.
"It's easy to get confidence from a win and kind of get comfortable," Russell told the Minneapolis Star Tribune following his 28-point game against the Magic. "Last game we did everything we were supposed to do offensively, defensively. So the result was a win. I don't think we did everything we could've done tonight. We were kind of just floating through the motions and swimming upstream."
--Field Level Media