MINNEAPOLIS -- Elton Brand called it a must-have game.
Dallas understood what was happening. If the Mavericks are going to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture, they have to take advantage of soft spots in the schedule. And Sunday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves was clearly a soft spot.
The Mavericks players watched Minnesota's game in Denver Saturday night from the comfort of their Minneapolis hotel. Throw in daylight savings time and an early tip-off, and the Timberwolves would be playing their second game in 21 hours.
Knowing what was on the line, Dallas did what good teams do and delivered a very routine 100-77 victory at Minnesota that was as easy as the final score indicated.
It was the third victory in a row for Dallas, and the Mavs have now won four out of five this month. Dallas has also moved within three games of the Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. It's as close as the Mavs have been to a playoff spot in many weeks.
The Mavs didn't fool around against Minnesota. They jumped to a big lead in the second quarter, built on it in the third and fourth quarters and never let the Timberwolves believe they could win.
"It's imperative, you have to win this game," Brand said. "It was very satisfying to get the lead and keep the lead. We've lost some close games in the last two weeks that kind of put us behind the 8-ball, but we're not going to quit. We're going to keep fighting until the end."
Vince Carter, who made four 3-pointers and led Dallas with 22 points, was a little more direct.
"We have to win. ... It was important for us to come out firing and hit first, something we don't do often," Carter said.
Dallas quickly took control of the game and pushed its lead to double digits early in the second quarter. Led by Carter, the Mavericks scored the first 15 points of the second quarter. Mike James capped a 22-3 spurt with a 3-pointer that put Dallas ahead 39-21 with 8:36 to play in the second quarter.
A first-half lead of double digits frequently doesn't last in the NBA, but it did on this night. Dallas never again saw its lead shrink below 10 points. The Mavs led by 12 at halftime and by 17 after three quarters. The lead was extended to more than 20 in a fourth quarter that lacked any sort of drama.
"We just didn't have any energy," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. "We had shot after shot and missed shot after shot. They ran a lot of people in in the first half. I know they were thinking we played last night and the travel. We just wore down."
Dallas' veteran trio of Dirk Nowitzki (16 points, nine rebounds), Carter and Brand (10 points, 12 rebounds) took advantage. The three played a big part in Dallas outrebounding Minnesota 59-40. The Mavericks bench -- of which Brand and Carter are a part -- outscored Minnesota's reserves 58-22.
"We wanted to pull ahead and extend the lead and be able to finish the game," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Their turnaround from last night hurt them. It was clear they were getting more tired. We were able to take advantage of that and we're getting out of here with a win."
The only thing that didn't go as planned for Dallas was that O.J. Mayo turned his right ankle while being called for a charge with 2:50 to play in the third quarter. Mayo, who did make a brief return, expects to be fine, but wants to see how the ankle feels on Monday morning.
NOTES: The Timberwolves continue to struggle to put the basket in the hoop, shooting just 36.4 percent against Dallas. It was the fourth time in last seven games that the Wolves have shot under 40 percent ... Carlisle wants to see his team continue to string good performances together. "Our nemesis is inconsistency, we're fighting to be more consistent," Carlisle said. "We're showing signs of doing some things better." ... In some ways, the Mavs do control their playoff fate. After upcoming road games at Milwaukee and San Antonio, Dallas will play eight of nine games at home this month. ... The Mavericks again played without forward Shawn Marion, who has now missed two games in a row with a left calf contusion.