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Timberwolves struggle against small ball in loss to Dallas

Dallas entered Sunday’s contest with one big man — Dwight Powell.

The Mavericks’ backup big was essentially small forward Grant Williams. That would figure to serve as an issue against a Timberwolves’ team featuring two All-NBA centers in its starting lineup.

But, if anything, the opposite played out. While Minnesota touts a more talented roster, Dallas’ smaller lineup compromised Minnesota at various points throughout the night and aided the Mavericks in their 115-108 home victory.

Kyrie Irving (35) and Luka Doncic (34) combined for 69 points in the victory.

Minnesota’s stars were good in their own right. Anthony Edwards led the charge with 36 points and 10 rebounds, while Karl-Anthony Towns tallied 24 points and seven rebounds in just 27 minutes on a night where he was somewhat limited by foul trouble.

“I thought they did a good job of surviving foul trouble, for the most part. Each of them had it going at one time or another,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told reporters. “We just couldn’t get one or two of them to go down in the final few minutes.”

As a whole, the Wolves struggled with foul issues much of the night. Edwards had three fouls in the first half. Towns had to sit essentially the entire third frame after picking up his fourth foul early in the second half.

Minnesota struggled to contain Dallas’ smaller lineups. The Wolves elected to leave specific Mavericks’ players open for much of the night. The strategy paid off as Derrick Jones Jr. went just 1 for 6 from 3-point range, despite those looks coming with no defender within shouting distance of him.

But Jones adapted at a key point in the contest. With 30 seconds to play and Dallas (22-15) up three, Jones was again left open on the perimeter. But this time, he elected to use his open space as a runway to the rim. His jam essentially brought the contest to a close.

Dallas going small did open up the paint on the other end for Minnesota (25-10). The Wolves recorded 50 points in the paint. Edwards scored 18 of those. Minnesota nabbed 18 offensive rebounds. But those turned into just 21 second-chance points.

Dallas actually grabbed fewer offensive rebounds — 15, which is still a robust number — and turned those into more second-chance points (24).

Rudy Gobert grabbed 17 boards, but he struggled to turn his size advantage into offense. He went 4 for 9 from the field for nine points. More importantly, he turned the ball over five times, the last of which came with 70 seconds to play, when a rolling Gobert fired the ball out to no one in particular.

The game played out eerily similar to some of Gobert’s playoff exits during his time in Utah.

That’s not to say Minnesota will suffer a similar fate. While the Wolves trailed for large segments of Sunday’s bout, they nearly left Dallas with a victory.

Edwards and Towns combined to hit four triples in the fourth quarter, and Edwards’ fifth bucket of the final frame put Minnesota up six with four minutes to play.

But he missed his final two shots of the quarter and his teammates went similarly cold down the stretch as Minnesota fell for the fourth time in its last seven contests.

“I’ve got to do a better job. I’ve got to get the ball into Mike (Conley’s) hands at that point and time, like I did all season,” Finch said. “But really good game. We got down, we came back. We took a lead. Normally, we’ve been winning those games. But today, we didn’t.”

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