NBA: Rubio can’t keep Wolves in lead

DALLAS -- On a night when the Minnesota Timberwolves were excited to finally get point guard Ricky Rubio back, and the Dallas Mavericks readied for life without Rajon Rondo, there was no question which deep team boasts the deeper nucleus.

Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio (right) guards the Mavericks’ J.J. Barea during the first quarter Monday in Dallas. (Jerome Miron / USA Today Sports)

DALLAS - On a night when the Minnesota Timberwolves were excited to finally get point guard Ricky Rubio back, and the Dallas Mavericks readied for life without Rajon Rondo, there was no question which deep team boasts the deeper nucleus.
Dallas guard Monta Ellis led all scorers with 23 points, forward Chandler Parsons had 18 and Dirk Nowitzki eased into an efficient 16 points as the Mavs never trailed in a 100-94 victory Monday night at the American Airlines Center.
The majority of the game appropriately felt like Groundhog Day. Dallas jumped out to a 10-0 lead and later led 45-24 in the second quarter. Minnesota did a nice job getting back in the game before halftime, trailing by just seven, and then the remainder of the game was a rerun of Dallas rebuffing multiple Minnesota runs only to rebuild the lead back to 10.
The overwhelming good news for Minnesota, which will take any good news after dropping to 8-40, is that Rubio is back after missing 42 games with a severely sprained ankle sustained on Nov. 7.
He showed some awesome flashes, doling out a beautiful no-look pass at one point and later a wicked off-the-dribble, bounce pass through a path of defenders. Also encouraging was Rubio draining 4-of-9 shots for 10 points, one of five Wolves players to score in double figures. Rubio really started to get things going in the fourth quarter as the Wolves again took swipes at Dallas’ 11-point lead.
They got to 92-89 with a couple of Andrew Wiggins free throws, but with the stoppage, Minnesota coach Flip Saunders removed Rubio from the game. He had played just more than 21 minutes and Saunders said he would play Rubio about 20 minutes.
Rubio slowly walked to the bench, looking as though he was not thrilled with the decision.
But at this point of the season, Saunders placed more value on protecting the newly crowned face of the franchise with Kevin Love now in Cleveland over potentially losing momentum without him.
Even then Dallas could not put Minnesota away. Guard Mo Williams’ two free throws made it 96-94 and the Wolves had a chance to tie or go ahead with 90 seconds left. Center Nikola Pekovic worked inside against Mavs center Tyson Chandler, but missed a tough underhand scoop shot. At the other end, former Wolves guard J.J. Barea stung his old team with a difficult baseline drive that put Dallas up 98-94.
After a couple Minnesota misses on a frenzied possession as the clock ticked down, Barea was fouled and sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 17.1 seconds left.
The victory was Dallas’ third in a row and improved its record to 33-18 with a trip to Golden State coming up on Wednesday. The Mavs know they will be without Rondo, who sustained a broken orbital bone and broken nose on Saturday. There is no timetable yet for his return.
Potentially compounding Dallas’ point-guard issue was a late-game injury to Devin Harris, who hurt his left leg after Pekovic fell on Harris and pinned his leg.
The Wolves need a bit more from rookie sensation Andrew Wiggins, who fought off a sluggish start to finish with 14 points, but on just 4-of-14 shooting. He was coming off his ballyhooed, 33-point effort Saturday against LeBron James and Cleveland, the team that originally drafted him No. 1.
Minnesota guard Kevin Martin finished with 19 points but was just 1-of-3 from beyond the arc, where the Wolves were 3-of-13. Forward Thaddeus Young and Williams each had 15 points.
Even with their lineup as complete as it has been since early November, the Timberwolves looked cooked midway through the first half.
After failing to cut the Mavs’ early 10-0 lead to four points late in the first quarter, Minnesota’s defense fell asleep, and the Wolves fell behind 45-24 with 7:08 left in the first half.
For a team entering the game with just eight wins, the Wolves, to their credit, didn’t fold. Their bench, led by center Gorgui Dieng and Williams, and some nifty passing from Rubio, led an 11-0 run, and then Dieng’s putback dunk with 1.1 seconds left on the clock sent Minnesota into the locker room at halftime trailing just 54-47.

Dallas 100, Minnesota 94

Minnesota    20    27    26    21    -    94

Dallas    30    24    27    19    -    100

Wiggins 4-14 6-7 14, T.Young 5-10 5-6 15, Kv.Martin 8-17 2-2 19, Pekovic 4-11 0-0 8, Rubio 4-9 2-2 10, Mo.Williams 3-7 7-7 15, Dieng 4-8 1-2 9, Bennett 2-3 0-0 4, Budinger 0-2 0-0 0, Daniels 0-1 0-0 0, L.Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-82 23-26 94.
DALLAS (100)
Ellis 7-21 6-11 23, Parsons 8-12 0-0 18, T.Chandler 2-2 2-2 6, Nowitzki 7-10 0-1 16, Barea 4-14 2-2 10, D.Harris 2-6 2-2 7, Aminu 4-5 0-0 9, Villanueva 2-9 0-0 4, R.Jefferson 1-2 0-0 2, Felton 1-2 0-0 3, G.Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Powell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 39-84 12-18 100.
3-Point Goals: Minnesota 3-13 (Mo.Williams 2-6, Kv.Martin 1-3, Daniels 0-1, Rubio 0-1, T.Young 0-2), Dallas 10-31 (Ellis 3-7, Nowitzki 2-3, Parsons 2-4, Felton 1-1, Aminu 1-2, D.Harris 1-5, Barea 0-3, Villanueva 0-6). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: Minnesota 52 (Pekovic 10), Dallas 50 (T.Chandler 10). Assists: Minnesota 18 (Mo.Williams 5), Dallas 27 (Barea 8). Total Fouls: Minnesota 22 (Wiggins, Pekovic, Mo.Williams 4), Dallas 18 (Ellis 4). A-19,989.

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