MINNEAPOLIS – Dirk Nowitzki welcomed Kevin Love back from his two-game suspension with a season-high 33 points, winning the matchup of Western Conference All-Star power forwards and helping the Dallas Mavericks stave off a Minnesota rally with 104-97 victory over the Timberwolves on Friday.
Nowitzki topped 24 points for the fourth straight game by shooting 11 for 19 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Love finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds, going 14 for 14 from the free-throw line, and sparked a late-third-quarter surge by the Wolves to slash a 17-point deficit to 78-75 on Nikola Pekovic's putback to open the fourth.
But they missed a chance to sweep the season series from the Mavericks for the first time since 1995-96 and sweep any Western Conference foe since beating the Memphis Grizzlies all three times in 2008-09. The Wolves had a season-high 28 turnovers and shot just 6 for 23 from 3-point range.
Jason Terry had nine of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to help the Mavericks pull away. Jason Kidd, back from a six-game absence because of a strained right calf muscle, swished a key 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 81-75. Nowitzki made one with Love in his face a little later to make it 95-82.
Love was punished for stepping on Luis Scola's face against the Houston Rockets last weekend. Relegated to Twitter updates from his couch, Love had some cabin fever to burn off. He was by far Minnesota's most productive player in his return, but his was still a rather quiet performance. He made nine of 12 shots from 3-point range over the Wolves' two previous wins over the Mavericks, but he went 0 for 3 behind the arc in this one.
Nowitzki, named to his 11th straight All-Star game despite a relatively slow start to his 13th season, has clearly worked himself back into shape. After averaging less than 10 points over the three games prior to this spurt, Nowitzki is averaging 28 points in the last four games while shooting 60.5 percent. Though he lost his touch late, he seemed to have an extra edge against Love. The two of them bumped elbows and torsos in the post all night.
The Wolves (13-14) fell back below the .500 mark, but they still haven't had a record this good this late in a season in six years. The Mavericks (16-11) didn't have to be convinced. They were blown out in both of the first two meetings.
But the league's oldest team still has plenty of pride -- and championship rings on their fingers. They showed the Wolves, who were the second-youngest team in the NBA when this lockout-sliced season began, that they're still a team to be reckoned with in the top-heavy West.
The Wolves made only two baskets outside the lane in the first quarter and fell behind 29-16; Love and Wes Johnson combined to shoot 1 for 8 in that frame. Nowitzki's first 3-pointer made it 11-6 Mavericks, and the Wolves didn't get back within five again until a flying putback dunk by Derrick Williams at the end of the third.
Ricky Rubio reached 10 points with a late push and had eight assists. Pekovic had 12 points, and Michael Beasley contributed 20 points in his new reserve role.
NOTES: Wolves coach Rick Adelman wasn't sure Love, the NBA's leader in minutes per game at more than 39, would benefit from the forced two-game break. He worried about rust. But Adelman acknowledged it might work out this week because Minnesota plays four times in five days. "It's a heck of a way to help him, though, an expensive way to do it," Adelman said. ... The Mavericks lead the league in bench scoring, an average of 44 points per game entering the night. They finished with 40. ... Wolves C Darko Milicic didn't dress for his fourth straight game, the last three because of a sprained right ankle. ... The Mavericks are 8-1 coming in when they score 100-plus points this season. ... Wolves rookie G Malcolm Lee, who has yet to make his NBA debut because of a meniscus cartilage injury to his left knee, is currently on an NBADL assignment with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Adelman said he expects Lee to join the team next week.