AP Photo
April 03, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Dallas Mavericks have dialed in their defense as they make their push toward the playoffs.

Wesley Matthews hit six 3-pointers and scored 19 points and the Mavericks won a game they couldn't afford to lose, 88-78 over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

J.J. Barea scored 21 points and the Mavericks (39-38) made 14 of 40 3-pointers to overcome 38.6 percent shooting for their fourth straight victory.

They forced 18 turnovers and held their opponent under 90 points for the fourth straight game as they fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Dallas entered the day tied with Utah for seventh in the Western Conference, with the Houston Rockets right on their heels one game behind.

''It's a minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour thing,'' coach Rick Carlisle said. ''You're in the fight and every possession going whistle to whistle could be the one that turns it one way or another.

''With 220 possessions in a game, they all count. So our guys are doing a good job of concentrating and we've got to keep pushing forward.''

Andrew Wiggins scored 30 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists for the Timberwolves.

''You're going to get your butt kicked sometimes when you're young,'' Wolves coach Sam Mitchell said. ''There's no way around it.''

The Mavericks host the Rockets on Wednesday and have a challenging finish with games against the Grizzlies, at the Clippers and Utah and then home against San Antonio to finish the season.

The schedule made this one against the team with the fifth-worst record in the league a big one for the Mavericks.

But whether they were groggy for the Sunday matinee start or taking a team with 25 wins a little lightly, the Mavericks didn't look sharp on offense. Dirk Nowitzki missed 12 of 16 shots, including three air balls.

''It's a good thing this is a team sport,'' Nowitzki said. ''If this was tennis or track and field I would've been in trouble today, but guys came through.''

The Mavericks also got hurt on defense early, with the Wolves shooting 63 percent in the first quarter.

The only things that kept Dallas in the game in the first half were Barea's shot-making and the Wolves' carelessness. The former Timberwolves sparkplug scored 14 points in the first half and the Wolves turned the ball over 11 times.

The Mavericks trailed 57-52 in the third quarter before unleashing a 23-6 surge to put the game away. Matthews hit three 3s during that run and rookie Justin Anderson's defense helped lock down a Minnesota offense that has been one of the most prolific in the league since the All-Star break.

After three quarters, Dallas had made 13 3s while Minnesota had only attempted 13 and outscored the Wolves 20-2 in second-chance points.

Devin Harris scored 16 points off the Dallas bench, which outscored Minnesota's 24-9.

BAREA'S ROLE

Another sign the Mavericks are becoming playoff ready? Barea is putting up big numbers. The fiery guard was integral in the Mavericks' run to the championship in 2011 and he has stepped in for the ailing Deron Williams to help Dallas not miss a beat. Barea is averaging 21.5 points and 6.0 assists in his past six games.

''We're using my strengths to their advantage, using the pick-and-roll with for a shot or to get somebody open,'' Barea said. ''Our defense is picking up and we're being a little more aggressive on defense. That's helped big time.''

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Carlisle said Williams (abdominal) is making progress, but is not close to returning to the court. He said Williams has been working hard in his recovery, but there remains no timetable for his return. ... PG Raymond Felton played 18 minutes despite being listed as questionable with a right groin injury.

Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio had nine points and five assists, but left with four minutes to play after taking a shot to the face. ... PG Tyus Jones went 0 for 1 from 3-point range and has missed 21 straight from long range. ... Towns had 13 rebounds and six assists in the first half, becoming just the second player in franchise history to post numbers at least that high. Kevin Garnett had 13 boards and seven assists in a half in 2001.

UP NEXT

Mavericks: Host Houston on Wednesday.

Timberwolves: Visit Golden State on Tuesday.

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