Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 1/2/12
At the very end of the Dallas Mavericks' 99-82 loss at Minnesota on Sunday, Timberwolves budding star Ricky Rubio controlled a loose ball, waited for the buzzer to sound and then underhand-heaved the ball toward the rafters. Maybe it was relief. Maybe it was celebration. Maybe, some will argue, as it breaks an 18-game streak of Dallas beating Minnesota, it signifies some sort of topsy-turvy changing of the guard in the West. "It's a new year," said Rubio's co-star, Kevin Love. "We're the best team in 2012 right now. We feel good. We've got the (18-straight-loss) monkey off our back." Is Love already Dirk? Is Rubio already Kidd? Heck, we were just getting adjusted to the possibility that the Oklahoma City Thunder are "the next Dallas.'' How many "next Dallases'' are we going to have to deal with around here? Dallas dropped to 1-4 with the "old and slow and out-of-shape'' effort made interesting only by a 10-0 run in the fourth. But Minny answered that by scoring the final 15 and the Mavs didn't score for almost six minutes to close. Dallas' problems started right at the top. Dirk Nowitzki did not play well, did not play with aggression, did not play as someone close to overcoming being "old and slow and out-of-shape,'' his own description of his team in this lockout-crunched season. The demands and standards here are high, and Nowitzki did score seven straight points to lead a late comeback. And he scored 21 overall. But his only FT attempt came from a technical foul, a sure sign of the needed intensity level not being met. Nowitzki wasn't alone in his offensive lethargy: Dallas committed a multitude of turnovers when Kidd was on the floor but not allowed to touch the ball; the Mavs were whistled for three or four moving screens, a signal of sloppiness; the scramble for answers again led to Lamar Odom, and the ex-Laker again had no clue as he looks every bit a player worthy of his 4.3 points per game. Dallas did get some energetic work from Delonte West, essentially the team's replacement for JJ Barea, who is now in Minnesota. With 13 points in 21 minutes Sunday on 6-for-9 shooting, West was arguably the brightest spot for the Mavs as he opposed Barea, who came off the bench for eight points, all in the first half. The important guard in Minnesota isn't Barea, but Rubio, who scored 14 points with seven rebounds and at times looks like he's gonna be Pistol Cousy Kidd. And the most important is Timberwolves' power forward Love, clearly on the verge of being able to beat almost anybody on the planet in a basketball wrasslin' match. Love turned in a now-typical type of double-double monster game with 17 rebounds and 25 points and among those points were five of six on 3-pointers for the slimmed-down big man. His play was emblematic of this entire game, as the Timberwolves seemed younger, quicker, and in better shape than the Mavericks. While the Mavs labored to the plane for a ride home for Monday's rematch with the visiting Thunder, the OKC gang was hanging at home, coming off a Saturday night blowout of the Suns (and then, we're told, a rockin' team party at "Mickey Mantle's'' bar.) "We have to get better (Monday) and keep moving," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle said. "Try to get ourselves back moving in the right direction." Yeah, but the Thunder are frisky and confident and rested, as it seems every Dallas foe is right about now. For the Mavs, this isn't just the second night of a back-to-back. It's also a fourth game in five nights ... and it's the continuation of a seven-games-in-10-nights chunk. It's time for some "right direction," all right. It's time for a change, all right. A change from being 1-4.
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