DALLAS (AP) — With a growing injury list and a patchwork lineup, the Minnesota Timberwolves relied on rugged defense to extend their early-season success.
Nikola Pekovic scored 20 points before leaving with an injury and the short-handed Timberwolves beat the Dallas Mavericks 90-82 on Monday night.
The Timberwolves dressed only 10 players. The 6-foot-11 Pekovic, the team’s leading scorer, became the latest Minnesota player to get hurt when he exited late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and didn’t return.
Even with the rash of injuries and the lineup in a state of flux, the one constant all season has been Minnesota’s defense — which entered fifth in the NBA in points allowed.
The Mavericks shot a season-low 36.3 percent and never led after the opening 3 minutes.
“I credit our character,” Minnesota forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “Nobody really looks down and nobody feels sorry. Everybody just keeps coming out and trying to give their best. I think as a team, we played good team defense.”
Minnesota stars Kevin Love (broken right hand) and Ricky Rubio (torn left ACL) have yet to play this season.
On Sunday, the Timberwolves announced Chase Budinger will have surgery for a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, an injury he sustained while filling in for Brandon Roy on Saturday night. Roy missed his second game Monday with a sore right knee.
Former Mavericks guard J.J. Barea (left foot sprain) did not travel with Minnesota and missed his third straight game.
Pekovic then turned his ankle when he stepped on the foot of Dallas guard Vince Carter running down the court with 2:46 left in the third.
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said he didn’t think Pekovic’s injury was serious.
“I don’t know when it’s going to stop,” Adelman said. “Hopefully we can get some guys back and maintain the same energy level we’ve had.”
Minnesota’s energy was evident from the start as it held Dallas to 17 points in the first quarter. The Mavericks missed 13 of their final 15 shots in the first quarter and then misfired on their first four attempts in the second.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was ejected after arguing a foul call with 5 minutes left. Assistant coach Jim O’Brien coached the team the rest of the way.
After a 4-1 start, the Mavericks have lost three in a row.
“We got carved up in the second half,” Carlisle said. “Our effort wasn’t where it needed to be. I thought we tried hard in the second half and the results were still not good.”
Darren Collison had 21 points and O.J. Mayo added 18 for the Mavericks, who lost at home for the first time in four games.
Pekovic went 8 of 13 from the floor. Kirilenko and Alexey Shved each had 16 points for Minnesota.
Even with all the injuries, the Timberwolves (5-2) are off to their best start since 2001-02.
“Pretty gutsy performance by us,” Minnesota guard Luke Ridnour said. “Everyone that came on the court for us just contributed.”
Minnesota led by six at halftime and pushed its advantage to 64-51 on Kirilenko’s dunk with 3:52 left in the third. Pekovic went down to the floor just more than a minute later and was helped off the court by a trainer.
Dallas was within 76-68 in the fourth when Carlisle was ejected. The coach stormed toward halfcourt after a shooting foul was called on Mayo, and official Jason Phillips quickly gave Carlisle consecutive technicals.
The Timberwolves went on a 9-4 run over the next 1:37, capped by Shved’s 3-pointers that gave Minnesota an 85-72 lead.
Dallas cut its deficit to 85-78, but Minnesota went 5 of 6 on free throws in the final minute to put the game away.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Mayo said. “But at the same time, we have to get back to getting better.”
Ridnour had 15 points and eight assists, and reserve Dante Cunningham chipped in 14 points for the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves capitalized on Dallas’ offensive struggles as Cunningham broke free for an easy dunk, putting Minnesota up 29-17 early in the second.
The Mavericks cut into Minnesota’s lead late in the first half. They hit their final three shots to get within 45-39 at halftime.
NOTES: Dallas All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki said during an in-game television interview that his rehab from right knee surgery is going slower than he expected. He offered no timeframe for his return. Nowitzki is about halfway through the expected six-week recovery process. … Minnesota won for only the fourth time in its last 23 games against the Mavericks.