Preview: Wolves vs. Mavericks

MINNEAPOLIS — When he was the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau was known for playing his starters for more minutes than most starting lineups might see. That meant his starting five would often each play 40 or more minutes a night.

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That same trend has carried over to Thibodeau’s Timberwolves in recent days. Extended playing time for Minnesota’s starters — all five starters played at least 36 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Clippers — means the bench has had a limited role. In each of Minnesota’s last three games, only three bench players have been played.

“Our bench has to play well,” Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “So we’re trying to see what we can do to get going.”

Despite not much output from its reserves, Minnesota is 15-11 entering Sunday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Timberwolves, however, have struggled to string wins together. Thibodeau’s club has alternated wins and losses for its last 10 games. A win Sunday would give Minnesota its first multigame win streak since it won three in a row in mid-November. That streak was capped with a convincing win over Dallas, which comes to Minneapolis just 7-19 overall and on a two-game skid.

The Mavericks are completing a three-game road trip on Sunday having lost the first two legs in Boston and Milwaukee.

The loss to the Bucks came despite a season-high 29-point effort from Dallas guard Wesley Matthews.

“It’s disappointing to not get that win,” Matthews told the team website. “We’ve just got to put 48 minutes together.”

Dallas will reportedly be without guard Dennis Smith Jr. on Sunday, as he’ll miss his second game with a hip injury. Smith, a rookie from North Carolina State, had started 23 games for the Mavericks while averaging 14.4 points per contest. He suffered the injury Wednesday against the Celtics.

The first time Minnesota and Dallas faced off this year, the Timberwolves used a big fourth quarter to pull away from the Mavericks. The Wolves outscored Dallas 37-15 in the final frame en route to a 111-87 victory.

Minnesota used seven bench players in that win, far more than it’s used in quite some time.

The Timberwolves are averaging just 26.4 points off the bench per game this season, one of the lowest marks in the league.

Shabazz Muhammad, who saw ample time as a backup earlier in the year, hasn’t played in three of Minnesota’s last four games.

“The best thing is to stay ready and stay in shape right now. I’ll wait for my number to be called,” Muhammad told the Star Tribune. “That’s the best thing I can do at this point. I’m watching the games, staying ready, waiting for coach to call my name. That’s being a professional and that’s something I’ve got to go do.”

This will be the third time already this season Dallas and Minnesota will play. The Timberwolves also won the first meeting back on Nov. 4, a 112-99 victory at Target Center.