Dirk, Mavs rip Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS, MN -- It was a nice enough idea, in theory.

Dallas coach Avery Johnson asked Dirk Nowitzki to spread the ball around early this season, getting other teammates going before looking for his own shot.

Now that Nowitzki is back to doing what he does best -- launching those rainbow jumpers from all over the court -- the Mavericks are on a roll again.

Nowitzki led Dallas in scoring for the ninth straight game, scoring 30 points, and the Mavericks handed the Minnesota Timberwolves their eighth consecutive loss with a 101-78 victory on Sunday.

"He's just being really aggressive," Dallas guard Devin Harris said. "I think before he was just trying to get a lot of guys involved, and now he's taking the approach where he has to make sure that he can take the game over when necessary."

Josh Howard added 22 points and eight rebounds for the Mavericks, who led by as many as 31 points en route to their fourth win in a row and ninth in their last 11.

Al Jefferson had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the lackluster Timberwolves, who delivered an uninspired performance despite not having won a game since Dec. 21 against Indiana.

"Effort," downtrodden Wolves coach Randy Wittman said when asked for his biggest disappointment of the day. "We just came out flat again for the second game in a row. Almost sleepwalking there at the beginning."

The sweet-shooting Nowitzki topped 20 points just twice in his first seven games as Johnson and the rest of the Dallas coaching staff urged him to concentrate on other facets of his game.

"Early in the season really work on his passing, that was a big point of emphasis," Johnson said. "We saw enough of that. Now we said, 'Hey, think of making some stronger moves."'

The big German clearly has gotten the message.

He is averaging 26.2 points over the last nine, and he went at the overmatched Wolves in every way, shape and form on Sunday.

Nowitzki scored in the post, on the break and from the perimeter to set the tone early.

"I felt like early on, I was looking around too much for what was going to happen," Nowitzki said. "I was waiting on the double team too much and I wasn't really being aggressive. Over the last couple of weeks, I've found a good mix of when my shot is there. And when it's not there, move it."

With Jerry Stackhouse (thumb) and Erick Dampier (knee) out with injuries, it was up to Nowitzki, Howard and Jason Terry to handle the scoring, and they shot the lights out -- literally.

During a timeout with 2:23 to go in the third period, after Howard made an uncontested layup to finish a 10-2 run, the Target Center went dark for a few moments.

In reality, the lights went out on these Timberwolves quite a while ago.

They are off to the worst start in franchise history (4-29) and a turnaround is nowhere in sight. Minnesota hasn't even had a lead in nearly three games, dating back midway through the first quarter against Portland on Wednesday.

The Mavericks shot 58 percent in the first quarter to jump out to a 15-point lead. Minnesota cut the lead to nine early in the second period before Dallas responded in resounding fashion.

With Nowitzki on the bench, the Mavs hit three straight 3-pointers, two by Eddie Jones and one by Terry, to start a 13-0 run. Nowitzki's feather-soft jumper capped it to give them a 46-24 lead midway through the period, and the Mavs were off and running.

"It's embarrassing, you know," Wolves guard Marko Jaric said.

As each jumper fell, the young Wolves lost more spirit.

Effort rarely has been a problem with this group through what has already been a trying season. But as the first half closed, the Timberwolves were getting beaten to every loose ball and outworked on the offensive glass, a troubling sign for a team that relies on hard work and energy to stay in games.

After playing just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, Wolves guard Rashad McCants finished with 21 points, nearly all of which came in garbage time.

"We can't give up," Jefferson said. "It can't get no worse. We can't give up. We've got to keep fighting."