NBA: Up 2-0, Wolves play Sunday night in Dallas

Published 7:06 am Sunday, May 26, 2024


DALLAS  — The Timberwolves have the same problem in the Western Conference finals against the Mavericks that Minnesota forced on the Denver Nuggets in the previous round of the playoffs.

A struggling Anthony Edwards and company are down 2-0 headed to Dallas, which means Luka Doncic is closing in on his first trip to the NBA Finals.

After losing twice at home, there’s an easy start to the conversation for the Wolves going into Game 3 on Sunday night.

The Nuggets answered two losses in Denver with two victories in Minnesota, and had Game 7 at home before blowing a 20-point lead in the second half and losing.

“We were up 2-0, then they came and won two at the crib and then won one at their crib,” Edwards said, recalling the three consecutive Denver victories that gave them two chances to advance. “I don’t think anybody in the locker room is panicking. I hope not.”

The next part of the conversation for Minnesota is this: Dallas’ two road wins were by a total of four points, capped by Doncic’s step-back 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining in a 109-108 victory. And the Wolves have led for 81 of the series’ 96 minutes.

“We hoped that we could get the split decisions instead of getting the knockouts and unanimous decisions,” said Karl-Anthony Towns, the second-leading scorer who is struggling alongside Edwards. “We’re playing just well enough to get a split decision, but then you lose and we’re frustrated that we could’ve done more.”

Edwards and Towns likely will have to do more for Minnesota to get back in the series.

A young star who exudes confidence, Edwards has acknowledged feeling fatigue, and his numbers show it. He’s 11 of 33 from the field and had a crucial turnover on a bad pass to set up Doncic’s game-winner.

Towns didn’t even play the final 8:40 of Game 2 and is shooting 28% in the series.

The 7-foot, four-time All-Star and 7-1 Rudy Gobert have been outplayed by Dallas’ center tandem of Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II, with Mavs outscoring the Wolves 116-80 in the paint.

“I think with Anthony, he’s gotta pick up his decision-making,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “With KAT, I think he’s just got to calm down. I think he’s coming out of the gate pressing a little bit, maybe getting off on the wrong foot and then chasing the game.”

Overconfidence doesn’t figure to be an issue for the Mavs.

Just three years ago, Dallas opened a first-round series against the Clippers with two wins in Los Angeles before LA rallied and won in seven games. It was the first time in NBA history a road team won the first six games of a series.

“You’ve just got to think about next game,” said Doncic, who hadn’t won a playoff series when that lead over the Clippers slipped away but now is in the West finals for the second time in three seasons. “Not in the future. Just this game.”

Doncic and co-star Kyrie Irving are taking turns leading the Mavs, with huge assists from Gafford and Lively, who combined for 30 points and played big roles in the steady rally from an 18-point deficit in Game 2.

Irving scored 24 points in the first half of Game 1 to keep Dallas close, and had 13 points with four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Game 2.

Doncic had 15 points in the fourth quarter of the series opener before churning out his second 30-point triple-double in these playoffs, including the clutch game-winner.

Throughout the playoffs, the 25-year-old Slovenian superstar has dealt with a sprained right knee and sore left ankle. He disappeared from courtside at times in Game 2, but is now dismissing questions about how he feels physically.

“I was telling him from the beginning of the game, you have guys out here that have your back and whenever you need me to take over, I will take over the point guard responsibilities and bring the ball up,” Irving said.

“There are moments where he shows his brilliance and he scores so easily and then he comes back and it looks like he’s laboring a little bit. But that guy’s a warrior. I’m never worried about it.”

After losing their 18-point lead in Game 2, the Wolves were still up five with 1:29 remaining, thanks in part to Irving — a career 88.6% free throw shooter — missing a pair when down three 15 seconds earlier.

His fellow star bailed him out.

“I was just like, ‘What the heck is going on, man?’” Irving said. “Those mistakes could weigh on you mentally and you could carry that to next game, too. So it’s time to just leave that here and pray that I make all my free throws when I get back home.”

The Wolves are looking to rally away from home.