MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Dirk Nowitzki and his smooth, soaring jump shot were in prime form.
What truly made the Mavericks too tough for the sloppy Timberwolves to handle was the presence of their savvy old point guard, Jason Kidd.
Nowitzki welcomed Kevin Love back from his two-game suspension with a season-high 33 points, winning the matchup of Western Conference All-Star power forwards and helping Dallas stave off a Minnesota in a 104-97 victory over on Friday.
``He makes the game so much easier for everyone,' said Jason Terry, the other part of the veteran trio that steadied the Mavericks down the stretch after a 19-5 run spurt by the Wolves brought them within 78-75 on Nikola Pekovic's putback to open the fourth quarter.
Kidd, playing for the first time in seven games due to a strained right calf muscle, responded by swishing a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to six with 10:15 left.
``He's a big part of our heart and soul. When we're without him, we can win some games but we're not the same team,' Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
Terry had nine of his 16 points in the final period. Kidd had eight points, 10 assists and five rebounds. The Mavericks blamed most of his eight turnovers on teammates unprepared for his slick passes, since they hadn't seen them in a while.
Kidd joked it must've been fan appreciation night because of all the balls being thrown into the seats. He didn't have time to think about his big shot because he was huffing and puffing on the stationary bike behind the bench - riding all the way across the river to St. Paul, he joked - until entering the game 17 seconds before.
``Whatever I can do to help my team,' he said.
Nowitzki topped 24 points for the fourth straight game by shooting 11 for 19 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Love finished with 32 points and 12 rebounds, going 14 for 14 from the free-throw line, but the Wolves missed a chance to sweep the season series from a Western Conference foe since beating the Memphis Grizzlies all three times in 2008-09.
``That is definitely vintage Dirk. He's a Hall of Fame player and when he decides he wants it, more often than not he's going to have success,' Love said.
The Wolves had a season-high 28 turnovers and shot just 6 for 23 from 3-point range.
``Just being a youthful team, we're going to have lapses like that and unfortunately it was against a team that we beat a couple of times,' Love said.
Love was punished for stepping on Luis Scola's face against the Houston Rockets last weekend. He was by far Minnesota's most productive player in his return, but his was still a rather quiet performance. He made nine of 12 shots from 3-point range over the Wolves' two previous wins over the Mavericks, but he went 0 for 3 behind the arc in this one.
Nowitzki, named to his 11th straight All-Star game despite a relatively slow start to his 13th season, has clearly worked himself back into shape. After averaging less than 10 points over the three games prior to this spurt, Nowitzki is averaging 28 points in the last four games while shooting 60.5 percent. Though he lost his touch late, he seemed to have an extra edge against Love. The two of them bumped elbows and torsos in the post all night.
``He's been fun to watch. He's an animal on the glass. We all know that. He's tough to play,' Nowitzki said.
The Wolves (13-14) still haven't had a record this good this late in a season in six years. The Mavericks (16-11) didn't have to be convinced. They were blown out in both of the first two meetings.
But the league's oldest team still has plenty of pride - and championship rings on their fingers. They showed the Wolves, who were the second-youngest team in the NBA when this lockout-sliced season began, that they're still a team to be reckoned with in the top-heavy West.
The Wolves made only two baskets outside the lane in the first quarter and fell behind 29-16; Love and Wes Johnson combined to shoot 1 for 8 in that frame. Nowitzki's first 3-pointer made it 11-6 Mavericks, and the Wolves didn't get back within five again until a flying putback dunk by Derrick Williams at the end of the third.
``We threw passes away when we worked hard defensively and got the ball back. We just threw it away like there was no value to the ball,' coach Rick Adelman said, lamenting what he called a lack of concentration.
The Mavericks took advantage of the small Wolves backcourt by posting up Vince Carter often, and Nowitzki made them pay when they switched to a zone.
``His presence opens so much up for everyone else. That's called an All-Star presence, to me. It's not always about the numbers,' said Mavericks backup Delonte West, who had 10 points.
NOTES: The Mavericks are 8-1 when they score 100-plus points this season. ... Ricky Rubio reached 10 points with a late push and had eight assists for the Wolves. Pekovic had 12 points, and Michael Beasley scored 20 points in his new reserve role.
The Associated Press News Service
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