W2W4: These Wolves are no longer pups

After stringing together a few wins after the Dallas Mavericks stumbled to a 1-4 start following an embarrassing 15-love skunking to end their New Year's Day loss at Minnesota, Jason Terry had this to say:

"The loss to Minnesota was our wake-up call. Any time you lose to that ballclub it's not a good thing, not when you're a championship team."

And who could really blame him? That Minnesota win halted a nine-game losing streak to the Mavs, who had won 18 of the previous 19 meetings.

And then three weeks later those Wolves did it again, only in Dallas, thumping the Mavs by 15 points to spoil their championship ring celebration. A three-game win streak followed for the Mavs, but there were no proclamations about how losing to a perennial doormat served as another wake-up call.

Well, here we go again with a third and final meeting of the regular season between these two clubs, and Dallas is fully aware that these Wolves are young and hungry and pretty darn good. In fact, this one in Minnesota -- 13-10 since an 0-3 start -- is a pretty important one for both squads.

Dallas just snapped a three-game skid at Denver and must play Portland on Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday and Denver again on Wednesday. Minnesota is at .500 for a second time and would close to within one game of Dallas in the standings as it fights to remain a legitimate playoff contender heading to the halfway point of the season.

It should be fun.

Records: Mavs (15-11); Timberwolves (13-13)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Target Center


Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM; 1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: J.J. Barea wasn't healthy with a bum hamstring the first time the Mavs played up north on New Year's Day, but he have it a go and scored eight points in 17 minutes. The hamstring (and ankle issues) kept Barea out of the Jan. 25 game at Dallas when he picked up his championship ring and then took a seat on the bench in a suit. Now, the diminutive guard is raring to go against his old mates in an important game for both teams. He's been back for five games and is coming off his best game of the season Wednesday night at Memphis with 17 points -- 6-of-8 from the free throw line -- and six assists in 23 minutes. Barea will be looking to remind his former team how to break down a defense.

Key matchup: Nikola Pekovic vs. Brendan Haywood/Ian Mahinmi/Brandan Wright

Surprised? Yeah, well Pekovic has been just that of late. Consider that in the first matchup on Jan. 1, he didn't get off the bench. In the second meeting, he had 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 5-of-5 from the free throw line, plus six rebounds. In his last five games, the 6-foot-11, 290-pounder from Montenegro has scored in double figures in each, has two 20-plus scoring games and three double-doubles while averaging 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds. In a nutshell, the three-headed monster Rick Carlisle talked about at the center position has to enforce the middle and can't let Pekovic join the double-double lineup with All-Star Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio.

Injuries: Mavs -- G Jason Kidd (right calf strain) is questionable. Timberwolves -- C Darko Milicic (sprained right ankle) is questionable.

Up next: Portland Trail Blazers at Mavs, 7:30 p.m., Saturday