Dirk Nowitzki couldn't get in a rhythm for most of three quarters because of foul trouble, so seldom-used veteran Brian Cardinal stepped right in and knocked down shots in the building he used to call home.
The Dallas Mavericks didn't miss a beat with their MVP candidate on the bench, the strongest sign yet that they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
Nowitzki overcame foul trouble to score 25 points in 27 minutes and Cardinal scored a season-high 12 points to help the Mavericks outlast the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 108-105 victory on Monday night.
"Without Cardinal, I don't think we'd have won the game," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "His activity, rebounds, loose balls, deflections, shot-making completely turned the game around."
Nowitzki picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. So the Mavericks turned to Cardinal, an 11th-year pro who just keeps finding a way to stick on a roster thanks to nights like this. He had played a grand total of 9:17 in his last five games, including three where he didn't see the floor at all.
All he did was hit four of his first five 3s and pester Kevin Love on defense to give the Mavericks a much-needed boost.
"It was exciting to be out there playing," said Cardinal, who spent the previous two seasons in Minnesota. "I've got a good relationship with quite a few of those guys over there and people within the organization. It was fun to go out there and play and compete against them."
Love had 23 points and 17 rebounds for Minnesota. He posted his 51st double-double in a row, which is tied with Moses Malone in 1978-79 for the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. Malone had his streak over two seasons, so Love's is the longest single-season streak.
"I'd be jumping for joy if we were winning and everybody was playing great, including myself," Love said. "I'm just going out there and playing hard and it is just kind of happening for me. But it is kind of an afterthought because we aren't winning."
Michael Beasley added 20 points and nine rebounds for the worst team in the Western Conference, who gave the powerful Mavericks all they could handle.
Sluggish for much of the night, the Mavericks missed their first 10 3-pointers. Nowitzki played just 14 minutes in the first three quarters, but used a 10-0 run bridging the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter to take control. Jason Terry's two free throws gave them a 94-87 lead with 5:30 to play.
The young Wolves responded with an 8-0 run of their own and took a two-point lead with 2:15 to play before the veteran Mavericks finished them off. Terry hit a 3-pointer in transition and the Mavericks went 11 for 12 at the free-throw line down the stretch.
Jason Kidd had 13 points and nine assists and Terry finished with 11 points for the Mavs, who made 12 of 35 3-pointers and missed Tyson Chandler for the third straight game because of a sprained right ankle.
The Mavericks, who pride themselves on the defense, were still stinging after blowing an 18-point halftime lead at home against Memphis on Sunday. The Grizzlies scored 41 points in the third quarter and won the game on Zach Randolph's fallaway 17-footer just before the buzzer.
Perhaps looking more at Minnesota's record, and a little heavy-legged on the second night of a back-to-back, the Mavericks trailed 30-22 after one quarter.
When Nowitzki went to the bench with his fourth foul just over two minutes into the third quarter, Minnesota outscored the Mavericks 15-0 toward the end of the period to take an 80-70 lead.
Target Center, which has so often been whisper-quiet during another long, cold, miserable winter in Minnesota, was about as loud as it has gotten all season in the third quarter when Love extended his streak. He received a standing ovation and loud chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" as he shot free throws.
Wishful thinking, of course, but Love's incredible consistency has been one of the few bright spots for the Wolves this season.
"It felt great to have the crowd on their feet, such a great ovation," Love said. "It's one of those moments where you pinch yourself to see if it's real.
"The Target Center, all the fans, the Twin Cities, all of Minnesota have great all year. They've had our backs. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when we really start winning and turn that corner."
Notes: Former Timberwolves player Corey Brewer, traded to New York just before the deadline, waived and signed with Dallas last week, got a nice ovation from the crowd when he entered the game in the first quarter. "I really didn't want to leave," Brewer said. "The best-case scenario for me would have been to sign my extension (in Minnesota), but I didn't get one, so I am in a good situation and I am happy." ... Timberwolves G Wayne Ellington hit a half-court shot at the final buzzer.