MINNEAPOLIS -- The young Minnesota Timberwolves are taking their lumps while they learn from the rest of the NBA early in coach Kurt Rambis' first season.
In doing so, they may have actually taught the league a lesson on Friday night against Dallas -- don't make Dirk Nowitzki angry.
Nowitzki scored 15 of his 20 points in a tense third quarter and also grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Mavericks to an 89-77 victory over the Timberwolves, who have lost nine in a row since a season-opening win over New Jersey.
"Sometimes you've got to pick your battles. You don't want to do anything to spark a sleeping giant like that," Wolves rookie Jonny Flynn said. "You want to just let him sleep the whole game."
Nowitzki only had a quiet five points and five rebounds in the first half before jawing with former teammate Ryan Hollins and Flynn five minutes into the third. He received a technical foul, then scored 13 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked three shots in the next seven minutes to put Dallas in control.
"[Hollins] elbows a lot and that's just how he plays," Nowitzki said. "I just felt like at some point it was enough."
Flynn had 11 points and four assists for the Wolves, who shot a season-worst 32.6 percent for the game and lost their 13th in a row against Dallas.
While Nowitzki got better after he got angry, the young and rebuilding Wolves lost their cool.
Rambis received a technical for arguing with officials and Hollins was ejected after picking up two technical fouls in the quarter. The first came during the initial standoff with Nowitzki and the second when he threw an elbow at Drew Gooden after a flagrant foul later in the period.
"They came out determined at the start of the third quarter and then after Ryan got ejected, they went on these runs," Rambis said. "This team is just not experienced enough to control those situations."
Hollins' biggest youthful mistake of the night may have come after the game when he walked into the Mavericks' locker room to greet some of his former teammates. The appearance raised the eyebrows of several Mavs, even though Hollins was there in peace.
Directly after jawing with Nowitzki, Flynn committed a turnover and rushed a 3-pointer, the Mavericks quickly jumped out to a 60-47 lead.
"We got into it a little bit. But it happens 10 times a game," Nowitzki said. "I don't know why it was such a big deal. I don't know why Flynn got all upset and wanted to talk, too."
The fiery rookie said he was coming to the defense of his teammate.
"Whenever one of my teammates gets into something I'm going to be by their side get into it with them," Flynn said.
Nowitzki made six of his nine shots in the third quarter, the final a trademark tear drop from the baseline for a 72-53 lead. The flurry allowed Rick Carlisle to sit him for the entire fourth period.
"He got it going and hit three or four, which were big," Carlisle said of his leader. "That was a big stretch."
Shawn Marion scored 15 points for the Mavericks.
The Timberwolves also shot just 16 for 27 (59 percent) from the free-throw line.
Both teams were playing unexpectedly without key starters. The Mavericks announced that swingman Josh Howard will be out indefinitely while he continues to rehab his surgically repaired left ankle. Howard played in the previous three games, but experienced soreness after a loss to the Spurs on Wednesday.
The Timberwolves have been without starting forward Kevin Love all season because of a broken hand and were further hindered when Al Jefferson had to leave the team to fly to Florida to be with his grandmother, who died at the age of 83 on Thursday afternoon.
Jefferson missed Friday's game and also will not play on Saturday in Memphis.