BOX: Records: Mavericks, 57-25; Timberwolves, 50-32.
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
Coaches: Mavericks, Don Nelson, (fifth season); Timberwolves, Flip Saunders (seventh season).
Key players: For the Mavericks, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Raef LaFrentz. For the Timberwolves, Chauncey Billups, Wally Szczerbiak and Kevin Garnett.
The skinny: The teams may have split their four regular-season games, but the Timberwolves won the last two. The Mavericks have the NBA's best road record this season at 27-14, while Minnesota, which is 29-12 at home, was 21-20 on the road. That doesn't bode well for the Timberwolves. With Minnesota point guard Terrell Brandon out for the season, Billups will have to deal with both Nash and Nick Van Exel. Whatever Garnett produces might well be offset by Nowitzki, and the Timberwolves have no answer if LaFrentz steps up.
The bottom line: The Wolves' only hope of winning this would have been getting the home-court advantage, which they failed to do. They are too good to get swept but not good enough to finish. They will make it interesting.
Mavericks in five.
-- Knight Ridder Newspapers