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Wolves, Mavericks set to tangle in Western Conference final Game 1

                                Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic celebrates with teammates on Saturday.
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Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic celebrates with teammates on Saturday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have waited 20 years to return to this stage.

The Dallas Mavericks were here two years ago, only to get bounced in five games by the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

When the Timberwolves and Mavericks tip off in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday night in Minneapolis, both teams will forget about their histories. They are concerned only with the moment in front of them — a chance to land the first blow in what figures to be a physical best-of-seven series.

“I think what’s gotten us here, to the spot where we’ve been at, is the realization of every game is the biggest game, and every game is the only game,” Timberwolves guard Mike Conley said.

Minnesota is coming off a Game 7 win against the reigning champion Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals. The Timberwolves trailed by 20 points early in the second half before storming back to knock off the Nuggets on the road.

It was a group effort, as it has been all season for Minnesota.

“We don’t have a big three, we have a big 15,” Karl-Anthony Towns said. “Every single person means a lot to this team, and they help in so many ways. This game shows it’s the Timberwolves — not Karl-Anthony Towns, not (Rudy) Gobert. The Timberwolves are a special team.”

One could say the same about the Mavericks.

Dallas beat the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the conference quarterfinals, and it toppled the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in six games in the semifinals. The Mavericks went 2-1 at home and 2-1 on the road in each series.

Luka Doncic has led the way with 27.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.1 assists per game in the postseason. Kyrie Irving is averaging 21.1 points and shooting 48.2 percent from the field, and P.J. Washington (14.3 points per game) and Derrick Jones Jr. (10.8) also are scoring in double digits in the playoffs.

“(I have) insane confidence in this team,” Doncic said. “This team is special.”

Doncic and his teammates know they are in for a tough test against the stingy Timberwolves, who held Denver to fewer than 100 points in each of Minnesota’s four wins in the series. Gobert was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team today, and Jaden McDaniels was named to the All-Defensive Second Team.

On offense, Anthony Edwards is leading Minnesota in the playoffs with 28.9 points per game. Towns is averaging 18.8 points and 9.3 rebounds, and McDaniels is averaging 12.4 points in addition to providing versatility on defense.

Minnesota won the regular-season series 3-1, but Dallas played shorthanded in most of those contests because of injuries.

“Defensively, they’re one of the best teams in the league,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of the Timberwolves. “Offensively, they get out in transition, and they’re as good as anyone.

“Ant’s (Edwards) playing at an MVP level right now. They’ve got guys that can score the ball, and then Conley is the glue. He keeps those guys together. This is a great test for us.”

The teams have met only once in the playoffs before this series. In 2002, the Mavericks swept the Timberwolves in a three-game, first-round series that featured top scorers Dirk Nowitzki for Dallas and Kevin Garnett for Minnesota.

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