MINNEAPOLIS -- Josh Howard has this whole come-back-from-injury thing down cold.
Howard had 14 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes in his return from an 11-game absence, Dirk Nowitzki had 23 points and 12 boards and the Dallas Mavericks beat the short-handed Minnesota Timberwolves 108-88 on Tuesday night.
Howard has missed a total of 28 games with various injuries this season, and each time he has returned seemingly without missing a beat.
"The two or three times when he's come back from injury situations this year, it just has a real positive spiritual effect on our team," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Our guys get juiced up. He gave us a lift tonight."
Jason Terry scored 21 points and Jason Kidd had eight points and 13 assists for the Mavericks, who shrugged off a blowout loss at Cleveland on Sunday and moved four games ahead of the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Kevin Love had 23 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who played their second straight game without Randy Foye and Craig Smith. It was the rookie's 25th double-double, which is one more than the former MVP Nowitzki has.
With Foye out because of a hip injury and Al Jefferson on the bench with a torn ACL, the Timberwolves were without their two leading scorers and didn't have the firepower to keep up with Dallas.
"We miss those guys," Love said. "We've been undermanned most of the year."
This was the first meeting between these teams since the Mavericks erased a 29-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Timberwolves 107-100 on Dec. 30 in Dallas.
The roles were reversed on Tuesday night, with the Mavericks racing out to a 20-point lead in the second quarter behind Kidd's savvy distribution. The veteran point guard had 11 assists in the first half, setting up easy bucket after easy bucket for the Mavs, who shot 54 percent in the first two quarters.
The Wolves, meanwhile, reverted to their poor-shooting selves after one of their best offensive performances of the season against the Nets on Sunday. The Wolves shot 66 percent for most of the first three quarters and finished with a percentage of 51 percent in a 108-99 victory.
But the team with the worst shooting percentage in the league this season shot 31 percent to fall behind 50-30 midway through the second period.
"We had some good open looks that you can live with, but you've got to knock some of them down," Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said.
The Wolves got within 10 points a few times in the third period, but Howard turned them back with jump shots each time and Minnesota wilted down the stretch.
Howard had not played since March 5 because of a sore left ankle. The team's third-leading scorer looked a little rusty at times, losing the ball off his hands on a couple drives to the basket. But for the most part, he showed that he should be more than ready to be a factor the Mavs as the playoffs approach.
"I think he really moved well," Nowitzki said. "That's the main thing. If a guy is coming back from an injury after a long time, you don't necessarily really look at does he make or miss his shot. You look at how he moves. How does he look out there? Is he being active? Is he confident taking off of his leg? ... He looked great to me and hopefully his foot responds the right way."
Howard scored the first eight points for Dallas out of the break, hitting a pretty step-back jumper over Rodney Carney and two more soft jumpers without any signs of rust.
"Playing in the NBA for a couple years, you figure that out," Howard said of getting himself ready while dealing with injuries. "Just go out there and do the things you normally do."
Bench points were 49-15 in favor of Dallas. ... Former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey, an assistant on Carlisle's staff in Dallas, coached his second game at Target Center since he was fired in January 2007. ... McHale and Carlisle are close friends dating to their playing days in Boston. In the first quarter, McHale shouted down the sideline, "How's it going Mr. Carlisle?" The super-serious Carlisle merely looked at McHale, raised his eyebrows and turned back toward his bench.