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DALLAS – The Timberwolves have their hearts set on being a playoff team, a goal that took a small step backward in Monday's 110-108 loss to the Mavericks.

The Wolves fell back into the No. 7 spot in the standings, which leaves them vulnerable to being in the play-in tournament and not advancing to the actual playoffs should they lose from there.

The Wolves are learning a lot about what it takes to be a playoff team this season — the kind of defense they will need, the kind of late-game execution.

They are also learning another important lesson, one that comes in fits and starts — how to deal with officiating they don't like.

Any player or coach who speaks postgame is aware that he could get fined for criticizing officials, so after the game many of the Wolves danced around their feelings on Reggie Bullock's foul on Patrick Beverley being called a non-shooting foul (though Dallas was in the penalty) with the Wolves down 110-107 with 6.5 seconds remaining. So instead of three shots, Beverley got two.

A lot still happened after that, but the Wolves never got the ball in position to tie the game again.

The league's two-minute report confirmed the call on the court — that Beverley should not have been awarded three free throws. In fact, the only two calls officials missed ended up benefiting the Wolves.

"Thought we did enough to win the game today …" center Karl-Anthony Towns said. "Thought we played good defense all night. Just, you work hard for that moment and it's unfortunate it got played out like that."

Towns referenced that he couldn't say what was said in the Wolves locker room or he would get fined. Presumably they weren't handing out flowers to the officials.

D'Angelo Russell slipped in a comment.

"We fought back. We played hard. They gave them one tonight," Russell said.

When pressed about that last sentence, Russell declined to elaborate, but it wasn't hard to figure out who "they" were.

In the moment the Wolves were incensed. Russell had to hold back coach Chris Finch and Beverley. And Beverley had to try hard to gather himself before taking his first free throw, which he missed. If he makes that, perhaps it gives the Wolves a shot because Beverley intentionally missed the second and got his own rebound. If he had done that with the Wolves down two, the game might have turned out differently.

Finch was more pointed in his comments about the call, and made sure to note that the official who made the call was "50 feet away."

"I mean, kind of wild really," Finch said. "Looking at the tape, I thought PB got fouled on the shot which was a three-pointer, should've been three on the right wing. He was clearly in the gather and the turn and thought that should've been for sure a three-point shot."

The Wolves frequently griped with officials earlier in the season and it felt at times like they let officials get the better of them, especially Towns. The Wolves commit the second-most fouls in the league, and so have plenty of chances to complain. As the season went on, that has faded. Winning can do that. Towns has gone to the free-throw line much more than he did earlier in the season.

But sometimes you never really kick an old bad habit, you just suppress it for a while. Monday resembled a playoff game in the emotion and intensity.

If the Wolves make the playoffs, everything goes under a microscope and the rhythm of a series' officiating might not go the way they want. Then all of a sudden they're letting it get into their heads. Monday can be a learning experience for them, especially ahead of another game against Dallas on Friday.

Best to figure out now how to keep that from happening before it's too late. At the end of his postgame comments, Russell said as much.

"Maybe [we learned to] not put the game in any official's hands and try to win it straight up, and not depend on refs to make a call," said Russell, who had 18 points. "Just try to put the game out of reach so none of that is into play."

Money matters

Beverley was fined $20,000 for his role in Saturday's altercation in a game against Milwaukee at Target Center.

He was ejected for pushing Bucks center Serge Ibaka while Ibaka was engaged with Wolves forward Taurean Prince. Milwaukee's George Hill, who was also ejected for pushing Beverley, was fined $15,000.

Beverley is making $14.3 million this season.