An arduous, unpredictable Mavericks season was captured perfectly in a 48-minute snapshot on Wednesday night.

What started out as a rough, frustrating evening, gradually morphed into a show of a resolve and, eventually, into a galvanizing moment.

And it ended with the Mavericks in first place in the Southwest Division.

They rallied from a terrible beginning and survived every tough card they were dealt, finally taking charge in the third quarter and overwhelming the Minnesota Timberwolves down the stretch for a 128-108 victory at the Target Center.

Not bad for a game in which they trailed 16-3 before the sweat beads had formed and while playing the sort of defense for a half that Karl-Anthony Towns feasted on.

Oh, and by the way, it was almost halftime before Luka Dončić scored a point.

Strange, but ultimately rewarding was the best way to describe the victory, which pushed the Mavericks’ record to 23-19, the first time this season they’ve been four games above .500. They finished their road trip 2-1 after splitting games in Portland.

Coupled with San Antonio’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavericks moved one-half game ahead of the Spurs into the divisional lead. Winning a division isn’t the ultimate goal in the big picture, but it can help in a lot of ways when it comes time for tiebreakers and such.

And, frankly, it’s doubtful that many would have thought the Mavericks would be in that position six weeks ago.

“The group is becoming a more and more close-knit group,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Going through difficult situations with COVID and a difficult early schedule and a ton of road games has brought the group closer together in my opinion. It’s just a very unusual year.

“They’ve been resilient. They’ve been able to bounce back all year.”

As Jalen Brunson said when asked how it feels to be in first place after a rugged first half of the season: “Feels pretty good. But the work’s not done yet. There’s a lot of games to go. A lot of things to fix. We’re obviously happy, but we still got a lot to do.”

Brunson was one of seven Mavericks to score in double figures with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. By the way, the last Maverick to reach double digits was Dončić, who had just seven points after three quarters and finished with 15.

Clearly, saying that this was an odd evening would not do it justice.

Kristaps Porzingis broke out of a recent funk and rolled up 29 points and nine rebounds in just three quarters of work. The Mavericks were down 62-56 after Minnesota scored the first seven points of the third quarter.

Then the Mavericks finished the third quarter on a 32-11 run and blew it open in the fourth quarter when they went up 111-88.

It was proof that they can survive when Dončić doesn’t have his A-game, which has been rare. He had scored 37-plus points in the last three games (42,38,37). He had shot 59.5 percent and 54.5 percent from 3-point land in that span.

So naturally, he missed his first seven shots and wasn’t a factor offensively all night.

Instead, it was the Porzingis show and the 7-3 center/forward got nice help off the bench from Brunson, who had his first double-double of the season, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (21 points, 5-of-9 from 3-point range).

It’s been a twisty trip to get four games over .500. The Mavericks were 8-13 on Feb. 1, after they had lost a slew of key players for substantial time in January while they were dealing with COVID-19 issues.

But one thing they have shown in abundance since then is promise.

And resourcefulness.

“If we want to be the type of team that we think in our minds we can be, these games are must-wins,” Porzingis said. “Anything can happen, but these are the type of games that we cannot let slip (away).

“We’re working to get better. We had a rough start with a lot of guys out. So I think we’re working our way back into it.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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