When Jimmy Butler returned to Timberwolves practice in infamous fashion last month, his performance included a reported profanity-laced diatribe in which he yelled that the Wolves couldn’t win without him.
Until Sunday, it looked like just the opposite — that Minnesota couldn’t lose without him.
But against a frustrating and decidedly good Memphis team, the Wolves finally showed the areas in which they remain a work in progress after the trade for Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
In a 100-87 loss, the defense was again strong but the offense was clunky. And some poor habits of low energy and bad ball-sharing emerged at the wrong times. Rookie Josh Okogie, who has fallen out of the rotation after a strong start because of the new additions, might have helped in both cases.
Minnesota is still 3-1 on the home stand and can restore the positive energy with a victory Wednesday against Denver. Any narrative that the Wolves are better off without Butler, though, needs a lot more evidence to gain momentum.
• Speaking of Butler, it was an eventful weekend for the former Wolves guard. On Friday, he won his first game in a Philadelphia uniform and had some interesting comments about his new teammates (and by extension his former ones).
“Everybody wants to win,” Butler said. “I mean, when somebody messes up, you talk to [them]. They don’t take it personal, and they do their job.”
Hmmm. After Butler’s last game with the Wolves, a loss to Sacramento that preceded his being traded by about 12 hours, he said this about the Wolves handling criticism: “I don’t think everybody can handle it. I don’t. I know, actually. … Everybody got to talk to one another and be able to handle it if somebody says something they may not like. We’re all grown men.”
Not to be outdone, Karl-Anthony Towns said after Friday’s Timberwolves victory over Portland: “You see any one of us mess up, we’re looking to the person right away and telling them we messed up. It’s our bad. We’ll fix it next time.”
Butler got the last laugh for the weekend, hitting the game-winning shot Saturday against Charlotte while the Wolves lost Sunday. Minnesota is 2-1 with its new players (3-1 overall since the trade became finalized) and so is Philadelphia.
Circle Jan. 15 and March 30 on your calendars, by the way. Those are the Wolves’ games against the 76ers this season (at Philadelphia first, at Target Center second).
• As long as you don’t consider the Lions a threat in the NFC North race (and really, you shouldn’t), it stands to reason that Detroit did the Vikings a potential favor Sunday in knocking off Carolina 20-19.
The Panthers, who went for a two-point conversion late in the loss, fell to 6-4 with their second consecutive defeat. There’s a lot of football left all around, but if the Vikings don’t end up winning the NFC North, a wild-card spot is suddenly looking available.
• The Gophers became a trendy pick to knock off Northwestern after their lopsided victory over Purdue the previous week. It was pure silliness that they ended up favored before Saturday’s kickoff, but I would agree the game was theirs for the taking before a frustrating 24-14 loss.
The natural tendency will be to think, then, that Minnesota blew its chance to become bowl-eligible. Indeed, the Gophers (5-6) missed their best chance. But don’t count them out at Wisconsin on Saturday. Normally that’s a crazy assertion, but this Badgers team (7-4) has been far more vulnerable than in seasons past.