DENVER – After 16 games sidelined by knee surgery, Timberwolves four-time All Star Jimmy Butler was active and listed as available to play Thursday vs. Denver in a game filled with Western Conference playoff implications, but he didn’t.
Teammate Jeff Teague returned as starting point guard after he missed Sunday’s home loss to Utah because of a sore knee, but Nemanja Bjelica again started on the wing alongside Andrew Wiggins, as both have since Butler was injured in February.
On Thursday morning, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said both Butler and Teague would warm up before the game and then decide if each would play.
Teague did, Butler didn’t on a night that started with the Nuggets outside of the playoffs, one game behind the seventh-place Wolves and New Orleans.
“It’s really hard, but I got to realize that at the end of the day, it’s my decision, my career,” Butler said Thursday morning. “I have to listen to my body. Go out there knowing I can go 100 percent, no matter for how many minutes it’s going to be for. I don’t want to favor anything. I want to know I can go out there and play.”
Calling his return to action “this close,” Butler did know this about Thursday’s game against a Nuggets team chasing the Wolves for one of the Western Conference playoff spots.
“If we can’t go out and compete as hard as we can, if we don’t wake up for this type of game knowing what’s at stake, we’ve got bigger problems than just basketball,” Butler said. “We’ve got to get everybody to understand what’s at stake right now. These are the games that you must have. Yeah, you’re supposed to look at every game that way, as I do.
“But now, more than ever, we’ve got to have these wins because they’re chasing us. They want to be where we are. I love it: Put that target on our back and let’s see what each individual is really made of.”
Asked if he needs to emphasize to his teammates, particularly the younger ones, just what was at stake Thursday, Butler said, “I think everybody knows, but I’m not going to say everybody’s going to go about it the same way. ... Are you willing to do any and everything to make sure that we win these games? That’s what I have to punch into everybody’s head from now until the tipoff of this game — and probably a lot during the game — is the fact that you have to know who you’re guarding.
“Whether you get switched on to somebody, you’ve got to know what plays they’re running. This is definitely going to be some playoff basketball.
First look at Millsap
A perfect 2-0 so far in their season series with Denver, the Wolves played the Nuggets for the first time since veteran forward Paul Millsap returned at February’s end from November wrist surgery. The Nuggets were 10-8 since then, entering Thursday’s game.
“Talented player,” Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns said before the game. “His ability to shoot, obviously he spreads the floor out for them as well. He’s a proven player in this league. He’s an All-Star. We’ve got to make sure we give him not so great looks.”
Friday’s NBA TV telecast of the Wolves-Lakers game will be a special “Fans Only” edition, a twist on its “Players Only” nights.
The production will include special features and opportunities for fans to be part of it through social-media conversation, instant polling, interactive competitions between the two teams’ fans and the chance to call in. Dennis Scott and Nate Robinson will interview celebrities and fans from Staples Center.
• Nuggets star guard Gary Harris missed his 10th consecutive game because of a knee sprain/strained that has sidelined him since mid-March.
• Wolves rookie center Justin Patton didn’t travel to Denver because he was ill. He made his NBA debut in Sunday’s loss to Utah.