The narrative of two shooting guards — both in the MVP conversation — matching up Saturday in the Wolves’ game with Toronto at Target Center took a turn when the Wolves announced an hour before the game that Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford would not play.
Butler, the team’s leading scorer, missed the game with a sore right knee. Crawford, one of the team’s best scorers off the bench, has a sprained left big toe.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said after that both Butler and Crawford are day-to-day. Thibodeau said he hoped Butler’s knee would feel good enough to play, but there wasn’t enough improvement from Saturday morning to game time, so they decided to give him the rest.
Butler declined to comment after the game but was moving without any noticeable limp.
Nemanja Bjelica took Butler’s place in the starting lineup, making the second start of his NBA career; he finished with eight points and six rebounds on 3-for-9 shooting in 26 minutes.
The loss of Butler was felt on both sides of the ball, with his offense (21.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists) and his defense. It was expected he would match up with Toronto star DeMar DeRozan, who entered the game averaging 25.1 points per game.
Saturday marked the third game Butler has missed this season. He missed two games in October — a 23-point loss to Indiana and a 21-point loss in Detroit one night later — with an illness. This is the first missed game for Crawford this season. Crawford was held scoreless in Thursday’s loss in Houston, an indication that he may have been bothered by the toe before Saturday.
On the rise
Wolves first-round draft pick Justin Patton has seen his minutes rise of late playing for the Iowa Wolves of the G League.
Patton, a center taken with the 16th pick overall, spent the late summer and fall recovering from surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. Assigned to the Iowa Wolves in early December, Patton has been working his way back into shape. He has started the last five games for the Wolves and has played 20 or more minutes in the last three, scoring in double figures in all of three games.
“It’s been up and down,” Thibodeau said of Patton. “We’re trying to increase his minutes to see where that goes. I think Amile Jefferson [recently given a two-way contract by the Timberwolves] has played really well. Anthony Brown has played well, Melo Trimble has played well. Justin has had some good moments. But he’s still working on his conditioning.”
• Focusing on the positive rather than the negative, Taj Gibson preferred to tout the Wolves’ 23-7 record against the Western Conference rather than the 6-11 mark vs. the East that the Wolves took into Saturday. “The main thing is to stay strong in the West,” he said.
• Casey was fired by the Timberwolves 40 games into the 2006-07 season — his second with the team — after starting that season 20-20. He was asked if he felt it would take this long for the Wolves to be winners again. “I knew it was going to be long,” he said. “Some folks here didn’t believe me that it’s a long process to change things. … It doesn’t feel good to get fired, but you learn from it. I learned a lot.”