After missing four games because of a sore right knee, Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler returned to action Saturday night against Brooklyn at Target Center.
The Wolves went 2-2 without the All-Star this time, after suffering back-to-back one-sided losses when Butler was sick early in the season. They beat Toronto and the Clippers, then lost back-to-back games at Portland and Golden State.
For Butler, the hardest part was having to sit on the bench as the Wolves played four consecutive teams with highly regarded shooting guards — DeMar DeRozan, Lou Williams, CJ McCollum and Klay Thompson.
“I hate missing games,” Butler said before scoring 21 points with six rebounds and five assists in a 111-97 victory. “But I damn sure hate missing games when you’re talking about going up against another All-Star guard. Those are the guys I want to battle against.”
But Butler admitted that a brief spell watching the team from the bench can be beneficial. To him, it’s sometimes easier to analyze the team from afar. What he saw is a team that has progressed from the first time he missed time. Especially in the case of Andrew Wiggins, who had three big games during Butler’s absence, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
“We’ve gotten better,” Butler said. “I think we still have a lot of lapses, mental lapses, on both ends of the floor. But we are getting better.”
Three in one
Between the Wolves and Brooklyn on Saturday, each of the first three picks in the 2015 NBA draft was represented. Kentucky’s Towns went No. 1, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell went No. 2 to the Lakers and Duke’s Jahlil Okafor went No. 3 to Philadelphia.
Towns is about to go to his first All-Star Game, while Russell and Okafor are both on their second NBA team. Russell, coming back from knee surgery, was held out of Saturday’s game, the second half of a back-to-back for the Nets. Okafor scored a season-high 21 points off the bench for Brooklyn.
Towns and Russell are good friends.
“I talk to D’Angelo a lot,” he said. “Me, him and Devin still have our group chat,” Towns said of Russell and Devin Booker, Towns’ college teammate who went to Phoenix with the 13th pick in 2015.
Some felt Booker, averaging 24.5 points per game, deserved an All-Star nod. Perhaps. But Towns — about whom many felt the same way last year — admitted he might give Booker some good-natured guff about not making it.
“I’ll be talking some trash about it as the season goes along,” he said.
During the week, the NBA announced a five-prong program aimed at easing relations between the league’s officials and the players.
Among the initiatives: meetings with all 30 teams; emphasis on “respect of the game” rules; expanding programs to explain rules and rules interpretations with players and coaches; training officials on conflict of resolution skills; and expanding opportunities for players and coaches to engage with the league on the issue.
The plan pleases Tom Thibodeau. “You have to acknowledge there is a problem,” the Wolves coach said, “so I think that’s a good sign. And I think Marty McCutchen [a former official promoted to league vice president in charge of referee development and training] is good. I hated to see him go, but I like the fact that he’s in that position. I think, sometimes, we have to let the officials use their judgment more. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we have to let them do their jobs.”
Towns and Butler will be teammates in the All-Star Game, as both were chosen by Stephen Curry. “I wanted to [go] against him,” Towns said of Butler. “It would have been fun.”
Asked if he knew where he was picked in the process of setting the All-Star rosters, Towns said: “I don’t know where I was picked. But I know in the real draft I was picked No. 1.”