Already missing guard Jimmy Butler for the past 16 games, the Timberwolves went two starters down Sunday when point guard Jeff Teague didn’t play because of a sore knee in a 121-97 loss to Utah.
Without either, the Wolves led 9-2 early and trailed by as much as 29 points in the fourth quarter while they played on with Tyus Jones as starter and little-used Aaron Brooks as his backup.
“You know, I don’t want to use that as an excuse, when you’re down people,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I’m disappointed with tonight, but they’ve fought hard with Jimmy being out. When you’re down a player like that, your only chance is with great intensity. So when you lose another guy, you can’t go in and think, ‘OK, this is good, like we’re good.’ No, you got to compete on every play. Until we understand that, there will be tough nights.”
Backup guard Derrick Rose was available to play Sunday after he missed five games because of a sprained ankle, but he did not.
The Wolves next play Thursday at Denver, which plucked victory from defeat by beating Milwaukee Sunday night.
The Wolves are 8-8 since Butler went down clutching his knee in Houston right after All-Star break.
“When we took the hit with Jimmy, I knew it’d be a long, hard fight,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t exhale. You can’t feel good. You’ve got to keep swinging. That’s the only way this is going to get done. For the most part, these guys have done it. The schedule we had when Jimmy went down, these guys have put up a good fight and they’re still fighting.
“I’m disappointed with today’s performance. We have to regroup and get ready for the next one.”
Butler continues to work himself toward a return from knee surgery before regular season’s end.
On Sunday, he went through what Thibodeau called a “heavy conditioning day” and this week will participate in five-on-five contact scrimmages, which Thibodeau calls “the big thing.”
Following Thursday’s visit to Denver, the Wolves play again Friday in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
With no game scheduled Monday, Wolves assistant coach Rick Brunson intends to travel to San Antonio to watch his son Jalen play for Villanova in the NCAA championship game against Michigan. Jalen Brunson was named Associated Press Player of the Year last week.
“Obviously, I’m so thrilled for Rick and his wife and his daughter,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a great family and it’s a great story. I’m happy for the family.”
Fellow Wolves assistant coach Ed Pinckney played on Villanova’s surprise 1985 championship team.
On a cold Easter Sunday, somebody asked Rose how he’s adjusting to Minneapolis.
“The skyways are saving me right now, man,” Rose said. “I haven’t been outside yet. I’ve been walking the skyways. I’m loving it. I’m loving the experience I’m having down here. I’m comfortable. It’s always fun when you’re with people that you knew, you know and you’re getting to know. It’s a cool experience.”
• Back in good health and back in uniform, Wolves veteran center Cole Aldrich returned to active status Sunday after he missed three games because he was ill, but did not play.
• Thibodeau on Rubio, whom he traded last summer for salary-cap space and Oklahoma City’s first-round pick this summer: “He has had a terrific year. Ricky is a very good player. He plays all aspects of the game. He has shot the ball well this year. He’s doing a good job for them.”