Wolves star Jimmy Butler is back in Minneapolis rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee, but that doesn't mean he's exactly absent as his team tonight in Portland plays the first of important back-to-back games against the Blazers and Utah.
"I talk to him every day," Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's doing well. He's already moving along on the rehab. So he's in good spirits. He's engaged. He's watching the games. He has got some great observations."
Butler is doing his rehab in Minnesota, but Thibodeau said Butler might go to Los Angeles to continue it. Butler has an off-season home in Malibu.
The Wolves are 2-0 without Butler, but the schedule toughens noticeably now for the next three weeks. After Thursday's game at Portland and Friday's at Utah, the Wolves have a rare five-day break in the schedule, but then play Boston, Golden State, Washington, San Antonio, Houston and the L.A. Clippers consecutively.
Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns was asked at Thursday morning's shootaround if games will feel different, mean more now that it's March and the playoffs are fast approaching.
"March? I ain't in college no more," he said. "March is March. We have to play the game. Every game is important. The first five games of the season are just as important as these games are now."
The Blazers have won six of their last seven, 10 of their last 14 and 13 of their last 18 and have closed fast on the West's third-place Wolves. The Blazers, New Orleans and Oklahoma City all trail fourth-place San Antonio by a half game and the Wolves by 1.5 games.
Portland guard Damian Lillard averaged 31.4 points a game in Febrauary, the highest scoring average for any month in team history. The previous best: Geoff Petrie averaged 30.4 points a game in March 1971.
Lillard scored 223 points in six games -- a 37.1 average -- from Feb. 9 to Feb. 27, the highest scoring six-game stretch in club history.
"He had a huge month," Thibodeau said. "He's a great player. (CJ) McCollum is a great player, so their backcourt is very dynamic. You can't overlook the contributions of all their guys."