PORTLAND, ORE. – About to begin his postgame media session, Karl-Anthony Towns reached for a plate of pasta before the Timberwolves boarded their flight to Los Angeles.
Towns was inhaling his meal as he was listening to a question related to Jimmy Butler’s trade request: Was Butler’s situation, which included his sitting out again Sunday for “precautionary rest,” affecting the team in a negative way on the court, especially after a 111-81 loss to the Trail Blazers — the Wolves’ second 30-point loss in 10 days?
Towns didn’t wait to finish chewing one of his last mouthfuls before answering the question.
“No, I just think we didn’t play well,” Towns said. “We didn’t hustle, we didn’t play as hard as they did. They came in … with an edge and we didn’t come in with an edge that we needed to win the game.”
With that, Towns took his last bite and picked up his stuff to catch the bus to the airport.
The Wolves didn’t have an edge, and they also didn’t have a full roster of players available, a common theme early this season. Butler sat out for “precautionary rest” while Jeff Teague (bruised left knee) and Derrick Rose (sore left ankle) also missed Sunday’s game.
The Wolves have played 10 times this season, but only twice have they had everybody available to begin and end the same game — the first two games of the season.
Since then players have been in and out of the lineup for various reasons, with Butler resting for the third time this season and second time in five nights. On Sunday, the Wolves shot just 31.2 percent from the floor while the Blazers outrebounded them 66-38.
The Wolves didn’t have much of an answer for Jusuf Nurkic, who tallied 19 points and 12 rebounds in just 23 minutes of work. Meanwhile, Towns was the only Wolves player to shoot over 50 percent for the night. He had 23 points and five rebounds.
It was a loss similar to a 30-point shellacking the Wolves got at the hands of the Bucks on Oct. 26, and it was after that game that coach Tom Thibodeau hinted that the drama around Butler off the court might be creeping into the Wolves’ play on it.
Andrew Wiggins, who shot 6-for-16 for 17 points, was in alignment with Towns: Butler’s trade request wasn’t an issue on Sunday or any other night.
“I think it doesn’t matter,” Wiggins said. “There’s nothing that can affect us rebounding or making the shots. We just didn’t do anything.”
Forward Taj Gibson, rarely afraid to speak his mind, said that the unavailability of players has made it difficult to patch together lineups on a nightly basis. Rookie Jared Terrell made his NBA debut against Portland.
“It’s tough, man, especially in this league with so many talented players from different teams, just have to be ready to attack it and go out and play hard,” Gibson said. “You just try to encourage as many people as you can off the bench and play as hard as you can.”
But Gibson, ice packs draped around his knees in the locker room, didn’t deny that the Wolves were distracted. Instead, he said they have to do a better job of managing that and pushing past it to avoid nights like Sunday from happening again.
“You’re always going to have distractions, you’re going to have injuries. You just have to pull together,” Gibson said. “The tough teams somehow find a way to win and try to pull it together. … You can’t have any negative thoughts. The moment you start thinking negative, that’s another burden on your back.”
The Wolves have had plenty of those early in the season. Even if they had a full roster, it might not have mattered against a good Portland team, but they would have appreciated the opportunity to find out.