SAN ANTONIO – About 75 minutes before the game against the Spurs, the Timberwolves locker room was mostly empty. Only a few players milling about, but in one end was Jimmy Butler, wearing headphones, getting dressed and singing a loud version of country singer Chris Young’s “Losing Sleep.”
“Yeah we’re winning, we’re losing, when we’re losing sleep,” Butler crooned, out of tune.
Butler might have caused a lot of insomnia the past month for the Wolves and their fans since making his trade request, but there he was making his presence known in the locker room and on the floor Wednesday night, as improbable as that seemed a few weeks ago.
Almost as improbable was how the Wolves played after an awful preseason, falling just short to the Spurs, 112-108, at AT&T Center.
But the Wolves were hardly downtrodden after the game. Coach Tom Thibodeau said he liked the team’s “spirit,” while Butler said he liked the players’ energy. Nobody knew what to expect from the Wolves with Butler back in the fold for now. The result wasn’t a calamity, and that was good enough for now.
“Everybody is a little bit rusty, including myself,” Butler said. “Everybody missed easy shots, but we took all the right ones, shared the ball. … We take the best things from this and that’s our energy and how hard we played for 48 minutes.”
Butler, who finished with 23 points on 9-for-23 shooting, tied the score at 108 with 42.1 seconds remaining on a corner three-pointer. DeMar DeRozan (a game-high 28 points) followed with a runner on the other end to give the Spurs the lead, then iced the game with a pair of free throws after Derrick Rose missed a layup on the Wolves’ last attempt to tie.
LaMarcus Aldridge wreaked havoc inside with 21 points and 19 rebounds. He had room to operate thanks to Karl-Anthony Towns’ foul trouble. Towns fouled out with 4:18 to play after 22 minutes and only eight points.
“I was very happy just to see all the weightlifting I was doing has been coming to fruition,” Towns joked after the game. “To see those bicep curls coming into effect was great.”
Towns’ jovial mood was not atypical in the Wolves’ locker room. There was reason for encouragement. Andrew Wiggins, who got off to a woeful start, turned it around to score 20 points. Jeff Teague had 27 points on an efficient 12 shot attempts while Gorgui Dieng (12 points) was solid off the bench in place of Towns.
At the opposite end of the locker room from Towns was Butler, much quieter than pregame, as he iced his surgically repaired right wrist and ate a postgame meal of chicken and asparagus.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Butler said. “We came up short. We did do that. But you learn from it. We got 81 more of these.”
As if realizing what he let slip out, Butler flashed a sly smile. Does he have 81 more games with this team?
“You got 81 games, baby. That’s all that matters,” Butler said. “We got to lock in on today. What tomorrow brings, see where we’re at. If that comes to be that comes to be, there’s nothing I can do about it. But in the meantime, I got to figure out a way to help us win some games.”
They almost figured it out.