The large TV in the Timberwolves locker room was turned off late Monday night. Any scoreboard watching took place on iPhones.
Except for Jimmy Butler.
“I’m trying to go get some food,” he said. “Why would I be checking my phone? To see if a lady friend texted me? I’m not going to check my phone. We’re in control of our own destiny.”
Yes, true. And since the Wolves organization has waited 14 years to experience playoff basketball again, it’s somehow fitting that everyone will have to wait until the final day of the regular season before learning if the NBA’s longest drought will end or continue.
Why can’t it ever be easy with these guys?
Only two of the necessary four results ended in their favor Monday, leaving the Wolves with more work to do.
The Wolves handled their part with a tougher-than-expected 113-94 victory over the tanking Memphis Grizzlies.
The San Antonio Spurs took care of Sacramento to earn a thumbs up emoji from the Wolves. But when Denver defeated Portland not long after that, and when New Orleans beat the Clippers before the end of the night, it set up a white-knuckle elimination game with the Nuggets on Wednesday at Target Center.
No backing in at this point.
“I’ve always wanted to play playoff basketball,” Karl-Anthony Towns said before the Denver win became final. “I made a promise when I first came here and I want to keep it.”
Their season didn’t have to come down to this make-or-break moment. With 46 wins, the Wolves are guaranteed to finish with their best record since the 2003-04 season — their most recent playoff appearance — but some maddening performances have made this playoff quest harder than necessary, not the scenario many envisioned after the organization traded for Butler as part of a roster overhaul last offseason.
Losing Butler for roughly 20 percent of the season was tough, but some head-scratching losses gave the Wolves the slimmest possible margin for error — and a potentially unfavorable playoff matchup.
The Wolves entered Monday two games behind Utah for the No. 4 seed. That’s frustrating when one considers they lost six games total to the four worst teams in the NBA — Orlando, Atlanta, Memphis and Phoenix.
Win half of those games and the picture looks different right now.
Teams above and below the Wolves in the standings are probably lamenting blown opportunities, too. But the Wolves have probably eight or nine losses that fall under that “what the heck?” category.
The Wolves will have serious regret if they come up just short of the playoffs.
“Just get it done,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We talked about finishing. That’s been our theme. Just finish.”
Perhaps they shouldn’t start like they did Monday, which was a microcosm of their season. Their effort was sluggish against a Memphis team that has one foot in offseason vacation, which was hard to watch and made a nervous crowd even more nervous.
The Grizzlies declared eight players out before the game. Naturally, the Wolves came out flatter than a punctured tire, missed six of their first 23 shots and trailed by 10 points in the first half.
Butler attributed the slow start to the Wolves playing “soft.”
“I don’t care what the reason may be,” he lamented. “I want to play a full 48-minute game. I don’t think we’ve yet to do that this year. Right now we have to play harder than anybody on every possession for what’s at stake. I think we lose control of that at times. It’s really frustrating to a lot of guys in this locker room.”
And to people watching it.
A victory Wednesday will make everyone feel better and result in one long exhale. Finally putting an end to their miserable playoff drought will be something to celebrate. The alternative outcome would be very unpleasant.
These will be a few anxious days around the organization. It wouldn’t be the Wolves without this level of drama.