Jamal Crawford, on his way back home to Seattle for a few days, stressed the positive after the Wolves’ victory over Los Angeles on Thursday night. One locker over, Jimmy Butler, about to board a plane to Los Angeles for this weekend’s All-Star Game, took a different path, stressing what the Wolves had not done so far.
Both were right.
First: Crawford, after one of his best games of the season, having sparked the lethargic Wolves to a new gear in the team’s fourth-quarter comeback: “I think if you had told us coming into the season that, at the All-Star break, we’d be third in the West, we’d have signed up for it. We’re excited about the opportunity.’’
And then, Butler: “I don’t care about numbers,’’ he said of the Wolves, who moved into a virtual tie with San Antonio for third in the Western Conference with Thursday’s win. “Guys have to want to play hard, to guard, to do what coaches ask us to do.’’
Put the two together and you have a team that, three-quarters through the season, is in a good position. But also one that, at least according to Butler, hasn’t yet played to its potential.
It’s time to start.
A difficult stretch starting in January took its toll on the team. Heading into the break the Wolves have played 61 games — two more than any other team. The Wolves need this time off.
“This gives us a chance to take a break, gather ourselves and recharge,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And then we have 21 games heading down the stretch. It’s right in front of us.’’
The good news is the schedule stretches out for the Wolves a bit, with several multiday breaks, including a five-day rest after back-to-back games at Portland and Utah in early March.
The bad news? The opponents the Wolves will face out of the break are daunting, starting with their next game, at Houston on Friday.
That game in Houston starts a 10-game stretch that includes road games against the Rockets, Portland, Utah, Washington and San Antonio and home games against Boston, Golden State and Houston.
That stretch of games will go a long way toward determining the Wolves’ final position in the Western Conference standings.
The Wolves just completed a 2-1 homestand. That included less-than-impressive victories over non-playoff teams Sacramento and the Lakers and a one-sided loss to Houston. Fatigue or not, Butler says he needs to see more effort from his teammates. After Thursday’s win he said he was upset with the fact the Wolves waited until the fourth quarter to play hard, saying he felt the team sometimes went through the motions.
“Guys have to want to do what Coach is asking us to do, on both ends of the floor,’’ Butler said of a team that, over the past five games, has the second-worst defensive rating in the league. “At the end of the day, they can put all these schemes up on the white board over there, and tell us what to do. But it’s on us if we want to do it. Coming back from the break, we need to look at each other, at ourselves in the mirror, and say, ‘I have to do better. I have to do this better.’ And come back ready to roll.’’
Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns will be at the All-Star Game. Some players will go home for a while. Reserve center Cole Adrich will be in Lawrence, Kan., getting his college jersey retired. Thibodeau said forward Andrew Wiggins, perhaps a little dinged up, will use the break to get healthy.
But, Butler said, everyone has to come back ready. Because, as Thibodeau said, it’s all in front of them.
“It has been all year,’’ Butler said. “We have lapses, which is never good. You can never lapse in effort. You can’t make shots every night. But the part you can control is how much heart you play with, how hard you play.’’