LOS ANGELES – Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler’s return to action Friday after 17 games away injured gave his team more than its four-time All-Star back.
It gave them a player whose drive and court presence perhaps can convince the Wolves’ younger players — enigmatic Andrew Wiggins, to name one — just what it takes to win with playoff spots on the line.
The Wolves went to Denver on Thursday with a chance to distance themselves from the Nuggets, and in the biggest game yet this season, Wiggins delivered a nine-point night on 4-for-12 shooting that along with six rebounds and three assists lacked the kind of inspiration needed.
“It was a rough night,” Wiggins said after Thursday’s 110-106 loss. “But we play again tomorrow. Get in a rhythm.”
With Butler out injured, Wiggins found space and time with the ball in his hands to create, just not consistently.
With Butler back, coach Tom Thibodeau hopes some of what Butler does best reaches Wiggins.
“That’s what Jimmy does well,” Thibodeau said Friday. “If you’re not shooting well, do other things: Play great defense, make hustle plays, rebound the ball. You’re not going to shoot the ball great every night, no one in this league does. What are the other things you can do?”
Wiggins then went out and shot only 7-for-22 vs. the Lakers, scoring 15 points, but he also had eight rebounds and five assists, and Thibodeau praised him for his play after halftime, when the Wolves rallied for a 113-96 victory.
“I thought Wigs played a great second half, his defense was fantastic,” Thibodeau said.
Upon further review
The NBA determined Friday that Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns did commit a sixth and final foul that disqualified him from Thursday’s loss to the Nuggets.
Officials whistled Towns for bumping Denver guard Jamal Murray on a shot with 1 minute, 46 seconds left. The Wolves led 93-92 then but were outscored 13-4 the rest of the way without their star.
The league’s Last Two-Minute Report said Murray drew Towns into the air toward him and the contact to Murray’s body affected Murray’s jump-shot attempt.
Not a big believer in Two-Minute Reports, Thibodeau said, “That Two-Minute Report is, if that’s what it said, that’s what it said.”
Bringing back Butler
Butler was named one of 35 players chosen for the 2018-20 USA Men’s National team roster that will attend a minicamp in Las Vegas this summer. Butler is one of 17 Olympic gold medalists included in the pool, from which it’s expected will come 12-man teams for the 2019 World Cup in China and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Superstars LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden are among the 35. Towns is not because he chose to play for the Dominican Republic — his mother’s homeland — when he was 16. It’s a commitment he said earlier this season he doesn’t see changing any time soon.
No statute on statues
The Wolves played at Staples Center late last season when the Lakers unveiled a Shaquille O’Neal statue outside the arena. They were there again on Friday when former Minneapolis and L.A. Lakers star Elgin Baylor was honored with one of his own to go nearby statues representing Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
Johnson called Baylor — a longtime Clippers executive — “a man who put the entertainment in the NBA” during a pregame unveiling.
The Lakers played without Brandon Ingram (concussion protocol), Lonzo Ball (knee contusion) and Isaiah Thomas (hip surgery). In addition, Kyle Kuzma left in the third quarter because of a left ankle injury.