Moving quickly, Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler had surgery on the injured meniscus in his right knee Sunday at the Mayo Clinic.
In a statement, the Wolves said the operation was performed by the team’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Diane Dahm. They said Butler will be sidelined indefinitely and that updates on his progress would be given during his rehab.
What the release did not say was whether Butler was done for the season.
Published reports out of Chicago and on Yahoo Sports say Butler has been telling people he expects to be back for the playoffs.
So it appears the Wolves will have to qualify for the playoffs — a difficult task in the hypercompetitive Western Conference — without Butler. The Wolves are in fourth place, just percentage points behind the No. 3 Spurs, but only 3 ½ games ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers (the first team out).
But if the Wolves can navigate their final 19 games and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004, they could get reinforcements.
Butler injured the knee in the third quarter of Friday’s loss in Houston. He had an MRI performed when the team returned to the Twin Cities on Saturday, which indicated the injury. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said Butler would get a second opinion before a course of action was determined. That process appears to have transpired quickly.
In the wake of the news, the Wolves went out and, in front of the 11th sellout crowd of the season, beat the Chicago Bulls at Target Center on Saturday with the kind of group effort it will take to win without Butler.
As Thibodeau said, no one person will replace what Butler gives the team in terms of leadership, scoring and defense.
But Saturday the Wolves offered what Jamal Crawford described as a “recipe” for success without Butler. The team had five players in double figures, led by point guard Jeff Teague. Four of five starters had seven or more rebounds, and Gorgui Dieng had nine off the bench. Seven players had multiple assists. The result was a 51-42 edge on the boards and a healthy .489 shooting percentage.
“We’re going to need a team effort,” big man Karl-Anthony Towns said. “At the end of the day, we have to do it collectively as a group. Everyone needs to pick up their game, including myself.”
Towns, a double-double machine, is pretty much a given. It is assumed that Andrew Wiggins — who scored 23 points Saturday — will take up much of the scoring slack.
But the Wolves need more.
Nemanja Bjelica has moved into the starting lineup at small forward, moving Wiggins to shooting guard. Saturday he was just 3-for-9, but he had seven rebounds and four assists. Thibodeau said after the game he expects Bjelica to get better as he acclimates to bigger minutes.
Meanwhile, Teague continued his recent aggressive play, taking 17 shots overall, making three of eight three-pointers and scoring 25 points with seven rebounds and seven assists.
And Crawford matched his season high with 28 minutes, scoring 19 points off the bench.
Crawford will likely see his minutes rise, and the Wolves will depend on Teague to shoot more and defer less.
“He’s been really aggressive the last seven, eight games,” Thibodeau said of Teague, who has averaged 22 points, 6.3 assists and has shot 58.2 percent in his past four games. “He’s healthy again. When he’s healthy, not many guards have the type of quickness he has. He has a great mix going right now.”
Crawford showed how effective he can be when he’s hot, hitting four three-pointers in a run that started late in the third quarter and went into the fourth Saturday as the Wolves took control of the game.
“Whatever Coach and the team needs, I’ll be there,” he said. “All that matters at this point is helping us get wins. I know a lot of people are counting us out a little bit. But, for us, we have to take it one game at a time.”