ORLANDO – Maybe only in his uniquely driven world could a guy such as Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler find a perverse kind of happiness in his team’s stinker of a loss, 108-102 at Orlando on Tuesday.
The man they call Jimmy G. Buckets — the G stands for Galled, given this game — said the Wolves got what they deserved after they went 12-3 in their previous 15 games and the Magic had won only once in nearly the past six weeks.
“We need to humble our damn selves,” Butler said. “I’m glad we lost. Came in here on our high horse, thinking we’re a really good team and we haven’t done anything yet. Good for us, man.”
Only 12-31 when the game began, the Magic outrebounded the Wolves 51-37, outscored them 35-27 in the fourth quarter and yet won even though they committed 16 turnovers to the Wolves’ seven.
That’s largely because Magic shooting guard Evan Fournier scored a career-high 32 points, mostly against Butler, and because big man Bismack Biyombo delivered a crucial 10-point, 16-rebound, five-blocked shot performance.
“They played better than us,” Butler said. “They played harder than we did. They did everything right. We didn’t play the way we were supposed to and they whipped our butts. I’m happy.”
The Wolves are 9-1 within their Northwest Division, 23-6 against Western teams but only 6-11 against Eastern teams, with losses to the Magic, Charlotte, Indiana, Detroit and Brooklyn, among others.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau called his team “flat,” the rebounding “problematic” and his team’s mere 10 free-throw attempts “very unusual.” He said “you’ve got to dig deep” to explain their record against Eastern teams, mentioning the absence of Butler and Jeff Teague among other factors in some of the losses.
The Magic hadn’t played since Friday’s six-point loss to Washington and the Wolves were coming off a perfect 5-0 homestand that ended with Sunday’s victory over Portland.
The Magic also had sandwiched losing streaks of seven and nine games around a Dec. 28 victory over Detroit, which was its only victory since it beat Atlanta in overtime on Dec. 6.
“I think we were comfortable,” Butler said. “We didn’t do what we were supposed to. We didn’t play hard. We didn’t rebound. We didn’t guard. We didn’t execute. We didn’t do anything. We were going through the motions out there. Do that in this league and you can get beat by anybody.”
Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Orlando guard Arron Afflalo were ejected in the second quarter after separate confrontations. The second and final one ended after Afflalo threw a roundhouse right punch that likely will draw a league suspension and fine before Bjelica responded by wrapping Afflalo into a protective headlock.
Afterward, Bjelica said he apologized to his teammates for playing fewer than five minutes, but Butler said Bjelica didn’t need to apologize to anybody.
“I like the toughness,” Butler said. “Everybody needs to take a note from Belly: You don’t back down from nobody in this league.”
Butler didn’t apologize for his own play after a 28-point, seven-rebound, five-steal, four-assist night. But he did make it clear Fournier outplayed him on a letdown night that Butler said he and his teammates felt coming since Monday.
“He whipped my butt,” Butler said. “I’ll take that. That’s cool. It happens to the best of us sometimes. I got another [game] coming up. I’ll be all right.”
Thibodeau put his best defender on Fournier nearly all night and was asked if there was anything else they could have done on him.
“Well, we were supposed to,” Thibodeau said.