Talking for the first time since his Feb. 25 surgery to repair cartilage in his right knee, Timberwolves All-Star guard Jimmy Butler sounded like a man aiming for a return before the regular season ends.

Butler talked about how hard it is to not be playing, having to watch the Wolves from the sidelines. He said he's feeling good and is ramping up his rehab.

What he didn't do was provide a specific date for his return.

"My body is going to tell me everything," Butler said. "I know my body better than any doctor. Coach, for that matter. Anybody. So when I know I can go out there and compete at the highest level, that's when I'll be back."

But, he stressed, sooner than later.

Butler injured the knee Feb. 23 at Houston against the Rockets, who beat the Wolves 129-120 at Target Center on Sunday night. Two days later, surgery. Butler didn't want to go into the process of determining treatment, saying only, "They said I had to have surgery, so I went and had some surgery."

But he did hint that the soreness he felt in the same knee this season — Butler missed four games with soreness in late January — and the injury might have been related. Butler didn't play after being selected for the All-Star Game, his fourth, and was injured in the third quarter of the first game out of the break.

"My knee was a little tired," he said. "I can't say I knew it was coming. But I knew that my knee was sore. Hints, things that happened before I went down."

But he never considered letting up. "I'm not one to sit out if I can play," he said.

But he won't return until he's sure he can.

Not that it will be easy. Being out of action has been, it sounds, as painful as the injury itself. Butler spent some time in California, watching from afar. It was hard enough — and he was bored enough — that he jumped back on Twitter for the first time in ages.

"Not being able to play, not being able to compete with those guys, knowing the practices, the film sessions that they have to go through — I want to be a part of that," he said.

Until then, he said, he has tried to lead from the sidelines. He has inundated teammates with text messages and phone calls.

"If they don't message me back, I'm sliding into DMs, if I have to," he said. "But my guys are going to hear from me, because I care. I want to win."

And he is confident the Wolves will win enough to ensure Butler returns to a team headed to the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2004. The Wolves have lost five of their nine games since Butler's injury.

Butler said he doesn't stress out about where the Wolves are in the Western Conference standings, just as long as they remain in the playoff picture.

"No matter what, in the playoffs, you're going to be playing a really, really good team," he said. "They're going to know everything about you. You're going to know everything about them. We're not scared of anybody. We'll see what we've got."

Until his return, Butler will continue to rehab. He said he has a big week coming up, with Butler working on lateral movement and doing some jumps. How he responds will give a good indication of how soon he might return. But, in general, he said he feels good.

"I feel great, I feel stronger," he said. "I weighted in at like 240 pounds the other day, which is crazy, but that's because I've been eating and doing all upper-body lifts. … But I hate the rower, I hate running on treadmills. I want to be out there on the basketball court."

Soon, he promises.

"I have a little bit of time left," Butler said. "But I know my guys are going to stick this thing out, and do what they've been doing. Keep us in this race. And when I come back, we'll see what we have left in the tank."