– Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler took a big step Friday. Cleared by the medical staff, Butler took part in his first contact drills during the team’s morning shootaround. It is a big step in his return from Feb. 25 right knee surgery.

It went well, coach Tom Thibodeau said.

“He had a good workout, did the shootaround, and stayed and played afterward,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Butler injured the cartilage in his knee against Houston Feb. 23 and had surgery two days later. Cleared for contact, he accompanied the team to Dallas for the brief, one-day road trip just so he could take that next step.

“It’s the first time for him,” Thibodeau said. “He will take some contact today, and then we’ll see how he feels.”

Butler has been doing on-court work for a while, doing some running and a ton of shooting. If today goes well, it should give everyone more confidence in Butler’s ability to return before the regular season ends. But, according to Thibodeau, he’ll have to clear a few more hurdles first.

“It’s him being ready to go,” Thibodeau said. “I want him to have confidence in his body that he can go again. So, usually what happens is, you’re doing the on-court stuff. You start with non-contact. Then you phase in the contact and you build up. You start with 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and then the 5-on-5. And, after each step, you have to see how it responds the next day. So far it’s been pretty good.”

One thing the Wolves and Butler agree on? Not to rush him. “When he’s ready we’ll know,” Thibodeau said.

4 × 50

With Karl-Anthony Towns’ franchise-record 56-point game still fresh in our memories, let’s put it in perspective. It was the fourth 50-plus point game in team history. The others: Kevin Love in a 2OT loss in Oklahoma City in the spring of 2012, Corey Brewer’s 51 points in a win over Houston in April of 2014 and Mo Williams’ 52 points in Indiana in January of 2013.

You could make the argument that Brewer’s was the most amazing, Williams’ was the most humorous, Love’s was the most thrilling and Towns’ was the most important.

In order: Brewer had never scored even 30 points before that 50-point outburst, in which he had layups or dunks on 15 of his 19 field goals. He scored 27 points on the break that night, the most of any player in the league since the 1996-97 season, when the stat was first tracked.

“Crazy, just crazy,” said Gorgui Dieng, who played that night. “He was just running all night. Just amazing.”

Williams? He was hitting threes from all over the place, finishing with a 21-point fourth quarter as the lowly Wolves broke a 15-game losing streak. At one point he told Indy guard C.J. Watson not to bother, he was that hot. “It was like I was shooting into the Pacific Ocean,” he said afterwards.

Love’s game was a thriller. He had 51, guard J.J. Barea had 25 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Kevin Durant had 40, Bryant Westbrook 45 and James Harden 25 for the Thunder.

“One of the best games I’ve been a part of,” said Barea, now playing in Dallas. “Durant was hot, Westbrook was hot. Love was on fire.”

Wolves TV announcer Jim Petersen remembers spontaneously standing and applauding after the game ended.

And then, Towns. The most important, as the Wolves are finally back in a playoff race. It’s also impressive, given the mix of free throws, threes and post moves he used to reach 56. “Every game is so important,” Thibodeau said. “To life the franchise up? That’s what is important.”


• Point guard Jeff Teague missed the fourth quarter Friday after getting, as Thibodeau said, “dinged up.” Thibodeau didn’t identify the injury but said Teague should be fine.

• Thibodeau said guard Derrick Rose, the swelling all but gone from his sprained ankle, is very close to returning. He missed his fifth consecutive game Friday.

• Center Cole Aldrich (illness) missed his third game in a row.