For everyone but Karl-Anthony Towns — who played in his first NBA All-Star Game on Sunday — it has been more than a week since the last time anyone on the Timberwolves roster played a game.
This is a good thing.
Already deeper into the season than normal, the break was good for the whole league. But perhaps more so for the Wolves. No team played more games in January than the Wolves. And no team had played as many games as the Wolves before the break. Ask Jamal Crawford, who has been in the league for nearly two decades. They needed the time off.
“Absolutely,” he said Thursday afternoon, after what he said was one of the team’s best practices of the season. “It may not show tomorrow. Or the next night. But I think, moving forward, to close the season, we definitely needed it.”
The Wolves, in a virtual tie with San Antonio for third in the Western Conference, return to action Friday in Houston against a Rockets team that has beaten them twice by 18 points this season. The Wolves have just 21 games left, and 47 days in which to play them. Sounds good, when you consider there will be four breaks of two days between games, two three-day breaks and one five-day break. But the Wolves also have four more back-to-backs to get through.
“I haven’t seen a schedule like this in my career,’’ Crawford said.
Said coach Tom Thibodeau: “It’s a different sort of schedule. NBA players like playing every other day. They like the rhythm of that. But whatever comes our way, we have to deal with it.’’
A playoff spot is far from guaranteed. The Wolves are only 3½ games ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers and 4½ games ahead of Utah, which won 11 consecutive games into the break.
The stretch run promises to be intense. Before the break, Jimmy Butler — who chose to sit out of the All-Star Game — talked about how the team needed to play better, especially on defense. A deeper dive into the team by Thibodeau over the break stressed this as well.
“As of now we’re in the playoffs,” Butler said. “But we have 21 more games to go.”
A good decision
Thibodeau said he didn’t suggest to Butler that he not play in the All-Star Game. But he supported the decision. “You trust your players,” he said.
Butler has played a lot of minutes, leading the league at 37.3 per game. And he has dealt with the occasional sore knee. Thibodeau mentioned that the decision Butler and Towns made to fly to Los Angeles right after last Thursday’s game was draining as well.
“I’m OK,” Butler said. “I’ll be all right.”
Patton back to Iowa
Rookie center Justin Patton will be rejoining the Iowa Wolves of the G League, Thibodeau said. It’s unlikely Patton would get much playing time in the NBA, and Thibodeau noted that Patton, who had offseason foot surgery, is still on a minutes limitation.
“I like what’s happened down there with him,” Thibodeau said. “He’s been able to make up for some of the stuff he missed — summer league, fall practice, things like that.”
The high-scoring Rockets come out of the break with the NBA’s best record, having won 10 consecutive games and leading the league in three-pointers attempted (42.8) and made (15.7) per game. In two victories over Minnesota this season the Rockets have made 39 of 86 three-pointers (45.3 percent).
“When you play a group of guys like that, you can’t give ’em everything,” Butler said. “You have to get back, you can’t create mismatches. And we have to run ’em off the line. It’s a tough matchup, but you have to be able to do it.”