Minnesota has to be snake-bit, don’t you think? Fourteen years in a row they have missed the playoffs, and a year ago Glen Taylor hired Tom Thibodeau as president and head coach. In Chicago, Thibodeau was successful five years straight in the playoffs.
However, his critics dogged him with the fact that he wore his players down by playing long minutes over an 82-game schedule. Some players’ bodies started to break down.
All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, who the Timberwolves acquired in trade with Chicago, has been brilliant. He has been everything the Timberwolves were looking for off and on the court and in the locker room.
He is among the NBA leaders in minutes played, and last Friday, after not playing in the All-Star game in Los Angeles, he suffered a non-contact knee injury against the red-hot Houston Rockets. The injury was diagnosed as a torn right meniscus.
Butler had knee surgery Sunday, and the Timberwolves are saying he’ll be out indefinitely. With only 19 games left (18 after Monday night’s game) and the Timberwolves 37-26 in a strong playoff position, this is truly a kick in the gut.
All-Star Karl Anthony Towns said, “When you have one of the best, in my opinion the best two-way player in the league by far, it makes a difference [to lose him] because you have a guy who can do everything. Obviously it’s going to be different when you have Jimmy out.
“We have to pick up the pieces everywhere. He’s a very talented player, a complete player. We have to be the best we need to be to fill in his gaps,” Towns said.
Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists per game. He will be missed. His leadership this season has been huge in games, in practice, and in passing along Thibodeau’s message to the younger guys.
The Timberwolves are now on a three-game road trip to Sacramento, Portland and Utah. Minnesota has not played well on the road all year. They are just 12-19 on the road with 10 games left. At home they are 25-7, but they don’t return home until March 8.
They are currently fourth in the West, just percentage points behind San Antonio (36-25) for the third spot in the West. It’s bunched up behind them, however, with playoff-tested Portland (34-26), New Orleans (33-26), Oklahoma City (34-27), Denver (33-27), Los Angeles Clippers (31-27), and Utah (30-29) all within striking distance. It’s not likely the Timberwolves can catch Houston or Golden State.
Thirteen more wins get them to 50, which I predicted before the season. Losing your best player, Butler, with no guarantee you will get him back will test this team’s resolve down the stretch because the Western Conference is no joke and only the fittest will survive.