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Coming off their second straight loss, the Minnesota Timberwolves are now sitting as the would be eight seed in the NBA playoffs. The Denver Nuggets, who beat the Timberwolves last night 100-96, are sitting as the would be nine seed. With the Nuggets right on their tail, the Timberwolves can’t afford to lose anymore. They’ve struggled recently, going 4-6 over their last 10 games, but the struggles have been going on longer than that.
On February 23rd, Jimmy Butler suffered a torn meniscus. He was given a timetable of four to six weeks to recover from the injury. During that time period, Butler missed 16 games. He was supposed to make his return from injury last night against the Nuggets, but never entered the game, pushing his games missed to 17. Over those 17 games, the Timberwolves have gone 8-9.
Before Butler went out of the lineup, the Timberwolves sat right around the four or five spot with a little wiggle room. They’ve now used all the wiggle room they once had. Butler was playing at a high level all season long. He was great offensively and defensively, making everyone on his team better. His biggest impact came on the defensive side, and it’s easy to see why after the way the Timberwolves have played without him.
It seems as though Butler is the one who brings the intensity. Despite only being in his first season with the team, Butler is their leader. Without him, they’re just a couple of young stars and experienced role players. After another loss last night, I think it’s safe to say the Timberwolves won’t be making the playoffs unless Jimmy Butler returns.
Well that’s good news for Timberwolves fans. Butler was going to make his return last night, but ended up not entering the game for whatever reason. I don’t know this for sure, but I think the reason why Butler didn’t play last night is because they also play tonight. Coach Thibodeau probably didn’t want Butler playing in back to back games when he just returned. The Timberwolves remaining schedule looks like this:
Friday, April 6th (Tonight) – Away vs the Lakers
Monday, April 9th – Home vs Grizzlies
Wednesday, April 11th – Home vs Nuggets
You’ll notice that these games are all two days apart. If Butler plays tonight, he’ll have a day of rest before playing again. Same with Monday’s game. Butler may have sat last night after being ready to return, but there’s no choice now. Butler must play in the remaining three games for this team to have a chance at the playoffs.
You might look at the teams on their schedule and think they won’t need Butler, but that’s not the case at all. The Lakers might have a record of 34-44, but they’re an underrated team capable of beating anyone if they’re playing at their best. Their problem is they aren’t always playing at their best. The Grizzlies are not good, but they did beat the Timberwolves 101-93 at the end of March. Then you’ve got the Nuggets, who just beat them last night. All three games are winnable, but they could also very easily become losses.
The spark Jimmy Butler gives this team has been missing for the last 17 games, and it’s time it comes back. Regardless of if he’s 100% healed or not, if Butler’s on the floor, he’s giving it all he’s got. Nobody else seems to do that. The player who comes closest in my mind is Taj Gibson, who’s a very good player, but he’s not capable of carrying a team.
As mentioned earlier, the Nuggets are right on the Timberwolves tail. They’re riding a four game winning streak after their victory last night. The Nuggets have to play the Clippers, Blazers, and Timberwolves to finish the season, which might be good news for the Timberwolves. The Clippers are only two games behind the Nuggets, the Blazers are the three seed, and next time they play Minnesota they should have Butler back. It’s not going to be easy for Denver, but it also won’t be easy for the Timberwolves.
As much as Timberwolves fans don’t want to hear this, or maybe they actually do, this team functions through Jimmy Butler. If Butler returns and plays like himself, the Timberwolves outlast the Nuggets and make the playoffs. If Butler doesn’t return or doesn’t play like pre-injury Jimmy, this team is out.
I expect to see Butler playing tonight against the Lakers. The Timberwolves need Jimmy. This teams runs through Jimmy. Give us Jimmy! We want Jimmy!