Timberwolves face Kings, seek second straight win without Butler

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Now that the Minnesota Timberwolves have shown the rest of their NBA brethren that the sky might not be falling on them after all, they will try to continue to fuel hope that their drive to a playoff spot was not wrecked along with Jimmy Butler’s knee.

The Timberwolves (37-26), seeking their first postseason appearance since 2004, will be looking for their first two-game winning streak in more than a month when they face the Sacramento Kings on Monday night at the Golden 1 Center. That it would be two straight victories without Butler, their All-Star guard, would only add to the significance of it.

Minnesota learned Sunday that it will be without Butler indefinitely after he underwent meniscus surgery on his right knee. The team has not put a timetable on his return, but several media reports citing sources close to Butler indicated that he is hopeful he can return this season if Minnesota makes the playoffs.

The Timberwolves lead the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder by two games in the Northwest Division and are 3 1/2 better than the ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. Conventional wisdom in the aftermath of Butler’s injury Friday against Houston suggested that neither margin will hold without him.

Then Minnesota went out and beat the Chicago Bulls 122-104 on Saturday. Five players scored in double digits, four players had at least seven rebounds, and seven players had more than one assist.

“I think this is the recipe,” guard Jamal Crawford told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “If it’s going to be sustainable, it has to be a collection of guys. Hopefully, this is what it could look like.”

Without Butler, the Timberwolves will lean even more heavily on All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Andrew Wiggins. Towns had 22 points and 13 rebounds against the Bulls and has posted 53 double-doubles in 63 games this season.

Wiggins scored 23 points against Chicago, six points per game fewer than a season ago when Butler was playing with the Bulls.

“We’re not counting ourselves out, because we still have a great opportunity ahead of us,” center Cole Aldrich told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “… Losing Butler obviously hurts, but we still have the pieces in here to make a playoff run.”

The Kings are aiming for a playoff run that won’t be coming this season. The Kings (18-41) have lost eight of 11 since last winning consecutive games, and they’ve had an even harder time at home. Sacramento is 8-19 overall on its home floor and has lost three in a row, eight of nine and 11 of 13 there.

Their latest loss at home came Saturday in a 113-108 defeat by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kings coach Dave Joerger, following the organization’s plan to develop its young talent, put rookies De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, second-year veterans Hield and Skal Labissiere and third-year veteran Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor in crunch time against the Lakers.

“It’s always good to play in those close games,” Fox told the Bee after producing 13 points and six assists against the Lakers upon returning from pink eye to play his first game since the All-Star break. “You wish you could come out with a win, but it’s always a learning experience.”

The Kings may not be far from turning their recent fortunes around. They’ve had a chance to win in the fourth quarter in each of their past four games.