MINNEAPOLIS — On Friday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls felt they were facing winnable games as they try to find some semblance of momentum during frustrating seasons.
Both were left wondering what to do after disappointing losses. One team will have a chance to feel good when Minnesota hosts Chicago on Sunday.
The Bulls got Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade back in the lineup but lost 115-97 at Phoenix, which has the second-worst record in the NBA.
“Awful, awful … they out-competed us in every category,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Rebounding, loose balls, 19-6 in transition. That tells you all you need to know.”
The Timberwolves hosted the New Orleans Pelicans, who were down to nine players because of injuries and illness, and lost 122-106.
After a stretch of improved defense under coach Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota has slipped again. The Timberwolves have allowed 115.67 points per game while losing five of the past six games.
“You have to do it every night,” Thibodeau said of the team’s defense. “It has to be consistent. Right now, we’re down a guy, so you can never underestimate how hard you have to play on every possession.
“And if there’s a loose ball, you have to be the first to the floor. If there’s an opportunity to take a charge, you have to take a charge. You have to hit, you have to fight.”
Minnesota has been without guard Zach LaVine, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL, for the past four games.
Brandon Rush has started in LaVine’s absence and averaged 4.8 points per game. LaVine was averaging 18.9 points per game. The team also signed veteran Lance Stephenson.
After scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds in 19:48 in his first game, Stephenson had one point and three rebounds in 11:51 on Friday.
Of course, Chicago has little sympathy for injury woes.
Butler, who is slated to start for the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star Game, missed three games as he deals with a nagging heel injury. He suffered a knee injury in Friday’s game, according to ESPN.
Asked if he would play Sunday in Minnesota, Butler told ESPN: “That’s a good question. That’s a really good question.”
Butler added, according to ESPN: “I want to play basketball. Not going to say I’m out there completely healthy. I’m not. But I want to compete, man. I want to go out there, I want to win, I want to lose, with my team, with my guys.
“I’m just hoping that this thing goes away so I can get back to not favoring it. And it’s crazy because the way the game goes, sometimes you gotta use that foot. You try and avoid it, but you can’t back away from it.”
Butler scored 20 points in his return and Wade had 18 as he came back to the lineup after missing one game with an illness.
“I’m just trying to get a rhythm back now,” Wade said. “I’m trying to fight fatigue and Jimmy the same thing. It’s that time of year, beaten up, but it’s part of the game.”
After the game, Wade had ice packs on both wrists, according to ESPN after landing hard at one point. The Bulls haven’t announced any status for Butler, Wade or Paul Zipser, who missed the game with an ankle injury.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Chicago is 62-54 since the start of last season when Butler plays and 6-14 without him. The Bulls have hovered near .500 much of the season and are 2-3 on a six-game road trip that ends in Minnesota.
Thibodeau, the former Chicago coach, would take .500. The Timberwolves had won five of six games to reach 19-29 before their recent slide.
“Different mistakes, but the same mistakes at the same time,” Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns said of the defense. “Again, we’ve just got to learn. It’s OK to make mistakes, but we can’t make the same ones game after game after game. We’ve got to be able to improve and chance, just got to keep going.”