Preview: Wolves vs. Bulls
MINNEAPOLIS — The Chicago Bulls came out of the All-Star break intent on starting a youth movement. The Minnesota Timberwolves readied for a final sprint to the playoffs and breaking the franchise’s long postseason absence.
Minnesota is now hoping for the best for Jimmy Butler, Chicago’s one-time star.
Butler left Friday’s game in Houston with an injured right knee. Butler went down in the third quarter and had to be helped off the court in the Timberwolves’ 120-102 loss.
An X-ray on the injured knee came back negative, according to Yahoo’s Shams Charania.
Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game that Butler will have an MRI exam on Saturday.
The Wolves host Chicago on Saturday night.
“You just hope it’s not too bad,” Thibodeau said, according to the team’s radio voice, Alan Horton, on Twitter.
Butler, an All-Star this season, entered Friday leading the NBA in minutes played 37.3 per game. Butler played 25 minutes on Friday, scoring 10 points. Minnesota (36-26) is 2-4 without Butler in the lineup this season, his first with the Wolves since leaving Chicago.
Without Butler, the Bulls (20-38) are 12th in the Eastern Conference and have altered their rotation to give more younger players a chance. Center Robin Lopez and swingman Justin Holiday sat out Thursday’s game against Philadelphia after it was announced that coach Fred Hoiberg would turn to Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba in the starting lineup.
“I couldn’t be happier the way we went out and played and competed,” Hoiberg told the team’s website. “We dig ourselves an 18-point hole and fight all the way back and have complete control of that game. A lot of guys played well, so there’s a lot of positives to take out of this game. I loved our effort all game long.”
“It’s always hard losing those hard-fought games, but at the same time we played well as a team,” Portis told the team’s website. “Very heartbreaking, us going out there, busting our tail from start to finish, coming back from a (18-point first-quarter) deficit, having a chance to win, being up five. We have to come back together, watch film and learn from our mistakes.”
The performance was a quick validation for the changes.
“As I talked to our guys about, we’re not talking wins and losses,” Hoiberg told the team’s website. “We’re talking about going out and competing and playing hard and this gives us another opportunity to learn. If we go out with the fighting spirit, we’re going to be in games; we’re going to have a chance.”
The Timberwolves have a chance at much more as they try to break a 13-year streak of missing the postseason.
Minnesota started Friday sitting fourth in the West after having played more games than any other team in the NBA. The Wolves had 21 games left to cement their position. Now they might be doing so without Butler.
“It’s 21 games in 47 days,” Thibodeau told the team’s website before Friday’s game. “And there’s some unusual breaks, too, in terms of we have a five-day break, we have two three-day breaks, we have four two-day breaks. For our players, most NBA players, like to play every other day. … Whatever comes our way, we’ll have to deal with it.”