ATLANTA — The Minnesota Timberwolves need to turn things around on the road if they are to hold off the Oklahoma Thunder in the Northwest Division.
Minnesota (32-20) has the second-best home record in the NBA at 20-6. However, the Timberwolves have lost six of their past seven on the road going into Monday’s game at the Atlanta Hawks in the first of a back-to-back that ends in Toronto against the Raptors the following night.
The Timberwolves swept Atlanta in each of the past two seasons and the Hawks (14-35) are tied with Orlando for the fewest wins in the NBA.
Minnesota, though, can’t afford to look past Atlanta with the Raptors (32-15) following. The Timberwolves lost 108-102 to the Magic in Orlando on Jan. 16 as part of the down stretch that has left them with a 12-14 road record.
All-Star guard Jimmy Butler missed the two most recent losses away from home, but he returned from a four-game absence because of a bruised right knee in Saturday’s 111-97 victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Minnesota.
“The intensity is so much different,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said of having Butler back on the court.
Butler was rusty, making just 4 of 14 shots from the floor, but still finished with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists. He was 12 of 14 from the foul line.
“I couldn’t buy a basket,” Butler said after the game. “But, hey, there’s other ways to change the game. So, I’ll be all right. Go get some work in tomorrow, come out firing again.”
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who will join Butler in the All-Star Game, had 16 points and 19 rebounds against the Nets for his NBA-leading 43rd double-double.
Atlanta has dropped three straight and suffered lopsided losses in four of its past five games after keeping things close most of the season.
The most recent loss was 129-104 at home on Saturday to the Washington Wizards, who were without All-Star guard John Wall.
“I think everybody just picked up the slack,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said after Washington matched its season-high with 18 3-pointers.
Hawks backup point guard Malcolm Delaney said, “We played bad. They played great.”
Despite their far different records, the first-place Timberwolves and last-place Hawks have the same record against the opposite conference. Minnesota is 8-11 against the East and Atlanta is 8-11 against the West.
The games at Atlanta and Toronto complete a stretch of seven road games out of nine for the Raptors, who are 8-0 at home this month. One of the victories was 115-109 over the Raptors on Jan. 20.
The Hawks, who complete a stretch of nine games out of 10 at home against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, play at Minnesota on March 28.
Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins matched Butler’s 21 points against Brooklyn and has tied or been the team’s leading scorer in four of five games after doing so just once over the previous 24.
Wiggins averaged 25.8 points in the four games Butler missed.
The Timberwolves defeated the Hawks 82-84 in Atlanta and 104-90 in Minnesota last season.