LOS ANGELES – 20 points behind at 15 points and barely seven minutes into the match, Tom Thibodeau, after a break
called for so much at the Western Conference playoff race, Minnesota Timberwolves coach left nothing to chance. Fortunately for Thibodeau and the Timber Wolves, they had Jimmy Butler back and the injury-battered Lakers lost another body when Kyle Kuzma suffered a slight ankle sprain and was eliminated in the third quarter. With Butler handsome, the Timberwolves sent the Lakers, 113-96, to break a two-game losing streak.
Minnesota improved to 45-35 and holds on to a half-game lead over the Denver Nuggets for eighth and final place in the Western Playoff Races. The Wolves still have two games against Memphis Grizzlies and Denver, both at home.
After missing 17 Meniscuss games in his knee after an operation, Butler scored 7 out of 10 field goals and scored 18 points in 23 minutes. The only thing Butler smelled was his free throw when the 86.5-percent free-throw shooter missed four out of eight attempts from the line.
Jeff Teague had 25 points and eight assists and Karl -Anthony Towns put on 14 points and 11 rebounds after a slow start. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolves. All five Wolves starters scored double-digit numbers.
Julius Randle scored 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who are on frustrations due to injuries. The Lakers, already without Lonzo Ball (knee pain), Brandon Ingram (concussion) and Isaiah Thomas (hip), lost to Kuzma in the third quarter after trying to play a slightly sprained ankle.
Minnesota, Thibodeau could not have recaptured Butler at a better time, with a playoff spot in the balance.
"Probably the biggest thing is the harshness," Thibodeau said, which the team had missed as Butler injured his knee at the end of February. "If you look at the games at the end of the games, those are his games, he's the guy who comes with every big rebound, loose ball, whatever the game needs."
"You do not replace a guy so individually. You have to do it collectively, and I thought for the most part that our people did that. Our boys fought like mad to keep us in position. "