LOS ANGELES —Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.
Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.
“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”
“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”
Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.
Three reasons to be excited about NBA All-Star Weekend
Usually, this spot is our three things to know from the night before in the NBA, but for one day we’re changing our focus onto something to look forward to — three things to be excited about for the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
1. Dunks and threes — All-Star Saturday night is better than the big game itself. We all know this is true, can we just admit it. Sure, the actual All-Star Game on Sunday has all the biggest names (of non-injured players) in one place, but it’s not basketball. Not in any sense we recognize. It’s an exhibition played with less defensive effort than the average pickup game at the Y. We get to see dunks and slick passes, but it feels hollow.
All-Star Saturday, on the other hand, is genuinely competitive. Light-hearted, skills competitions only, but at least genuinely competitive. It’s way more entertaining.
Then there’s the highlight of the night, the dunk contest — every year I get my hopes up (and most years those hopes get dashed). This one has serious potential. Three guards with mad hops — Victor Oladipo, Dennis Smith Jr., and Donovan Mitchell — and then Larry Nance Jr., who has had a couple of the best in-game dunks of the past two seasons (plus his dad won the Dunk Contest). This should be high-flying and intense.
It will be the best show of the weekend… well, outside the Kendrick Lamar performance across the street. It’s all the stuff around the big game that makes the weekend work.
But this All-Star Game is about the future — it’s already here and taking over the All-Star Game.
Sunday we will see All-Star first-timers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic. Then there are second-timers such Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s putting the best and brightest of the next generation out there on the big stage. Joel Embiid on this stage? He’s going to say/Tweet something that will have us talking all weekend. Even if the game and the Dunk Contest fall flat, Embiid alone will be worth the price of admission.
And that’s just the Sunday game — the Rising Stars game on Friday has Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Jamal Murray, Jayson Tatum, not to mention Smith Jr., Mitchell, and more. Sure, the Rising Stars game has less defense played than the All-Star Game — heck, the stationary defender cutouts used in Saturday’s Skills Competition may play better defense than we see in this game — but there is a raw energy in the USA vs. The World Rising Stars game that is just fun to watch.
3. The new All-Star Game format… it’s got to make the game better. Right? The last couple of years the All-Star Game has been such a dud in terms of effort, defense, and entertainment that the Chris Paul and the players’ union sat down with Adam Silver and the league office to figure out how to make it suck less. They decided to shake up the format.
No East vs. West. It’s Team LeBron versus Team Stephen Curry with teams those guys drafted (unfortunately behind closed doors, but the NBA will hopefully get that part right in the future). The draft already led to some drama — LeBron picking Kyrie Irving to be on his team, plus the reuniting of Durant and Westbrook on a team. James Harden throwing lobs to Joel Embiid. Antetokounmpo driving and dishing to Towns. There is so much potential with this format.
I doubt the addition of the increased payout to the winners ($100,000 per player) is going to motivate them much, and the winning team getting to donate more to charity is a nice touch but likely not doing too much. Rather, the hope is that pride — wanting to play for the guy that drafted you, against teammates and friends — will motivate the players. The dream is that will bring some level of effort and caring lacking in recent years.
We’ll see. I’m not sold. But it certainly can’t be worse.
Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler lead Timberwolves rally past Lakers, 119-111
Gibson scored a season-high 28 points and Butler added 24, providing the Timberwolves with the production and energy for a 119-111 comeback victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.
Butler and Gibson, the former Chicago teammates, muscled their way to the basket with a fierce determination down the stretch. Butler drove along the baseline and flicked a short pass to Gibson in the lane, where he dropped in a layup and converted a three-point play for a 110-104 lead with 3:59 left.
“What he and Jimmy have brought to the team has really changed things for us,” said Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who had them both with the Bulls. “Those guys, they weren’t going to let us lose.”
Jeff Teague pitched in 20 points and Jamal Crawford added 15 for the Timberwolves, who rallied from a deficit as large as 15 points in the second quarter and 12 points late in the third to raise their home record to 24-7 on an emotional evening that started with a tribute to former coach and executive Flip Saunders.
“I know how good we can be when we decide to play hard,” Butler said. “But we think that we’re so good on paper that we can just go through the motions.”
Ivica Zubac, who went 8 for 8 from the floor for a season-high 19 points, threw down a dunk for a 99-98 lead for the Lakers, but that was essentially their last momentum-creating play of the game.
“They’ve got some big-time closers on that team, starting with Jimmy Butler,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He kind of set the tone in the fourth with the way he played.”
Butler blocked shots by Randle and Isaiah Thomas on consecutive possessions in the closing minutes, putting his stamp on yet another winning performance.
“I think that’s what separates him as a superstar,” Crawford said. “Most guys, they do it on one end, but those types of plays, they’re immeasurable.”
This was a win the Wolves badly needed before the All-Star break, after their 13-game home winning streak ended in humbling fashion on Tuesday against Houston. They moved within percentage points of San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference at 36-25. The Spurs are 35-24.
The Lakers shot so sharply to start the game, going 17 for 27 from the floor in the first quarter, that the Wolves produced separate spurts of 23-8 and 21-6 in the first half yet still trailed 65-62 at halftime.
Randle had 10 points in the third quarter as the Lakers again pushed ahead. He drove and scored on Karl-Anthony Towns for an 86-76 lead, and a frustrated Towns was called for an offensive foul on Brook Lopez to erase a spin-move layup on the next possession.
But Crawford got the Wolves and the crowd going early in the fourth quarter, sandwiching a 31-foot swish by Tyus Jones with a pair of 3-pointers of his own. The second one came off a slick crossover dribble that deked Corey Brewer at the top of the key and brought the Wolves within 95-94.
Timberwolves raise Flip Saunders banner at Target Center
The Minnesota Timberwolves lost former coach and front office man Flip Saunders in 2015 after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The loss of Saunders hit the basketball community in Minneapolis hard, and on Thursday the team decided to honor his memory by raising a banner to the rafters at Target Center.
Fans were able to watch not only the raising of the banner, but speeches by people like Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Chauncey Billups.
Those in attendance also received a special coin, a tribute to those Saunders designed each season.