Timberwolves, coping without Butler, visit Jazz
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SALT LAKE CITY -- Losing a leading scorer can be detrimental to any team. So far, the Minnesota Timberwolves have done a decent job of pressing forward in Jimmy Butler's absence.
The Timberwolves have posted a 2-1 record since losing Butler to a meniscus injury in his right knee. They come to Salt Lake City looking to notch yet another win over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
Butler is expected to be sidelined indefinitely while he recovers after undergoing surgery Sunday. It makes holding onto third place in the Western Conference a long-term challenge. The forward led Minnesota with 22.2 points per game in 56 games. He also contributed 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
His injury comes at a time when the schedule takes a considerably more difficult turn. Starting with Portland, which defeated Minnesota 108-99 on Thursday night, the Timberwolves face eight straight opponents in March with records above .500.
"It only gets tougher from here," guard Jamal Crawford said at Thursday's shootaround. "Each game will get a little bit tougher, but we'll continue to try to follow that blueprint. Obviously, no one person can replace Jimmy, so we'll lean on each other."
Minnesota (38-27) certainly isn't lacking offensive firepower in Butler's absence. Five other players are scoring in double figures -- headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns and his 20.5 points per game. The Timberwolves figure to lean more heavily on Towns, and Andrew Wiggins, over the next few weeks to pick up the slack.
A dip in offensive production could be a concern for the Timberwolves on the defensive side of the things. Minnesota allows 106.9 points per game and ranks among the bottom five teams in the NBA in defensive rating.
"I always feel like we have a lot of scorers," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said at Thursday's shootaround. "We're going to score the ball. It's the defensive part that always concerns me. It's something we have to continue to work on every day and try to get better at it."
Utah is looking to catch lightning in a bottle again like it did before the All-Star break. The Jazz (31-30) have lost two of their last three contests in part because their offense has seized up like a car engine on a cold morning at inopportune times.
Turnovers have been a major issue for Utah. The Jazz have averaged 18.0 turnovers in their last three games and had 42 combined turnovers in losses to Portland and Houston.
Utah had three days to practice since Monday's 96-85 loss to the Rockets and it helped the Jazz address some of the underlying issues contributing to sloppy play in recent games.
"We got after it, we competed," guard Donovan Mitchell said after Thursday's practice. "The biggest thing we reflected on was our turnovers and understanding why we had them. Getting back to the way we played is the biggest thing. After the All-Star break, you could sense a little different team."
Getting Mitchell back on track could help Utah solve some of its problems. The first-year guard earned NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for the third consecutive month after averaging 21.4 points (best among all rookies), 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.3 steals in 34.6 minutes in February.
His production tailed off against the Rockets. Mitchell tallied a season-high eight turnovers. He also shot 1 for 9 from 3-point range.
Minnesota has already beaten Utah twice this season. The Timberwolves most recent win over the Jazz was a 109-98 victory on Nov. 13. Towns led the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Updated March 2, 2018