Jimmy Butler shook off a sore back last time out to reach 30 points for the fourth time this month and looks to stay hot when his Minnesota Timberwolves open a three-game road trip against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. Butler scored 37 points in the 108-107 victory over Portland on Monday and is averaging 25.8 in December while shooting 49.4 percent from the field.
“That’s Jimmy Butler right there,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told the Star Tribune after his team’s fourth win in the last six games. “His last 15 games or so, he’s been off the charts. It’s the toughness he brings in every possession. Special player.” The Timberwolves, who have not made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season, sit in the fourth spot in the Western Conference and the Nuggets are 1½ games behind them after dropping five of their last eight contests. Denver led by six going into the fourth quarter Monday at Oklahoma City before allowing Russell Westbrook to score 16 and managing 18 points itself in the final 12 minutes for a 95-94 setback. “There was a lot of a bad execution on both ends of the floor down the stretch,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters. “We’ve been pretty good in those situations so far this season. (Monday) was a step backwards, unfortunately.”
TV: 9 p.m. ET, FSN North (Minnesota), Altitude (Denver)
ABOUT THE TIMBERWOLVES (18-13): Butler has pushed his season scoring average to 20.1 with a hot month and he is second on the team behind center Karl-Anthony Towns (20.5), who has drained 9-of-17 from 3-point range the last three games. Small forward Andrew Wiggins is contributing 17.9 points per game, but has made just 9-of-30 from the field over the past two outings. Veteran reserve guard Jamal Crawford scored a season-high 23 in Monday’s win after managing only 10 combined over the previous three contests.
ABOUT THE NUGGETS (16-14): Power forward Trey Lyles has raised his production level over the last five games, averaging 17.6 points and shooting 64 percent from the field to add another offensive weapon. Guard Gary Harris leads the team in scoring (16.1) after averaging 20.6 and shooting 50 percent from the floor in the past five games while backcourt mate Will Barton (15.4) hopes to rebound from a 2-for-15 shooting performance. Center Nikola Jokic averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds in the last two games after missing seven with an ankle injury.
1. Minnesota PG Jeff Teague is in the top eight of the league in assists (7.1) and is shooting 52 percent from the field the last four games.
2. Denver G Emmanuel Mudiay (ankle), who averages 9.6 points, is questionable after missing Monday’s contest.
3. The Timberwolves have won the last two meetings after dropping five straight against the Nuggets.
PREDICTION: Timberwolves 111, Nuggets 99