Well look who’s finally back!

    Seems like the knee is okay there! This wasn’t the first time Butler sprang off the floor either. Earlier in the first half Butler elevated for another lob pass. He was sprinting around the floor and jumping passing lanes, looking like his same old self.

    There were times he looked absolutely exhausted, which is to be expected after six weeks off, but overall Butler battled throughout the game. The rust was evident early, but Jimmy looked more comfortable as the game rolled on.

    He ended up playing just 23 minutes, 14 in the first half and nine in the second, and finished with a well-rounded line. He had 18 points, two rebounds, one assist and four steals on 7-of-10 shooting. The weakest part of his game was his performance at the line, where he went just 4-of-8.

    For a time it looked like the Wolves were going to be in serious trouble. Through the first quarter they held a four-point lead and the starting lineup was fairly effective, especially with Butler feeling his way through the game.

    It took a bad turn, though, once the benches got involved. It’s happened countless times this season, the bench comes into the game and the offense comes to a screeching halt while the defense remains poor. If Jamal Crawford isn’t hitting shots it’s typically game over for the bench squad and tonight he was just 1-of-6 shooting.

    By the time the starters start to roll back in the offensive flow is gone and it takes time to adjust back. That’s exactly what happened to the Wolves in this one. The bench came through, KAT was in some foul trouble so he couldn’t support them, and the Wolves found themselves in a hole come halftime. They were outscored 32-21 in the second quarter.

    That sinking, hopeless feeling was starting to creep up once again. The Wolves just did not look like the team fighting for their playoff lives.

    Whatever happened at halftime needed to happen a few weeks ago. Coming out of the third quarter the Wolves looked like the team that tore through December and January. They dominated the Lakers, opening the third quarter on a 27-10 run fueled by the rejuvenated starting lineup. In the entire second half, the Wolves outscored the Lakers 62-38.

    The Lakers typically play a solid defense, and tonight it wasn’t their worst performance as they held the Wolves to just 43 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent from 3-point range. Their problem was their offense coughed up the ball way too many times, and their defense wasn’t able to generate any turnovers from the Wolves.

    The Lakers had 20 turnovers which led to 30 points for the Wolves, while only generating five turnovers on defense. In the entire second half the Wolves didn’t commit a single turnover.

    Besides containing Brook Lopez in the opening minutes, and Julius Randle for the remainder of the game, the Wolves’ defense was exceptional, one of their most complete efforts in some time.

    Lopez scored the first 15 points for the Lakers (in under six minutes), but finished with 18 points. Randle finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two assists on 5-of-11 shooting and 10-of-10 at the line.

    Outside of that duo, the Wolves held the rest of the Lakers to just 32.8 percent shooting and 14 turnovers.

    The Lakers have also been one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA since the All-Star break, and the Wolves held them to 33.3 percent shooting beyond the arc.

    It wasn’t always pretty, but this is the closest the Wolves have looked to their best in a long time. It’s no coincidence that it happened Butler’s return, and with a couple days off the rest he’s only going to get stronger.

    Don’t look now, but the Wolves could make a last-minute move in the standings. They’re still in eighth place in the West, but they’re a half game out of the fifth seed and a game and a half out of the fourth seed.

    The Thunder, Pelicans and Spurs are all in action tomorrow, the three teams that are a half game ahead of the Wolves, and the Nuggets face off with the Clippers. Then on Sunday the Jazz play the Lakers. Before the Wolves next game on Monday, the team could find themselves all the way up to fifth and just a game behind the Jazz for home-court advantage.

    What’s even more crazy is if the Thunder, Pelicans and Spurs all lose, and the Nuggets win, five teams will have identical 45-35 records with two to play. Bring on the chaos.

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