Jimmy Butler Drops 32 as Timberwolves Beat LeBron James, Lakers
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 29: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends against Jimmy Butler #23 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter of the game on October 29, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 124-120 at home Monday at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Karl-Anthony Towns has gotten off to a slow start this season but looked good against the Lakers. He had 25 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, while teammate Jimmy Butler chipped in with a game-high 32 points.

Butler hit a three-pointer with 19.7 seconds remaining to help seal the victory.

LeBron James finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the loss. Brandon Ingram scored 24 points in his return from a four-game suspension.

      

Butler’s Big Game a Reminder Why Wolves Shouldn’t Trade Him

Every star-level performance from Butler is a double-edged sword for the Timberwolves. He solidifies his trade value were Minnesota to move him, but he also shows how much the team’s season hinges on his contributions.

Butler had four points on 2-of-11 shooting in the Timberwolves’ 125-95 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. He was locked in Monday.

The four-time All-Star played especially well in the fourth quarter. Gorgui Dieng tied the game at 99 with 9:42 left. Butler then scored 15 of Minnesota’s final 25 points. Even when he seemingly has one foot out the door, Butler can put the Timberwolves on his back and carry them to the finish line.

Minnesota may soon reach a breaking point where it has no other choice but to trade Butler. Towns is ultimately the franchise’s long-term foundation, and keeping Butler for the rest of the season could irreparably damage Towns’ development or lead him to seek a way out of Minnesota.

Towns didn’t look himself as the Wolves got off to a 2-4 start, and it wasn’t a coincidence his best offensive performance (31 points) came when Butler didn’t play in Minnesota’s 140-136 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

But having Towns go off in a defeat to a team that’s unlikely to reach the playoffs is an indication of how the year could unfold without Butler. Just look at how much the Wolves struggled to get into the postseason last season when Butler was out for a chunk of games in March.

Take Butler out of the mix entirely in an even stronger Western Conference, and a second trip to the playoffs would be unlikely.

      

Ingram, Kuzma Starting Lineup Flashes Big Potential

While Ingram was out suspended, Kyle Kuzma did nothing to warrant a demotion back to the bench. He averaged 22.7 points in Los Angeles’ last four games, a stretch that included a 37-point showing in the Lakers’ 143-142 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Prior to Monday’s game, Ingram indicated he expected to remain a starter when he returned to the court.

I’m not coming off the bench,” he said, per Bill Oram of The Athletic. “I don’t know the lineup, but I know I’ll be in it.”

Lakers head coach Luke Walton accommodated both players by putting them in the starting five, and the results were promising. In addition to Ingram’s solid performance, Kuzma posted 19 points and six rebounds.

Ingram and Kuzma played together a lot in 2017-18, but the Lakers became an entirely different team when James arrived in the offseason. The team’s priorities changed, and Walton had to start building his rotations with LeBron’s presence in mind.

It wasn’t lost on some how Ingram and James still have some kinks to work out.

But those are the kind of problems that come when you pair James with a younger player who had a starring role on a bad team. Shortly after he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, James openly discussed how he was making a concerted effort to help Cavs players break bad habits they built from years earlier.

Walton should continue rolling with Ingram and Kuzma in the starting lineup over the next week or so to see whether it’s something that can stick over the rest of the season.

      

What’s Next?

The Timberwolves host the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night in what should be an intriguing matchup between Western Conference playoff hopefuls. The Lakers head home for a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.

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