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Timberwolves must 'circle the wagons' without Jimmy Butler

Oct 5, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Tibodeau in the third quarter against Oklahoma City Thunder at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves certainly look like they miss Jimmy Butler.

Since scoring a surprise win over Golden State in its preseason opener, Minnesota has been less than impressive, and that's putting it kindly.

The Wolves haven't stopped anyone, haven't moved the ball and haven't won any of their past three games. Andrew Wiggins has been largely ineffective and Karl-Anthony Towns has yet to record a positive plus-minus this preseason. It is just preseason, but it is also a bad look.

"I feel like everyone is trying to get back in rhythm," Wiggins said. "I feel like KAT had a really good preseason. I feel like everyone else is trying to get back in rhythm and get themselves going."

They're trying to do so without Jimmy Butler, who coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed is still excused from the team as the Wolves attempt to find a suitable trade for the All-NBA guard. Butler's absence is what Thibodeau said is currently "best for the team."

"That's the important thing for everyone to understand," Thibodeau said. "If that means he's here, then he'll be here. If it means he's not here, then he's not here. So just focus on what we have."

What the Wolves currently have is a group that seems to be struggling to mesh just one week ahead of its regular-season opener in San Antonio. Thibodeau said Minnesota needs to continue to focus on improving and making corrections, something this week of practice gives the Wolves an opportunity to do after the team just completed a stretch in which it played three games in five days. Taj Gibson said the team's "progress is getting there."

"We just have to play a lot harder," Gibson said. "It's different from working out in the summer, trying to get your body right. The game speed is going up. Guys are starting to compete more and more as the preseason goes on; we still have to work some kinks out."

The Wolves are at the disadvantage of trying to prepare for the season with the questions of Butler looming over them. Thibodeau brushes off the notion of Butler's situation being a distraction. That's life in this league.

"In the NBA, there could be a distraction every day," Thibodeau said. "Just stay focused, focus on the guys that are here, get ready for the season, don't get sidetracked, lock into what we have to do."

Easier said than done.

"It's tough but you have to just circle the wagons, like Thibs said," Gibson said. "I'm just focusing right now on whoever is here because you have to understand we have a strong group of guys that come in here, put a lot of time and work in. I'm just focused on the guys that are here and trying to have fun with them."

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