HOUSTON – Timberwolves four-time All Star Jimmy Butler didn’t bite after practice Saturday.
Then he did.
Houston reporters wanted him to wax nostalgic about his hardscrabble childhood growing up in nearby Tomball, Texas, before his Wolves play their first playoff game in 14 years, Sunday against the Rockets.
“I ain’t even going home,” he said.
Then somebody ticked off the names of some former high-school teammates and an assistant principal who temporarily have become Wolves fans because Jimmy Buckets has come home.
“I appreciate it,” Butler said. “I like all the love from Tomball. It’s special to know I’m from around this area and people still follow my career. Deep down, I’m still a kid from Tomball. I just might live in a different city now.”
His jersey hangs in the high-school gym there, and on Saturday he recalled walking the hallways imagining himself as Rockets star Tracy McGrady. He also confessed he had an autograph from Rockets star Aaron Brooks — now his Wolves teammate — once upon a time.
“That’s where it all started for me,” Butler said. “I was terrible then, by the way. But I really did walk around thinking I was Tracy McGrady. For good or bad, I don’t know, but I remember it like yesterday. I wanted to wear his number, his shoes, all that good stuff. Now I’ve got the opportunity to play in the league he played in.”
Karl-Anthony Towns helped deliver a promise he made to Flip Saunders, who drafted him in 2015, by getting the Wolves back to the playoffs for the first time since Saunders coached the team back in 2003-2004. Saunders died from cancer three days before Towns’ rookie season began.
“It means more than words can honestly tell,” Towns said. “It meant a lot to me to keep my word. My dad always told me your word is the most important thing you have. If I say it, I’m going to do it. I’m glad I was able to keep my word.”
Back in Houston
Brooks played for the Rockets two different times early in his career, including his first 25 playoff games. Now he’s a veteran locker-room presence nearing the end of his career.
“I’ve never been so relaxed for a playoff series,” he said. “I just want to mentor and tell them what I see and help. This role came a little sooner than I thought, but I’m embracing it and enjoying my time.”
• A matchup problem for the Wolves when he plays at center, Rockets shooter Ryan Anderson doesn’t appear ready for the series opener because of his sprained ankle, coach Mike D’Antoni said Saturday. “We’ll be very cautious,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think he’s quite ready for Sunday, but soon after.”
• Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins’ father Mitchell played for a Rockets team that reached the 1986 NBA Finals before it lost to Boston. “He told me to enjoy this, that the playoff experience is something I’ll never forget,” Wiggins said. “He always talks about back in the day when he went to the Finals.”
• Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, referring to GM Scott Layden after the Wolves did about as good as they could have Friday when they won tiebreakers to get the 20th pick in this summer’s draft, said: “Yeah, Scott was pleased. We’re not thinking about that, we’re thinking about the playoffs.”