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Jimmy Butler sparks Minnesota Timberwolves to crucial victory in return from knee injury

Jimmy Butler scored 18 points in his return from right knee surgery and set the tone defensively Friday night in the Timberwolves’ 113-96 victory over the Lakers.

Butler was inserted into the starting lineup, played 22 minutes and was 7 for 10 from the field with two rebounds, one assist and four steals in his first game since getting hurt against Houston on Feb. 23. He had surgery two days later to repair a partially torn meniscus and missed 17 games.

Butler looked winded at times, which is understandably given the six-week layoff from game action.

“I felt tired … out there missing free throws,” Butler said. “But all in all, we got the victory as a team. I’m happy we won.”

Minnesota improved to 45-35 and holds a half-game lead over the Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Wolves host Memphis on Sunday and then host Denver on Wednesday in the regular-season finale, which could be an elimination game.