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Jimmy Butler cleared for contact drills with Timberwolves

Jimmy Butler on Friday reached a significant milestone in his recovery from right knee surgery by being cleared for contact drills.

The Minnesota Timberwolves star entered the American Airlines Arena locker room Friday morning ahead the team’s game against the Dallas Mavericks carrying a knee brace.

Butler originally suffered the knee injury in a game against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 23. He underwent surgery on the meniscus in his right knee two days later.

Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t minimize the significance of the development.

“It’s the first time for him,’’ Thibodeau said, via the Star Tribune. “He will take some contact today, and then we’ll see how he feels.’’

The report notes that Butler has been getting in some on-court work recently, which included some running and shooting work. But much work needs to be done before Butler returns to the lineup, although it has not been ruled out that he could return before the conclusion of the regular season. And Butler clearly is eager to get back.

“It’s him being ready to go,’’ Thibodeau said. “I want him to have confidence in his body that he can go again. So, usually, what happens is you’re doing the on-court stuff. You start with non-contact. Then you phase in the contact and you build up. You start with one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three and then the five-on-five. And, after each step, you have to see how it responds the next day. So far it’s been pretty good.’’

The Wolves clearly have missed Butler, going 7-7 in his absence. Minnesota, however, has remained in the thick of the playoff race in the loaded Western Conference. Heading into Friday’s NBA action, the Timberwolves (43-33) currently occupy the seventh seed, a half-game behind the New Orleans Pelicans but only a half-game up on the eight-seed Utah Jazz.

Butler’s return would undoubtedly improve Minnesota’s prospects. But with only six games remaining, the Timberwolves may have to punch their postseason ticket without Butler.