The Wolves have been a shell of themselves since Jimmy Butler’s injury. They could miss the playoffs if he doesn’t come back in time.

The Timberwolves suffered a disappointing loss to the Denver Nuggets late Thursday night. Now, a once shoo-in for a top-four playoff spot in the Western Conference has fallen to the No. 8 seed and has a real shot at missing the playoffs, yet again.

How did this happen?

The Wolves were one of the more active teams this summer, trading Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to the Bulls for Jimmy Butler. As Minnesota’s leader, he led them to a 36-26 record to start the season.

But Butler tore the meniscus in his right knee on Feb. 24 and hasn’t touched the court ever since. The Wolves have gone 8-9 since his injury, culminating with an awful loss to a Nuggets team in the playoff hunt on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets received Paul Millsap back from an early wrist injury, and the Utah Jazz darted up the standings once Rudy Gobert returned from knee injury in January. The Wolves had an injury to their best player at the worst possible time. Now, they’re playoff standing is in jeopardy.

Are the Wolves really about to miss the playoffs?

They’re on the brink of elimination. The Timberwolves are now tied with the Nuggets at a 44-35 record. Minnesota holds the tiebreaker over Denver, having beaten them twice this season, but both the Timberwolves and Nuggets have three games left on the schedule.

The season finale is Denver vs. Minnesota on April 11.

Another factor is the New Orleans Pelicans, who have moved up to No. 7 in the West with Minnesota’s loss. The Pelicans have three games left against the Suns, Warriors and Clippers. Any one of these three teams could be on the outside looking in with one too many losses to end the year.

The Timberwolves devolved from a West powerhouse to almost a lottery team when Butler went down with a torn meniscus. Butler now says he’s nearing a return, and his timing couldn’t be any more perfect.

Minnesota sees the Lakers and the Grizzlies — two lottery teams — before their season finale against the Nuggets. Denver has a much tougher road, having to go through the Clippers and the Trail Blazers if their last game against Minnesota is going to mean anything.

Either way, the bottom of the West has shaped into a wild battle royale, and one team is going to have its heart broken at the end of the season. The Wolves had better hope Butler is back and better than ever for their home stretch. If not, this could be one of the worst endings to what was supposed to be a success story this year.