Jace Frederick / St. Paul Pioneer Press
New Orleans players didn't hide their feelings on social media Sunday night, Jan. 21. While the Vikings were busy getting blitzed by Philadelphia, several Saints took to Twitter and made it clear they felt they would have given the Eagles a better bout. "Man we would have put up a better fight," Saints rookie Justin Hardee said.
PHILADELPHIA—The Vikings were favored to beat the Eagles on their home field Sunday night, Jan. 21, but it's easy to imagine a few ways in which Minnesota could lose. Maybe Case Keenum would throw a costly interception. Maybe a Vikings running back would lose an untimely fumble. Or maybe Kai Forbath would blow a crucial kick. The one certainty, though, was the Vikings defense. That unit would perform. It would keep the Vikings in any game. It always has. All season, that unit was invincible, untouchable, unbeatable.
MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Thibodeau has been quick to point to one stat all season long: the Timberwolves' offensive rating. It's one of Minnesota's most prolific numbers. Currently, the Wolves are averaging 110.5 points per 100 possessions, fourth best in the NBA. "Offensively we have a lot of things that we can do," Thibodeau said. "We've scored a lot all year. It's maybe not the way some people think you should do it, but I think it's the smart way to do it."
MINNEAPOLIS — Mike Winchell might have best described the feeling. In the movie "Friday Night Lights," the Permian Panthers quarterback is driving to an odd tiebreaker coin flip to see which two of three district teams are going to the playoffs when he asks his coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), a curious question. "You ever feel cursed, Coach?" Winchell asks.
MINNEAPOLIS — Fresh off his first game action in two weeks, Jeff Teague noted how poorly he shot free throws in Minnesota's win over Oklahoma City. Teague said he was like Shaquille O'Neal from the charity stripe. The legendary big man was legendarily bad at hitting the freebies. "Nah," Jimmy Butler shouted from across the locker room. "You was like Wiggs." Butler's not-so-subtle shot at Wiggins' free-throw shooting — which is at a career-low 62 percent this season — drew laughs from nearly everyone in the locker room, and big smiles from Teague and Wiggins.
MINNEAPOLIS—While much was made this week about Case Keenum's lack of playoff experience, he'd lived out the scenario at the end of Sunday's game many times—on the lawn of his childhood home. "Being a kid growing up, that's what you do in the backyard," Keenum said. "Thirty seconds to go, you're down by two, fourth quarter, playoffs, Drew Brees is the quarterback of the other team. That's what you dream about." And Keenum delivered a dream finish.
MINNEAPOLIS — No, the Timberwolves' blowout victory over Cleveland on Monday, Jan. 8, wasn't a playoff game, but Karl-Anthony Towns said the vibe at Target Center had that type of feel. As did the locker room prior to the game. Taj Gibson came to Minnesota primarily for the chance to reunite with coach Tom Thibodeau, whose guidance led Gibson to some of the best years of his career when the two were together in Chicago. After playing for two other coaches over the past two seasons, Gibson wanted to get back to something familiar.
MINNEAPOLIS—The first question sent LeBron James' way on Monday morning caused the best player on the planet to raise his eyebrows. "LeBron, when you look at this Timberwolves team, do you see a team that's on the rise? A young team that's going to threaten at some point here?" "Young team?" James responded. "They're not young anymore. Jimmy (Butler), Jamal (Crawford), Taj (Gibson), Aaron Brooks, Jeff Teague, they're not young anymore." James conceded that, while 37 years old, Crawford's face is at least still young.
MINNEAPOLIS — Twenty-six NBA lineups have played at least 180 minutes together this season. The best resides in Minnesota: It includes Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson and ... Tyus Jones. Yes, the Timberwolves' stars are better when they play with the third-year point guard from Apple Valley, Minn. In the 183 minutes Jones has spent on the court with the rest of the starters, the Timberwolves have outscored opponents by 23.3 points per 100 possessions, best among all five-man NBA lineups with at least 180 minutes together.
MINNEAPOLIS — With his Timberwolves leading the Lakers by 17 points with five minutes to play Monday night, coach Tom Thibodeau decided his team needed a stop. So he crouched down into a stance on the sideline and started to slide his feet. Not bad form for a guy two weeks shy of his 60th birthday. After the game, Thibodeau denied the action before smiling and stepping away from the podium, but the tape provides all the evidence you need. When asked about the coach's defense after the game, Jimmy Butler said he'd already heard about it.