Andrew Wiggins left Minnesota’s arena on Monday night with the hope that Denver would lose and Brooks Reed Jersey , thus, secure the Timberwolves a spot in the playoffs.
He planned to track the Nuggets on his smartphone like most of his teammates, but there was no viewing party in the works or anxious huddle around the high-definition television in the locker room.
The Timberwolves mostly were just relieved they did their part by beating Memphis, considering way they’ve playing lately.
”It’s our fault for leaving it up to chance,” Wiggins said. ”So we’ve just got to wait and see.”
Fittingly for a once-promising season that has become a slog to the finish, the Wolves wound up watching the Nuggets rally past Portland about an hour after they left the court at Target Center. That kept Denver tied with Minnesota at 46-35 for eighth place in the Western Conference with two days remaining on the schedule.
Well, guess who their final opponent is? The Nuggets will bring a six-game winning streak to Target Center on Wednesday night.
”If it was easy it wouldn’t be fun,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said after practice Tuesday. ”If it was easy it wouldn’t be the Minnesota way.”
The Wolves’ last trip to the playoffs ended with a loss in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals in 2004, when Kevin Garnett was patrolling the post. Towns? He was 8 years old. Wiggins was 9.
”They’ve prepared themselves all year for this,” coach Tom Thibodeau said, expressing confidence in the team’s young cornerstones to perform up to the task despite missing critical postseason experience.
With the Nuggets and Wolves only one game behind New Orleans, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the winner could receive quite the reward. Both Denver and Minnesota can still finish as high as fifth.
There’ll be some relief and satisfaction just to be part of the 16-team tournament after the 82-game grind Muhammad Wilkerson Jersey , but avoiding the eighth seed and a matchup with league-leading Houston would be preferable. Same goes for seventh place and pairing with defending NBA champion Golden State, a daunting foe even if star Steph Curry isn’t cleared yet to return from his knee injury.
The Wolves were in control of a spot in the playoffs, as high as third place, for most of this season until Jimmy Butler’s absence began to catch up to them and their primary competitors in the West cranked up their games. The Wolves have won both games with Butler back from the meniscus cartilage injury in his right knee, after going 8-9 without him, but losing at home to the Grizzlies two weeks ago even with their emotional leader and best all-around player missing was still inexcusable. Just one more win, and they’d already be safely in.
Nothing ever comes easy for this snake-bitten franchise, though, a history that Towns and Wiggins are well aware of.
”I’ve been here my whole career now,” Wiggins said. ”So it’s about time we do something.”
The Nuggets have their own long-frustrated fan base, with their last appearance in the playoffs coming in 2013. The last time they passed the first round was 2009, one of the franchise’s three trips to the Western Conference finals since joining the NBA. The others were in 1978 and 1985.
Seven of Denver’s last nine opponents are headed to the playoffs. The other two were against the Timberwolves, without Butler Eli Manning Jersey , and the Los Angeles Clippers, the only other teams in the league that haven’t clinched but sport winning records. The Nuggets eliminated the Clippers (42-39) by beating them on Saturday.
They’ve had to do this the hard way, too.
”We wouldn’t want it any other way,” guard Gary Harris said.
The Nuggets have produced a remarkable series of clutch performances, with fourth-quarter moxie pushing them to this point as much as any specific skill or strength. They held the Blazers to just 33 points in the second half on Monday night, further galvanizing their belief that not only can they make the playoffs but be a factor once they begin.
”It’s as high as it can be,” coach Mike Malone said. ”I don’t know if it can get any higher. To not play your best basketball and still find ways to win is a really encouraging and confidence-building type of feel.”
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.
MINNESOTA (14-3) vs. PHILADELPHIA (14-3)
Sunday, 6:40 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE – Vikings by 3 1/2
RECORD VS. SPREAD – Minnesota 12-4-1, Philadelphia 11-5-1
SERIES RECORD – Tied 13-13
LAST MEETING – Eagles beat Vikings 21-10, Oct. 23, 2016
LAST WEEK – Vikings beat Saints 29-24; Eagles beat Falcons 15-10
AP PRO32 RANKING – Vikings No. 2, Eagles No. 5
VIKINGS OFFENSE – OVERALL (11) Russell Bodine Jersey , RUSH (7), PASS (11).
VIKINGS DEFENSE – OVERALL (1), RUSH (2), PASS (2).
EAGLES OFFENSE – OVERALL (7), RUSH (3), PASS (13).
EAGLES DEFENSE – OVERALL (4), RUSH (1), PASS (17).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES – Eagles are 3-0 vs. Vikings in playoffs. … Vikings seeking first trip to Super Bowl in 41 years. Eagles seeking first Super Bowl appearance in 13 years. Neither team has won a Super Bowl. … Vikings are 6-16 on road in playoffs. … Vikings were 6-2 on road this season. … Minnesota led NFL in fewest yards allowed per game (275.9) for first time since 1993 and also allowed fewest points (15.8). … Vikings held opponents to 25.2 percent conversion on third downs, best mark in league. … Offense converted 43.5 percent on third down, third in league. … QB Case Keenum was second in NFL with 67.6 completion percentage. … RB Latavius Murray had 842 yards rushing and eight TDs. RB Jerick McKinnon had 570 yards rushing and three TDs. … WR Adam Thielen was fifth in NFL with 1,276 yards receiving and eighth with 91 receptions. … DE Everson Griffen tied for fourth in league with career-high 13 sacks. … LB Eric Kendricks has led team in tackles each of his first three seasons. His brother, Mychal Phil McConkey Jersey , is LB for Philadelphia. … All-Pro S Harrison Smith tied career high with five picks. … WR Stefon Diggs had 137 yards receiving vs. Saints last week, including 61-yard game-winning reception on final play. … Eagles have reached conference championship six times since 2000, most appearances by NFC team in that span. … Eagles in NFC championship game for first time since losing 32-25 at Arizona on Jan. 18, 2009. … Eagles host NFC title game for first time since beating Atlanta 27-10 on Jan. 23, 2005. … Philadelphia is 14-7 at home in playoffs, including 5-3 at Linc. … Eagles are 14-3 at home under coach Doug Pederson, best home record in NFL over last two seasons. … Philly has outscored opponents 244-117 at home this season. … QB Nick Foles set franchise playoff record with 76.7 completion percentage vs. Falcons. … Foles has completed 46 of 63 (73 percent) for 441 yards, two TDs, no picks and 102.7 passer rating in two playoff starts. … RB LeGarrette Blount scored ninth career postseason rushing TD last week. … RB Jay Ajayi had 98 scrimmage yards (54 rushing, 44 receiving) vs. Atlanta. … K Jake Elliott’s 53-yard field goal vs. Falcons last week was longest in team’s postseason history. Elliott is 6 of 7 from 50 or more yards, but he’s 39 of 43 on extra points and missed one against Atlanta.
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