D’Angelo Russell, Timberwolves guard (UP ⬆️)
Russell is taking the mantle of Minnesota’s closer. He leads the NBA with 43 points in the clutch -- defined as the final five minutes of a game when a team is leading or trailing by five points or fewer. In those crucial moments, DLo is draining 42% of his looks from beyond the arc -- he’s getting 3-pointers to drop at a 34% clip on the season. In the fourth quarter of Saturday’s double-overtime win over the 76ers, Russell shot 6-for-8 from the field and scored 15 points (the fourth highest scoring quarter of his career). He added 12 points -- including three 3-pointers -- and two assists, one block and one steal in bonus time. Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards are the league’s third-highest scoring trio (64.9 combined PPG).
Byron Buxton, Twins outfielder (UP ⬆️)
The man got paid. Buxton has agreed to terms on a seven-year, $100 million contract extension that includes a full no-trade clause. His 4.5 WAR in 61 games last season was the highest since 1900 (less than 70 games). “Buck Daddy” is coming off a career-best 19 home runs in 254 plate appearances. The news means we’ll be seeing plenty more Buxton bombs and acrobatic catches in center field. Frankly, it’s not a stretch to say that a healthy Buxton -- albeit he’s played more than 100 games just once in his career -- is a generational-type talent.
P.J. Fleck, Gophers head coach (UP ⬆️)
For starters, the Axe is home. Fleck led Minnesota to an upset win over rival Wisconsin in the regular-season finale. The victory was momentous for the Gophers for obvious reasons -- Minnesota hadn’t beaten the Badgers at home since 2003 and lost every matchup from 2004-17 -- and especially devastating for Wisconsin because it axed the chance to play for the Big Ten championship. Fleck has now beaten the Badgers twice, the same amount as predecessors Tracy Claeys, Jerry Kill, Tim Brewster and Glen Mason … combined. Oh, by the way, Fleck also celebrated his birthday Monday. Happy belated to the captain.
Jordan Greenway, Wild forward (UP ⬆️)
Minnesota’s 5-2 win over Arizona on Tuesday night was fueled by the “Big Rig.” Greenway tallied a goal and two assists, his first goal and first multi-point performance this season. In fact, his three points against the Coyotes matched his point production across his first 17 games played. Greenway’s average time on ice is down from last year -- 13:32 compared to 15:48 -- but he remains one of the Wild’s most physical players and a useful depth option in the center of the ice as evidenced Tuesday night.
Kene Nwangwu, Vikings running back (UP ⬆️)
If you hadn’t learned by now, Nwangwu is the real deal. He’s the third player to return multiple kicks for touchdowns in the same season -- joining Jacoby Jones (2012) and Cordarrelle Patterson (2013, 2015) -- since the play was moved to the 35-yard line. He possesses exceptional vision, speed to burn and subtle shiftiness, all traits that make a returner so dangerous. The rookie from Iowa State is averaging 41.3 yards per return but doesn’t qualify among league leaders because he’s fielded just eight kicks. That makes his two touchdowns even more absurd. Nwangwu may be asked to do more on offense over the next few weeks, as well, after starter Dalvin Cook exited Sunday’s loss to the 49ers with a shoulder injury.