Sunday, the Vikings and Timberwolves won easily.

Big deal?

Maybe.

But I think it's a better deal for the Wolves.

The Vikings have dominated their last three opponents and will enter the playoffs not having lost since Dec. 10 or beaten a good team since Dec. 3. They should be mentally rested and as physically healthy, following the bye week, as an NFL team can be in January. Whether the ease of their final schedule is beneficial or not remains to be seen.

Sunday afternoon, the Timberwolves blew out a good Indiana team on the road, although the quality of the victory is diminished by the absence of Pacers star Victor Oladipo.

The Wolves have played a tremendous number of close games, and have begun to win their share as Jimmy Butler has asserted himself as a closer.

In the NBA, during an 82-game schedule featuring back-to-backs, winning big, to me, is vital.

Lost in the debate about the way Tom Thibodeau piles minutes on his starters is that they have failed to win enough games by blowout to allow Thibodeau to empty his bench. That happened against Indiana, and all of a sudden the starters spent the fourth quarter watching bench players eat up minutes and get into the flow of a game.

When the Wolves play with intensity, they are capable of winning big every two weeks or so. And if they do, their starters' minutes will be reduced, their bench will be better prepared to contribute and the entire team can avoid the stress of a close game in which every play will be scrutinized.

Butler's next teaching point for his team should be that: Play hard from the start, win by blowout whenever possible, and everyone benefits.

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Happy New Year. Thanks for reading throughout 2017. We've built a strong staff at the Star Tribune, and we've covered the Vikings with a breadth and depth that is not close to being matched by any other outlet in the Twin Cities. Please pick up today's paper for proof.

@Souhanstrib

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