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Lakers vs. Timberwolves Preview: Who is even going to play in this one?

The Lakers are coming off their most resilient performance of the season, headlined by the Austin Reaves game-winner against the Mavericks. They’ll now have to overcome a depleted roster due to COVID-19 and injuries as they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This preview was originally written before the rash of COVID and injury news around the Lakers (and NBA). Here is who is currently available for the Lakers, as of 3:36 p.m. PT on Friday:

Original story follows.

It’s time for a hot take. COVID-19 sucks. For way bigger reasons than basketball, but like it has touched every other aspect of our lives, also for basketball reasons. The Los Angeles Lakers were fresh off their most exciting win of the season, a 107-104 overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks that included one of the more shocking game-winning 3-pointers you’ll see from scrawny undrafted rookie Austin Reaves.

But that excitement has quickly turned into sadness, as it was reported earlier today that Russell Westbrook and Avery Bradley would be entering health and safety protocols. They join Talen Horton-Tucker and Dwight Howard, both of whom were added on Tuesday. Assistant coach Phil Handy and Spectrum SportsNet broadcaster Bill MacDonald were also added to protocols shortly before tip-off against the Mavericks, and so it seems the Lakers have a full-on outbreak on their hands.

In the Adam Sandler-led comedy ‘Happy Gilmore’, Shooter McGavin — the villain of the movie — is forced to hit a golf ball off a large man’s foot after it landed there on Shooter’s previous stroke during the movie’s climactic match. Later, Shooter points out this previous inconvenience to the rule-makers of the tournament after Happy desires a postponement of the tournament when a ton of scaffolding falls in between his ball and the final hole.

“He has to play the ball as it lies. No, I had to hit it off of Frankenstein’s fat foot, remember? Those are the rules.”

And whether the league should shut down or not, there is no league shutdown in sight. So just like Happy, the Bulls, the Hornets, and other COVID-19-affected NBA teams have had to, the Lakers will also have to “play the ball as it lies,” and soldier on as all teams are forced to play their games if they have at least eight players available, even during outbreaks. The Lakers are not in as dire of straits as the Bulls — who have had three rescheduled games recently — as they still have 11 available players, but it doesn’t mean this game isn’t going to be very, very strange.

What the hell is this going to look like?

The Lakers may not be as down bad as the Bulls were leading up to their postponed games, but boy are they close. Those 11 available players cited above include their pair of two-way players in Jay Huff and Chaundee Brown, Jr. In addition, even earlier than the Westbrook and Bradley news, was the breaking reports that the Lakers would be signing Isaiah Thomas to a 10-day, hardship exception contract. The news was met with skepticism initially, but now it all makes sense.

Will Thomas fly to Minneapolis for the game and suit up? Will he even be officially signed before the game? Will we see Brown and Huff in their first regular season action for the Lakers? Are we going to see Rajon Rondo play 30 minutes? Am I going to play 30 minutes?

Unfortunately, these are the types of questions we have to ask. It’s one thing that DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore will be getting a decent amount of minutes after being banished from the rotation over the past few weeks. It’s a whole other issue when a player like Rondo, who also has found himself out of the rotation, might start with no real answer as to who the other point guards will be, aside from James and (maybe) Malik Monk, who was able to clear COVID protocols on Thursday night.

Unfortunately, this weirdness and unpredictability is just the reality of this season. Not only for the Lakers, but for all other teams in the NBA. Hopefully this is the end of players hitting the protocols for the Lakers, hopefully all their guys that did test positive continue to be asymptomatic and recover quickly, and hopefully they can try and figure out some sort of planned rotation for this game against the Timberwolves as well as the next few after that.

But even if they do all that, be prepared for this to be an ugly one, and cut the team some slack if it is. The Lakers, just like the rest of us, are just trying to get through all of this, and there are bigger things than basketball right now. Stay safe out there.

Notes and Updates:

  • Around the league, COVID-19 is hitting everyone hard. The Nets barely had eight available players the other night, Giannis Antetokounmpo entered protocols on Tuesday, and the Sacramento Kings are having an outbreak. If you go to the Twitter feeds of NBA Insiders, COVID-19 news is basically every other Tweet. It’s not good!

Barring any last minute postponement due to the Lakers having more players added to protocols, the Lakers and T’Wolves will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN (for some reason), and also locally on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Donny on Twitter at @donny_mchenry.

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