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Shorthanded Lakers mauled by Timberwolves

Karl-Anthony Towns dominated the COVID-19-stricken Lakers, snapping L.A.’s three-game win streak.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

With their roster decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak, the Lakers picked up their first loss in over a week at the hands of Minnesota Timberwolves, dropping the game 110-92 on the road.

A fired-up Karl-Anthony Towns carried the Timberwolves in the absence of fellow former No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards, who entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols himself on Thursday. Towns led all scorers with 28 points and thoroughly dominated the Lakers’ frontcourt.

LeBron James wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he has been in recent games, scoring 18 points on just 13 shot attempts. That was partly due to his picking up four fouls in the first half, forcing him to be less aggressive, especially on the defensive end.

After the Lakers went down by as much as 14 early in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook helped spark a 11-0 run, but the Wolves stormed back with a 10-0 run of their own thanks to Towns, and extended the lead back to double digits. They never looked back from there, going up by as many as 20 in the fourth quarter.

L.A. played its sloppiest game in a while, turning the ball over 18 times and allowing Minnesota to pull down 15 offensive rebounds, compared to just one offensive board for the Lakers. Though missing one of their three big men in Dwight Howard due to health and safety protocols — and losing Anthony Davis in the third quarter — the Lakers simply played with less energy and it showed throughout the game.

The Lakers were dealt another blow late in the first quarter when Davis rolled his right ankle hard while going for a rebound and headed to the locker room, leaving L.A. down another key player on a night when they were already severely shorthanded. Davis returned just before halftime after missing nearly a full quarter of action, but then went out again when Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels fell onto his knee, hyperextending it in the third quarter.

ESPN cameras caught Davis wincing in pain and having to sit down in the hallway on the way back to the locker room, so hopefully he’ll be able to avoid serious injury. The Lakers later announced that Davis has a left knee contusion and will undergo further tests.

There was one silver lining, though. After signing a 10-day contract with the Lakers via the hardship exception earlier on Friday, Isaiah Thomas played his first NBA minutes since a three-game stint with the Pelicans last spring, entering in the second quarter to a standing ovation on the road.

The former All-Star played about as well as could be hoped for in his return to the purple and gold, finishing with a team-high 19 points in 22 minutes and giving the Lakers a nice scoring bump off the bench.

After a crazy past two days full of players entering into, coming out of, and even going back into COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the Lakers were down five players due to the protocols — Howard, Austin Reaves, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley and Talen Horton-Tucker. They weren’t the only ones in the Lakers’ traveling party affected, as the injured Kendrick Nunn, assistant coach Phil Handy, lead Spectrum Sportsnet play-by-play broadcaster Bill Macdonald and Lakers radio analyst Mychal Thompson have also been placed in protocols over the past few days.

That left Frank Vogel with just two front-of-bench assistants — David Fizdale and Mike Penberthy — and just three local broadcasters on the call, with John Ireland bumped up to TV duty alongside Stu Lantz while Minnesota native and jack-of-all-trades Mike Trudell handled the radio call solo.

The Lakers now have just 10 “healthy” players if Davis misses time, and that includes Trevor Ariza, who is technically active but has yet to play this season as he continues to rehab from preseason ankle surgery, as well as both of L.A.’s two-way players, Chaundee Brown and Jay Huff, and Thomas, who they just signed off the street.

Everything in the NBA is in flux as we barrel towards the league’s marquee Christmas Day schedule with COVID-19 cases on the rise across the league (and the rest of the country). As of this writing, though, the Lakers are still slated to play the Chicago Bulls — who are dealing with an outbreak of their own and have already had several games delayed, including this one — on Sunday, with tip-off at 5 p.m. PT on Spectrum Sportsnet.

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