CM – Lakers navigate the NBA’s COVID-19 logs on a « Madness » Friday

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MINNEAPOLIS – When Frank Vogel woke up Friday morning he was pretty sure of two things about who he was going to play that night: Malik Monk was in the line-up and Russell Westbrook was out.

Monk had flown with the Lakers on their flight to Minneapolis, technically still in the league’s COVID-19 logs but allowing some leeway that seemed encouraging. Westbrook had stayed in Dallas with his fellow security guard, Avery Bradley. As far as Vogel knew, there was a « very small » chance that his 33-year-old Star Point Guard would come to the test in time.

Hours later, after Vogel snuck in for a quick pre-game nap, circumstances were intertwined: Westbrook was disfellowshipped, Monk was disfellowshipped, and Austin Reaves and Kendrick Nunn were added to the Lakers’ growing list of unavailable players recorded in the logs.

« You just tear up your game plan in terms of your substitution pattern and so on and you do it again, » said Vogel, throwing up his hands as he spoke to reporters just before the tip. « Personally, I don’t focus on things that I can’t control. »

The things the Lakers can control feel as lean as ever after a wild turn in the 24 hours leading up to the tip against the Timberwolves. As of Friday night, the Lakers had Reaves, Nunn, Bradley, Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard and Malik Monk still on logs, with only 12 players available (the NBA requires eight to play).

Above all, Monk was an unusual case: When the league gave him his travel permit after he had canceled the game in Dallas on Wednesday, the Lakers assumed that it was a preliminary stage of his play permit. Monk himself tweeted on Thursday evening: « I’m back ». He deleted the tweet on Wednesday morning and his way back to court derailed shortly thereafter.

One of the 12 available players was a newcomer who made his second appearance with the Lakers: The team signed Isaiah Thomas, 32, a 10-day contract by waiver of hardship. The 5-foot-9 security guard played for the Lakers for 17 games during the 2017-18 season after being traded by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. The following year, he struggled to regain his all-star form from his time in Boston; the Lakers signed him from Denver’s G League subsidiary.

Officially the signing took place on Friday afternoon, but the Lakers flew Thomas to Minneapolis on Thursday in anticipation of the deal. Vogel said his original intention was to split point guard minutes between him and Rajon Rondo. Westbrook’s unexpected return changed strategy.

« It’s crazy, » Vogel said, admitting the return of Westbrook as a relief. « I don’t know what the answer is but it’s not like anything I’ve seen or treated before as a coach, getting into games and guys just getting in and out of lineups. »

Their opponent had their own problems: It wasn’t until Friday morning that the Timberwolves found out that Anthony Edwards and Taurean Prince were going to miss the game after entering the NBA logs.

The team had announced just the day before that Westbrook had entered the NBA’s COVID-19 logs, requiring him to quarantine teammates and employees. Westbrook and his fellow launch supervisor, Avery Bradley, stayed in Dallas when the Lakers flew into Minnesota on Thursday afternoon.

Reaves, who hit the decisive shot on Wednesday evening in Dallas, has developed into a valuable role-player as a rookie. Nunn does not have to play in the regular season due to a persistent bone contusion in his knee.

The Lakers also played Trevor Ariza, who has not played this season due to ankle debridement surgery, for his first game. The team had no intention of playing against him, however, and preferred a gradual increase in playing time, much like Wayne Ellington had returned from an injury earlier this season. Ariza’s active status helped keep the bottom line of the Lakers, which included two-way players Chaundee Brown and Jay Huff.

The signing of hardship waivers like the Lakers deal for Thomas could become commonplace: ESPN reported that the NBA is discussing new guidelines requiring teams to sign 10-day players as the league has COVID- 19-related absences are often an attempt to avoid postponing further games.

In that regard, there was positive news for the Lakers’ immediate future: the Chicago Bulls were released for training on Saturday after postponing their last two games. The Lakers play against Chicago on Sunday night.

Whether this game takes place and who is suitable for it can change in the blink of an eye.
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