The Timberwolves carried on with the unrelenting business of playing basketball amid the coronavirus pandemic that had avoided infecting their team for a while but rocked them to the core on Friday when Karl-Anthony Towns, whose mother and multiple family members died of COVID-19, announced he tested positive.
Because of NBA protocols the Wolves had to test at 11 p.m. Sunday night after arriving in Atlanta then again at 7 a.m. before playing Monday afternoon against the Hawks, coach Ryan Saunders said.
The Wolves looked like a team that has been through a lot in the last 72 hours — and a team that sorely misses Towns' presence on the court — in a 108-97 loss to Atlanta.
Befitting an afternoon start time, when some players might otherwise be taking post-practice or pregame naps, the teams combined for an unsightly 44 turnovers, and the Wolves couldn't capitalize on the 26 Atlanta committed.
The Hawks entered having lost six of their past seven; the Wolves have now lost nine of 10, most of those without Towns.
The good news for the Wolves was that their number of players out because of COVID protocols remained unchanged from last week: Towns, Juancho Hernangomez and Ricky Rubio. The Wolves had everyone else available to play after a trying couple of days.
"I think the guys have handled it better than a lot of people would," Saunders said. "They haven't complained."
The only complaining Monday was lamenting a game that was there but got away. D'Angelo Russell scored 31 points, but the Wolves didn't have another player hit double figures until late in the fourth quarter as Malik Beasley finished with 15 and Anthony Edwards had 12. The Wolves shot just 40% from the floor as they squandered opportunities to make a run given Atlanta's sloppy care of the basketball.
"I thought our group, we tried when it came to the defensive end, when it came to making the right plays offensively," Saunders said. "We had some shots that didn't fall, too, and we had some miscommunication defensively, but it's just about keep working to stay together, and we don't have a group that's splintering or anything."
When Towns is out, the Wolves need another offensive fulcrum along with Russell to help compensate for Towns' missing production. Beasley is the natural fit, but Beasley continued his struggles on the road after playing well at home. Beasley shot just 5-for-17. He is shooting 55% at Target Center, 32% on the road.
"Still trying to figure it out," Beasley said. "Everything happens for a reason. Got to put in the work, maybe get in more reps, just try to figure it out. I'm not worried about it."
The Hawks starting lineup accounted for 100 of their 108 points, with DeAndre Hunter leading Atlanta with 25. Clint Capela added 23 points and 15 rebounds as he took advantage of a thin Wolves frontcourt that started Naz Reid and Jarred Vanderbilt with Hernangomez and Towns out.
The Wolves return home to play three more games in four days. It's unlikely Towns will be available for any of those as he has to isolate at least 10 days, according to NBA testing protocol.
So like they did when Towns was out because of a left wrist dislocation, they have to find a way to win without him. They have only done so once in eight tries.
"It's always tough when a player goes down, especially somebody who's lost a lot of people from what's going on," Beasley said. "But as a whole, we've got to stay together as a team and provide for each other, even when he's not here."
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.