The Timberwolves assembled for practice Sunday confident that the COVID-19 situation that forced the postponement of Friday's game has been contained and that Monday afternoon's game at Atlanta will be played.
"We'll continue to follow all the league guidance and the league protocols for us to be flying to Atlanta," Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said before practice. "We're continuing to go through that process right now. We'll get our work in here."
Juancho Hernangomez and Ricky Rubio had already been ruled out for health concerns before Friday's announcement that the Wolves' game with Memphis at Target Center that night had been postponed. That was followed by star center Karl-Anthony Towns announcing he had tested positive for the virus, which has already ravaged his family; his mother, Jacqueline Cruz, died of the virus, as did six other family members.
Wolves President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas subsequently said there had been two positive tests on the team and another player involved in contact tracing.
When the team released its injury report for Monday's game, Towns, Hernangomez and Rubio were listed as out while following the league's health and safety protocols. But it appears the rest of the team, at least in terms of the virus, is expected to be available for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinée. The Wolves posted photos on Twitter of players boarding the flight to Atlanta.
Now the team has to work on trying to win without Towns for the near future while doing what it can to support him during this difficult time.
"It's tough on a number of levels," Saunders said. "The most important thing is the health and safety of our guys. But then you peel back another layer, for this to happen to someone like Karl, who has endured so much during this time, during the COVID-19 ordeal, it's heartbreaking. But we'll be there for him."
Saunders said Towns has handled his diagnosis well, saying he has noticed a maturity in him.
"He wants to know how the other guys are doing," Saunders said. "That's something you want out of a leader. But that's also something you want out of a person who is in your life. So he's working to get back to where he can be around us again."
The team, meanwhile, is there for Towns. "We're with him," said Josh Okogie, who was listed as probable on the injury report as he continues to rebound from a hamstring injury. "We're praying for him. For sure COVID has really affected him a long way. But if there's anybody that can get through it, it's him."
Saunders praised the work of Dr. Robby Sikka, the team's vice president of basketball performance and technology, and head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam. But the recent outbreak shows just how difficult it is to contain the virus.
"I think it's an eye-opening moment," Saunders said. "Just another reason why mask wearing is so important and why it's likely helped us in a lot of ways."
On the court the Wolves will be without Towns for a second stretch this season. The team is 2-2 with him in the lineup but 1-6 without him.
"We're more than capable [of winning]," Okogie said. "A lot of teams that miss their starting guy are still able to get some wins. Why can't we? We have to find a way to adjust and try to get a win for these guys."