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SALT LAKE CITY — The last time the Utah Jazz played the Minnesota Timberwolves, all the attention went to what came out of the Minnesota locker room after Patrick Beverely and Anthony Edwards had some less-than-flattering words for Rudy Gobert.
On Thursday, it was less about what the Timberwolves were saying and more about who was actually playing.
The recent COVID-19 surge that has steadily spread throughout the NBA has hit Minnesota hard. Seven Timberwolves players missed Thursday's game due to being placed in the league's health and safety protocols.
Among them were Karl-Anthony Towns, Beverley, Edwards and Jarred Vanderbilt — four of Minnesota's regular starters.
Considering the circumstances, it may come as a surprise to hear Jazz coach Quin Snyder call Utah's 128-116 victory over the severely short-handed Wolves a "a really good win."
But when you think back to past games against similarly depleted rosters that have ended in Jazz losses, it makes sense — especially since Thursday's game had all the makings of yet another upset.
The Jazz (22-9) struggled to contain Malik Beasley and D'Angelo Russell. Beasley had 33 points and Russell had 19 points and 14 assists.
"If you have an All-Star caliber point guard that's capable of a big, big night and that puts a lot of pressure on your defense," Snyder said.
That's especially true when that defense went through long portions of the game — mostly with Jordan Clarkson and Hassan Whiteside — looking downright uninterested. There are obvious reasons for that. It's human nature for a dip to occur when you're up against the likes of Nathan Knight and Jake Layman opposed to Towns and Edwards. And there was never a time the Wolves looked capable of stopping Utah.
The Jazz almost casually put up an offensive rating of 124. It may be a dangerous precedent to think you can always outscore a team no matter what's happening on the other end, but for the most part the Jazz can.
Donovan Mitchell had 28 points and seven assists, and Rudy Gobert finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds in the win.
"We've lost some of these games before so we know how much it doesn't really matter in the NBA, who you play against and how many guys are injured and we know that we really have to worry about ourselves," Gobert said. "We played with fire a little bit, but for the most part, I thought we played the right way."
After Minnesota cut Utah's lead to 7 points with 5:30 remaining, Utah's stars took over. Mike Conley scored 8 of his 20 points down the stretch, Mitchell added 7 during the final minutes, and even Gobert banked in a jump shot to help put the Wolves away.
But after the game, the conversation turned to the reason why it was such a unique game: the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The NBA has changed rules when it comes hardship players and protocols as they've tried to keep the season uninterrupted with the variant spreading quickly throughout the league. Over the last week, the league has seen outbreak after outbreak among teams. The Jazz have been one of the few that have not been affected — at least not yet.
"I think we're all kind of prepared for, at some point, it to creep in," Conley said. "Because it's everywhere and right now it is on all of us to be responsible and try to practice our social distancing."
A couple positive tests from media members earlier this week pushed media interviews back to Zoom, and the team has been more careful when it comes to masking. Still, there's only so much they can control. They're taking planes, buses and playing in front of thousands of fans. There's a feeling of inevitability to the situation. Eventually, someone on the team will test positive.
"Some things that you can't avoid, but you can try to reduce the chances obviously and that's what we've been doing," Gobert said.
That certainly helped the Jazz get a win on Thursday.