The NBA postponed the Celtics and Heat game on Sunday night after Miami returned an inconclusive test.
Miami became the third NBA team to have its roster thin to the brink of being unable to play. The 76ers faced Denver with seven players available because Mike Scott sat on the bench injured. Boston planned to play with eight players tonight with two injured and seven in COVID protocol. Then Miami fell below eight available players, due to contact tracing linked to an inconclusive test.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported the NBA has no plans to postpone its season even as COVID-19 envelops the league, and the Nets, Wizards and Nuggets have now faced teams with confirmed positives. Philadelphia and Denver needed to play Saturday’s matchup, or have Philly forfeit, with the NBA fearful of impacting competitive balance.
Now the league has stepped in, facing its first COVID crisis since leaving the NBA bubble. Avery Bradley entered the league’s protocol this afternoon, while Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard and Goran Dragic entered the day questionable for injuries.
That combination of physical and viral concerns also took out Boston’s roster over the weekend. Kemba Walker and Romeo Langford remain out injured. Jayson Tatum tested positive for COVID on Saturday and Robert Williams III on Thursday, after Boston returned from Miami. The Celtics then played the Wizards on Friday, landing Bradley Beal in the league’s protocol for his post-game conversation with Tatum, showing how three days can connect a handful of teams.
Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye and Javonte Green joined the NBA protocol after Tatum’s positive test and did not clear to play in Sunday’s game, likely ruling them out for the next week alongside Tristan Thompson and Grant Williams. Boston also shut down its practice facility, likely postponing Walker’s planned Friday return after the Celtics planned to integrate him into a week of practice.
Washington played Philadelphia two days prior to traveling to Boston, when Seth Curry had to be removed from the 76ers bench mid-game due to a positive test that returned late. Joel Embiid reportedly went into self-quarantine after sitting next to Curry on the bench, Ben Simmons hurt his knee during the Brooklyn game, while Tobias Harris and others entered the league’s protocol.
The league’s contact tracing protocol does not consider in-game contact above the collective 15 minutes necessary to contract the virus, which is why Washington will play on despite facing Tatum for 35 minutes of game time.
Adam Silver and the NBA will have a difficult time prioritizing competitive balance above all now after postponing a game. A team is playing in Tampa while three others try to play this week with barely enough bodies to take the court.
“There are a growing number of team officials that are hoping the league pauses the season, even for a week,” Chris Mannix tweeted after the postponement.
Right now the NBA's plan is to ride this recent rough patch out. The expectation was January could be a tough month, and it has been. Still — there are a growing number of team officials that are hoping the league pauses the season, even for a week.
— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) January 10, 2021
NBA transparency remains low, balancing health privacy with assurances around the league that every team is playing in a safe environment each night. Brad Stevens and Doc Rivers both said they trust the league amid outbreaks on their teams, but aren’t allowed to address questions about the situations on their team. Rivers did not believe they should be playing, due to the physical health of his deep bench players needing to push upwards of 40 minutes for Philadelphia that night.
G-League players are not immediately available to fill in as that league plans an Orlando bubble and four players need to miss two weeks to unlock the league’s hardship exemption for roster spots. They, too, would face quarantine periods to join teams.
The Celtics face the Bulls in Chicago on Tuesday while the Heat head to Philadelphia for a two-game series. Quarantining in Boston to get clearance to move on to the next leg of the road trip, the next day or two could determine whether the NBA can continue or not as their testing protocol falls behind the rapid pace of games.
Any postponements will likely be made up during the NBA’s all star break, scheduled for Mar. 5-10, during which there will be no festivities. The league did not schedule the second half of the season yet to allow for this flexibility if the winter proved difficult.
“The reality is we know this is rampant right now. We’re doing everything we can to prevent it and it’s still going to find its way into the league,” Stevens said on Friday. “We’re all assuming some level of risk and we accept that, and at the same time we assume that the people in charge have health and safety in the highest priority and if it becomes too much, that’ll become somebody else’s decision who’s an expert at it.”