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Three Things to Know: NBA, players union agree to increased testing, mask wearing

Milwaukee Bucks v Minnesota Timberwolves

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 13: Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks gives a thumbs-up as he leaves a game between the Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) NBA, players union agree to increased testing, mask wearing

The coronavirus has been kicking the NBA’s ass. The league had to act.

With 40 players in NBA health and safety protocols right now — including star players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook who potentially will miss the Christmas Day showcase — plus games being postponed, the NBA turned back the clock.

At least through the first week of 2022, the NBA is going back to some of its 2020 coronavirus protocols. The league and NBPA (the players’ union) agreed to the changes and teams were told in a memo sent out Thursday (both the Associated Press and ESPN confirmed the memo).

Testing will be increased — for vaccinated and unvaccinated players — and basically be daily from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8. Not so coincidentally, that is right after the league’s showcase, spotlight games on Christmas Day. It’s also right after players will be home with families celebrating the holidays but potentially being exposed to the disease. The hope is to catch a player or staff member who gets a breakthrough case before it spreads through a team. Or, put more bluntly, the league wants to avoid another situation like the Bulls, who had 10 players in the protocols and had to postpone games.

Also, the NBA will go back to their old mask rules — masks will be worn at all times during team activities. That includes on the bench during games, during travel, in the locker room, basically every minute a player is not on the court during a game or practice. Head coaches also can bypass a mask during games.

In Toronto, they are going a step further, with the number of fans allowed at games is being reduced to allow more social distancing, and those fans will have to be masked (Toronto already had a vaccine mandate for fans). Enforcing a mask mandate for fans around the league seems like the next step.

Maybe Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is right and we, as a society, are going to have to adjust our levels of risk and learn to live with the coronavirus. But with the United States just passing the 800,000 dead from the disease mark, we as a society are not there yet. We need to get vaccinated (and get the booster), wear masks, and take steps to reduce the spread of the disease to protect the most vulnerable among us. It’s what a mature and caring society would do.

2) Kevin Durant drops 34, keeps playing like an MVP, Nets keep winning

Stephen Curry may well lead the early MVP race (and deservedly so with his numbers and the Warriors’ success), but don’t call it a runaway. Kevin Durant is right there with him.

The shorthanded Nets beat the shorthanded 76ers on Thursday night behind 34 from Durant, who had a four-point play with 1:46 left that proved to be decisive. Durant was the best player on the court and has to be right now if the Nets want to win. The 76ers threw Danny Green then Matisse Thybulle on KD, but nothing they did worked.

Big men Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton each added 17 points for the Nets, who had just nine players available due to injuries, COVID protocols, and whatever you want to say is going on with Kyrie Irving.

Joel Embiid had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but the 76ers have dropped three straight and are now 15-15.

After the game, Doc Rivers was hot because the Nets were called for no fouls in the fourth quarter. Zero. Rivers called a timeout with :03 seconds left and his team down 9 to complain to the referees about it.

“I thought Joel got fouled the last three post possessions, and-ones, and none was called,” Rivers said after the game. “I don’t know how a team can play the fourth quarter of a game where we’re driving the ball and posting the ball and they have zero fouls. It’s hard to play a quarter in the NBA and commit no fouls.”

3) Zion Williamson gets injection in foot, out at least 4-6 more weeks

Zion Williamson’s foot is not healing the way doctors had hoped, so the team took the next logical step to speed up the process — but it requires a step back first.

What does that mean?

The fifth metatarsal — the bone between the little toe and the ankle — is not an area of the foot with good blood flow and healing can be slow. It’s not unheard of for the need for doctors to do another surgery, essentially re-breaking the bone and re-setting it to get the job done. Hopefully, Zion does not need to go down that road.

Will we see Zion play this season? Maybe, but it’s hard to be optimistic right now.

What should really worry Pelicans fans short-term is how the franchise is dealing with it — reports of them looking for win-now trades and reaching out a possible swap of picks for Ben Simmons.

First off, Simmons next to Zion is the worst possible pairing — two non-shooting, ball-dominant players who both want to drive the lane and finish. The one of them without the ball is only dangerous cutting out of the dunker spot or in transition. Teams will go under every pick, pack the paint, and dare the Pelicans to shoot from outside 12 feet. It’s a tactical mess.

Beyond that, a swing for the fences to try and make the play-in rather than thinking long-term just comes off as desperation. Maybe it’s David Griffin trying to save his job, maybe it’s something else, but this 9-21 team should be developing young players and making moves for next season and beyond, not trying to patch the holes and race for the 10 seed.

Highlight of the Night: John Wall looks good for a guy not playing

John Wall wants to play. The Houston Rockets are okay with that, but only on their terms — limited minutes off the bench, with Wall more in a mentor role. Wall feels he has earned more than that.

However, there is no doubt he looks like he could play right now – watch him throw down a 360-degree dunk in warmups Thursday night.

Last night’s scores:

Indiana 122, Detroit 113
Brooklyn 114, Philadelphia 105
New York 116, Houston 103
Phoenix 118, Washington 98
Chicago at Toronto, postponed