76ers

Latest COVID-19 data in Florida is cause for concern with NBA’s plan

Latest COVID-19 data in Florida is cause for concern with NBA’s plan

Back in April, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said, “It’s about the data and not the date.”

Two months later, he appears to have deviated from that point of emphasis despite concerns about a spike in coronavirus cases in Florida.

ESPN’s Baxter Holmes and Zach Lowe reported Saturday night that the surge in cases “has raised concerns in many corners of the NBA.” Silver acknowledged the increase in positive tests in a recent call with executives but “expressed a resolve to go on” because of his confidence in the NBA’s so-called bubble, according to ESPN.

The statistics are worrisome. From ESPN’s piece:

Florida added 4,049 new cases Saturday, which broke the previous single-day record of 3,822 set Friday. In all, the state has set records for single-day cases in seven of the past 10 days and is approaching 94,000 infections -- becoming a national hot spot along with Texas and Arizona, states that are also seeing surging case numbers.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said that he’s not contemplating shutting down businesses despite the spike in cases. 

While the NBA has issued a 113-page memo with its health and safety protocols for Disney World, the latest developments in Florida highlight that any plan to resume sports during a pandemic is indeed an uncertain proposition. 

Why would Silver and the league remain confident? 

Team executives and officials are “hopeful the number of coronavirus cases will start to decline,” according to Holmes and Lowe. Additionally, “some executives and staffers speculated it might be better to get positive cases out of the way now, because players can quarantine before going to Orlando.” In Phase 2, which is set to begin Tuesday, players are set to return to their team markets and start to undergo coronavirus testing. 

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN the following:

Can't say I am surprised, given the state's approach to reopening. We are obviously clearly monitoring the situation. While we take some solace in knowing our players will not travel commercially to get to Orlando, that access to the campus is severely limited and, of course, all of the other health and safety protocols in place, the numbers will keep our attention. If necessary to add further restrictions respecting those third parties having access to the campus, we will seek to implement them. 

The idea of restricting outside access as much as possible makes sense, but it doesn’t sound as if a true bubble will be viable. NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh reported last week that Disney staffers would likely not be subject to the same daily testing and quarantine measures as NBA personnel. At this stage, asking unionized Disney employees to make adjustments to agreed-upon protocols and endure more stringent health and safety precautions might prove difficult. 

The sentiment is basic enough, but it’s worth stating: The NBA does not need to finish this season. Though DeSantis has declared sports an “essential business” in Florida, the league is obviously not essential in the same way as healthcare or food. 

Silver is apparently aware of the data in Florida, but, at least for now, undeterred from the date he’s set. Teams are scheduled to start traveling to Orlando on July 7, while seeding games are set to begin July 30. 

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Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

The Sixers have yet to lose a home game this calendar year.

Monday night, they’ll look to maintain their home excellence, just not at Wells Fargo Center. They lost their seeding game opener at Disney World, a designated road matchup against the Pacers, and "host" the Spurs tonight.

The team has worked to replicate the environment in which the Sixers went 29-2 this season as closely as possible.

“We want to keep that going,” Sixers Chief Marketing Office Katie O'Reilly told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Paul Hudrick in an interview Monday. “Our fans are incredible. Our season ticket members are incredible, they’re loyal, they’re passionate. They really create that environment.”

For Monday's game against San Antonio, you’ll see on screens courtside “virtual fans," which will include, according to O’Reilly, “season ticket members, our marketing partners, our community partners, as well as friends and family of the players.” Those virtual fans have been given packs that have T-shirts, hats and noisemakers.

Several unique features of a typical Wells Fargo Center game night aren’t going anywhere. PA announcer Matt Cord has some pre-recorded segments, and, per O’Reilly, the beloved Ron Brooks — “the world’s first double amputee to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” as Cord always introduces him — will still be belting out the national anthem. 

“Even in-arena for our home games, we’ll have Ron Brooks, our guy, singing the national anthem,” O’Reilly said. “We’ll have our traditional bell ringing, we’ll have our player intros, we’ll have our open video. So that sort of entire pregame ritual that we have will run really exactly the same, just virtually on video.”

And the Wendy’s Frosty Freeze-out? 

“If someone misses two (straight) free throws, you will still be able to redeem for your free Frosty,” O’Reilly said. 

The roar of the crowd obviously won’t be nearly as loud or intense after a big play, but many of the “sounds of the game” should be familiar for players. O’Reilly didn’t mention the boos that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hope to hear if the Sixers aren’t playing well, but player input factored into the new home gameday experience. 

“Our players are constantly collaborating with our marketing and game operations department on the look and feel,” O’Reilly said, “and they really feed off that home energy, so it was important for us to maintain as much of it as we could down in Orlando, and we’re excited to see it come to life tonight.

“Our players’ voices are always heard. We’re always receiving feedback from everybody, whether it’s front office, season ticket members, the players, the coaches, and we really take pride in delivering on that. … Every player has a song that they get to pick to play in-arena when they make a big play or a big shot. So it is really important to us that we sort of curate the experience based on everyone who is there, and we’re collaborating all the time.”

Given how invincible the Sixers appeared at home before the coronavirus pandemic forced the season to pause, the idea to essentially duplicate a normal home atmosphere that players feel comfortable in seems intuitive. We'll learn soon just how effective it is.  

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 1:48 p.m. 

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Kyle O'Quinn missed his coronavirus test on Sunday and is not eligible to play, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 
Where: Visa Athletic Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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