In many ways, this won’t be a normal NBA season.
Instead of a full 82-game schedule, the league on Friday released the first portion of a planned 72-game slate. The second-half schedule is supposed to come out near the midseason break — there won’t be an All-Star Game this year — which theoretically allows for greater maneuvering around postponed games. Training camps opened with individual workouts.
Of the 546 players tested for COVID-19 between Nov. 24 and Nov. 30, 48 returned positive results (an 8.8 percent positivity rate). There’s an extensive guide outlining COVID-19 protocols for this season.
None of the above information is meant to dull excitement about a Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook opening night encounter being under three weeks away. These are simply relevant facts as the NBA attempts to play a full season in home markets after pulling off a Disney World bubble this summer without any outbreaks. Approximately 275,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to the CDC. It’s an ongoing tragedy embedded in most facets of daily life, including sports.
Like it or not, the NBA is aiming to play a season under these circumstances. Tobias Harris wants everything to work out but acknowledged Friday that he’s unsure if it will.
“… I follow what goes on in the world, the cases — it looks like we’re headed for another shutdown soon enough," he said. “That plays a factor into it, too. I think the biggest thing is obviously what we’ve been told, the testing on a daily (basis). And guys holding each other accountable to be safe, limiting exposure from outside people and whatever. For me, it’s a bit confusing, because you never know. You can go into the grocery store and you may get the virus somehow.
“I think it’s a fine line, but I think we have to do our best to follow protocols, keep each other safe, keep the team safe and just see how it plays out. I’m not the CDC, I’m not a doctor, but I’m going to wear my mask and follow protocols and do what I’m told at this point, and hopefully we have a full season.”
Doc Rivers, a coach who exudes passion for his job, is similarly uncertain.
“Well, this is a little different (than the bubble) because now we’re at home and we’re with our family and friends. We can order and eat wherever we want to — whichever restaurants that are still serving or open. So there’s a little more freedom. Having said that, that’s my concern. The food’s not my concern — I’m thrilled to death about that — but the freedom is a concern.
“I’m very concerned if we can pull this off. … If we miss three or four players, we’re in trouble, especially with the amount of games. We’re playing three and four games a week, so if one of our guys or two of our key guys get the virus and they miss 10 days to 14 days, that can be eight games. In a 72-game season, that can knock you out of the playoffs. That’s a concern. Our guys’ health is a concern. And that’s tough. As a coach, you want to go in with your team concerns being more (about) basketball, and I think every coach’s concerns right now are probably non-basketball.”
Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns told reporters that seven of his family members have died from COVID-19, including his mother. Even young, otherwise healthy athletes like the Phillies’ Scott Kingery have been hit hard by COVID-19. A positive test result doesn’t necessarily mean that a player will painlessly clear the required protocols and be good to go, as if nothing happened besides a mild ankle sprain.
The NBA has plenty of resources such as the daily tests Harris mentioned, something that’s not available to many healthcare workers. In terms of pure logistics, that gives the league the privilege to go about its business while minimizing and mitigating COVID-19-related issues.
Still, as we’ve seen in the NFL, there’s no guarantee that every game is played as scheduled. If a coach like Rivers who loves thinking about training camp checklists and pick-and-rolls and personalities is concerned, it’s a sign that COVID-19 is an important topic entering the 2020-21 season and will likely remain one.
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