Three more NBA games were postponed on Saturday, including one in Minnesota just hours before game time, as the league’s fight against rising coronavirus numbers continued.
Among Friday’s revelations: Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, whose mother and six other relatives have died from COVID-19, said he had tested positive. The Washington Wizards said they also have six positive players and three other players because contact tracing data suggested they may have been exposed.
“I pray every day that this nightmare of a virus is gone and I beg everyone to take it seriously by taking all necessary precautions,” Towns wrote on social media.
The Timberwolves ‘game with the Memphis Grizzlies has been called off, as has what would have been the Wizards’ home games on Sunday and Monday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“The NBA stressed this time for a while, that it was going to be very difficult,” said Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard. “And they weren’t kidding.”
The current tally of postponements: 13 since the start of the season, 12 of them – involving 16 of the 30 NBA teams – since Sunday alone. Washington has seen four of its games postponed, Boston and Phoenix have had three postponements. The Celtics returned to the ground Friday night against Orlando, Boston’s first game in a week.
“We are all very grateful to be here and to have a chance to play and compete,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Miami – which lost two games to Philadelphia this week with just eight players available – could get up to six of its eight COVID-affected players who ran out of time this week, largely due to contact tracing, return Saturday for a game against Detroit. All-Star Jimmy Butler will remain out, the Heat said, as will Avery Bradley.
The Wizards are just hoping they can invite players to resume training. No basketball was played at their facility for most of this week; between COVID-related issues and the injuries of Russell Westbrook and Thomas Bryant, Washington currently has six players.
The Wizards last played Monday against Phoenix. The earliest they’ll play again is next Wednesday in Charlotte – and even that would seem uncertain, given what will likely be a lack of practice time in the coming days. The Suns had a three-game homestand wiped out because they didn’t have enough players eliminated.
“I think four teams missed a lot of games,” Sheppard said. “I think it’s a small win considering what’s going on in the league.”
Postponed games, where possible, will be made up for in the second half of the season, which takes place from March 11 – the first anniversary of last season’s closure due to the pandemic – until May 16.
The NBA said earlier this week that 16 players had tested positive in the past few days, which was more than the NBA had seen in the past five weeks combined. Given developments since, next week’s report has the potential to be even worse.
Even coaches know they have to work harder. The NBA recently called Orlando coach Steve Clifford, telling him he had to do a better job keeping his mask on during games.
Clifford did not argue.
His response to the call? “Yes sir,” he said.
No one would dispute the need to exercise the utmost caution in the NBA right now.
The league and the National Basketball Players Association earlier this week toughened the protocols players must adhere to during these delicate times, and coaches are not exempt from saying they need to be more diligent on the safety front too – especially when it comes to wearing their masks properly.
They are now required on the sidelines, both for coaches and players. But when coaches feel the urge to scream, many still succumb to the urge to pull the mask off and make sure their voices are heard without the choking being caused by a thin piece of cloth.
“It’s not always easy,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse. “Sometimes I’m in the clique or on the floor, and I do all kinds of things to try to keep my mask on (and) let the guys hear me, and after the third time they say ‘Coach, I can’ don’t hear what you say, “you’re trying to bring it down fast”.
Clifford has been a big fan of masks, and has been since even before the league restarted last season in the bubble of Walt Disney World near Orlando. He has been preaching the values of the mask for months.
“I think there were seven of us who got a call from the league about ‘Keep your mask on’,” Clifford said. “So I’m going to do better no matter what. I have masks that are easier for guys to hear than others. I’m just going to wear the right mask. I have to do better.”