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NBA, union stiffen virus protocols as more games are postponed

The Associated Press

With five games called off this week already and more teams dealing with virus-related issues, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association enacted additional rules Tuesday in the hope of keeping the season going safely.

For “at least the next two weeks,” the league and union said, players and team staff will have to remain at their residence when in their home markets and are prohibited from leaving their hotels when on the road — with exceptions primarily for practices and games.

“I’m all for anything we possibly can do to ramp up the safety,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team had the NBA-minimum eight players in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, missing eight for COVID-related reasons and another with injury. “Just because we want to proceed with our profession doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reality of what’s going on in the world. The virus is still very much out there.”

Utah’s game in Washington today was postponed because contact-tracing issues among the Wizards meant they wouldn’t have eight available players for that matchup. Orlando’s game in Boston today is also off, the third postponement since Sunday involving the Celtics.

Boston’s most recent list showed eight players as unavailable because they are adhering to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, which means they either tested positive or contact-tracing data showed they may have been exposed to someone who is positive.

“I’m for whatever the NBA wants us to do,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said.

All that is permitted in home markets, for now, is “to attend team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise outside, or perform essential activities,” the league and union said. On the road, team activities and emergencies are the only allowable reasons for leaving hotels.

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said “it would be irresponsible and unacceptable” to not seek better ways to keep players safe.

“No one wants to see more restrictions imposed,” Roberts said. “No one also wants to see the infection rate increase if there are steps we can take to mitigate the risk. Our experts have concluded that these new procedures will add to our arsenal of weapons against the virus.”

The new rules add to a challenging time in the NBA, especially when dealing with the mental strain of playing in a COVID-19 world. And the flurry of virus-related issues in the last few days have only made matters tougher.

“I feel like I’m living my life in a box,” Portland guard Damian Lillard said. “I go to practice, I go back home, I don’t go anywhere else.”

There were at least 36 players in the league dealing with virus-related issues or protocols when Tuesday began, based on information released by teams. That number went up in part because of the Wizards’ situation; it was not clear how many are affected there.

Most current player issues are believed to be related to contact tracing.

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