NEW YORK – The list of players currently dealing with the NBA's health and safety protocols climbed toward 100 on Wednesday, as uncertainty continued to mount about the availability of some of the league’s biggest names for the Christmas quintupleheader.
Another two games were called off, pushing the total virus-related postponements so far this season to nine. And Dallas star Luka Doncic was added to the protocols list, a strong indicator that he may not be able to play when the Mavericks face Utah as part of the NBA’s five-game Christmas lineup.
“It’s unpredictable, right? You just don’t know,” Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony said. “What we’re dealing with, it’s bigger than basketball. It’s bigger than that.”
Wednesday’s Toronto at Chicago game was postponed, as was Thursday’s Brooklyn at Portland game. The NBA said neither the Raptors nor the Nets have enough eligible players; by league rule, teams must have at least eight healthy players in uniform for a game to go forward.
Through Wednesday evening, based on team injury reports or similar disclosures, there were 96 players from 22 teams dealing with a virus-related issue. It is important to note that players can enter and exit that list quickly in some cases, some teams do not release updated numbers except when mandated by league rule, and not everyone on the list has tested positive for COVID-19.
“This seems like it’s changing by the hour,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said.
The Nets have had each of their last three games postponed — and that means the earliest they would play again is Saturday, when they’re scheduled to visit the Lakers in the fourth game on the Christmas slate.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen, who it’s going to affect, how it’s going to affect somebody, the amount of time you will be out due to your health, what you’re feeling, the symptoms,” Anthony said. “And then on the other hand, some people don’t have symptoms. You don’t know what to do right now. I think that’s the frustrating part for everybody.”
The Nets have what is believed to be a league-high 10 players in the health and safety protocols, a list that includes Kevin Durant, James Harden and — even though he has yet to play this season — Kyrie Irving.
The 10 teams scheduled to play on Christmas — the games are Atlanta at New York, Boston at Milwaukee, Golden State at Phoenix, the Nets at the Lakers and the Mavericks at Utah — had a combined 44 players in the protocols as of early Wednesday evening.
“Obviously, teams around the league are really severely getting impacted and games are getting postponed,” Miami guard Duncan Robinson said. “It’s kind of unsurprising, in that this is the chaos that we’ve kind of come to expect over this last, whatever it’s been, year-and-a-half or something like that.”
Atlanta listed six players as being in the protocols on Wednesday, including guard Trae Young. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, also remained listed as out for the Bucks’ game on Thursday at Dallas, which would suggest there’s no guarantee he can play on Christmas either.
Doncic has been ruled out of Thursday’s Dallas-Milwaukee game, along with five other Mavericks for health and safety reasons — including Trey Burke, who revealed earlier this season that he is unvaccinated. Dallas is scheduled to face Utah on Christmas.
“We want to do what we can to keep the business going, but also keep our families safe and do our part,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It doesn’t seem like the virus is going anywhere, so we might as well do what we can to keep each other safe.”
Teams are being allowed to sign players to replace those sidelined by positive tests, and at least 40 such hardship contracts — which won't count against a team's salary cap or luxury tax numbers — have been executed in the last few days. Among those signed: Joe Johnson, who was still 19 when drafted by the Boston Celtics in 2001 and now, as a 40-year-old, is a member of the Celtics once again.
Johnson, who last appeared in the NBA in 2018, was signed to a 10-day deal by the Celtics without even being brought in for a workout. He said he knew it was possible that a team would call, given all the short-term needs that many have right now.
“We'll see where it goes from here," Johnson said, shortly before the game in which he scored two points — his first points for the Celtics since a game at Seattle in February 2002.
The NBA has no plans to pause the season, Commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week in an interview with ESPN. But the league told teams earlier this week that it would prioritize the ABC national game slots on Christmas if games are postponed that day, meaning it was reserving the right to move another game into those 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern time windows.
The other game times on Christmas are noon and 10:30 p.m., both on ESPN.
“We can’t allow this to be a distraction,” McMillan said before Atlanta faced Orlando on Wednesday night. “It is, but we have to get past that. ... We’re hoping that we get some negative tests here in the next couple days and guys will be available as soon as possible and certainly for (Christmas). Players dream of having that opportunity to play on Christmas Day.”
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