A slew of recent postponements, including the Hawks-Suns game Wednesday night in Phoenix, shines a light on the difficulty of playing NBA games outside a bubble. The postponement is the seventh in the league because of COVID-19 since the season began in late December.
The Suns, who do not have the required eight players to play a game, recently played the Wizards, who have some players in COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols. Contact tracing is the reason the Hawks were given for the postponement. The Wizards’ game against the Jazz on Wednesday also was postponed.
The league structured this season with a gap in between the first half (with the schedule already announced) and the second half (which will be announced toward the end of the first half) so that makeup games can be played at that time, anticipating postponements because of COVID-19.
Hawks players including Trae Young, Onyeka Okongwu and Kevin Huerter expressed their disappointment on Twitter, with Huerter tweeting “(n)ot ideal.”
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce on Tuesday was asked about potential postponements: “Welcome to the NBA 2021. I think every minute, every hour and every day is going to be an adjustment. This obviously has been the toughest week since we started, seeing games postponed and some of the issues. But I think the league, obviously we’ve seen some of the adjustments to the protocols and the restrictions and some of the things that we just need to force and mandate and continue to be as adherent to as we can.
“And we saw the (players) association and the league come to an agreement on what we can do, even further, to show we’re doing the right thing. We’re preparing as if we’re playing (Phoenix) as we always do. We’re trying to be as diligent as we possibly can and control what we can control.”
The Hawks (5-5) have two more games on this West Coast trip, one in Utah on Friday and one in Portland on Saturday.
On Tuesday, the league announced further measures that teams must follow, in the wake of more players entering COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols and having to quarantine, therefore more games being postponed, as well as the general number of cases rising in the country.
That includes limiting activities outside the team environment — for at least the next two weeks, the league said, players and team staff must remain at their residence at all times when in their home market, “except to attend team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise outside, or perform essential activities, or as a result of extraordinary circumstances.” Away-from-work interactions, the league mandates, will be “limited to those with household members, family and any personal staff working regularly in the home.”
On the road, players and team staff are prohibited from leaving their hotel, except for team activities or emergencies, and can’t interact with guests outside the team at the hotel.
Pregame meetings in locker rooms, for at least the next two weeks, are limited to 10 minutes, and everyone must wear a face mask. All other meetings must take place on the court or in a large room allowing for distancing, with masks worn.
Team flights must have a seating plan “so that players whose assigned seats are closest to each other on the bench for games are also closest to each other on the team plane,” and physical-therapy sessions must take place in a ballroom or large open space, with 12 feet between stations, and face masks and face shields are required.
On game day, players can’t arrive more than three hours before tip-off, and are to limit “extended socializing” and have to limit interactions to elbow or fist bumps. Also, players have to wear masks on the bench “at all times.” When leaving the game, though, they can sit in cool-down chairs that are 12 feet from the bench and spaced six feet apart, where masks won’t be required, and after that he would go the bench and put on a mask. Masks must be work “in the locker room, during strength-and-conditioning activities and when traveling with anyone other than a household member,” and coaches and team staff must wear a mask at all times during games.
Finally, regarding COVID-19 testing, “any individual who regularly visits the interior of the home of a player or team staff member for a professional purpose must undergo COVID-19 testing twice per week.” And, “for any team with a positive-player case or high-risk staff-member case, the NBA may require players and team staff to undergo five consecutive days of twice-per-day, lab-based testing, in addition to daily point-of-care testing.”
These measures may be amended as the situation evolves, but for now, this is how the league is cracking down.
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