NBA virus numbers still rising, expanded testing begins

National Sports

Orlando Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley directs his players against the Miami Heat during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The way Miami’s Caleb Martin sees things, he’s lucky.

He just missed seven games while completing the NBA’s health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus, the worst of his symptoms being a couple days of fatigue. And when looking at the still-rising numbers of positive tests around the league right now, Martin offered a stark assessment.

“It almost seems it’s inevitable,” Martin said.

The numbers in the NBA indeed keep getting higher and may continue that way for the foreseeable future. Expanded testing, agreed to earlier this month, went into place Sunday for players who have yet to receive their booster shots. The new testing plan is expected to remain in place until Jan. 8, after weeks of urging by the league and the National Basketball Players Association for players to get boosted.

By early Sunday evening, the numbers of players known to be in the protocols was up to 116 — and probably slightly higher, considering some teams had yet to update injury reports. Numbers can fluctuate quickly as players test in and out, and being on the protocols list does not always mean someone has tested positive.

“I think any logical person would worry how far is this going to go, and there’s a couple teams that have quite a few people in the protocols. … You don’t know where it’s going to go,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.

Almost all NBA teams are dealing with at least one known case of virus-related issues now, and some teams are down to mere skeletons of what an NBA team should look like. Toronto played Cleveland on Sunday with eight players, four of them hardship signings brought on because 10 Raptors are currently in the protocols.

“Shoutout all the guys filling in to keep this season going — from unknown guys to the vets,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, one of the sidelined Toronto players, tweeted.

Here’s what the Orlando injury report looked like on Sunday: Six players out because of virus-related problems, another sidelined while he completes the process of getting cleared from a protocols stint, and another six players out with injuries.

Yes, that’s 13 players — from one team.

“You expect the unexpected,” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said.

Golden State’s Draymond Green was the latest big name added to the protocols list on Sunday, less than 24 hours after the Warriors beat Phoenix in what was the best game on the league’s five-game Christmas lineup and probably one of the more anticipated games so far this season.

“This is the reality of this association right now,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Spoelstra was missing, among others, point guard Kyle Lowry, head athletic trainer Jay Sabol and assistant coaches Chris Quinn and Caron Butler on Sunday. Quinn was at the arena — just not in the arena. He was waiting in a parking garage, watching a stream of the game, hoping a confusing testing situation got cleared up in time for him to go to work.

It didn’t.

Quinn probably could have coached Sunday and been fine, and Lowry told Spoelstra he felt like he could play. But Spoelstra said there’s a far bigger point in the ongoing fight with the virus.

“This virus is so complex that it really isn’t about us,” Spoelstra said. “And then now you’re dealing with the complexity of this new variant and if you’ve been fully vaccinated and have a booster shot and you feel fine … then hopefully your return to play or return to work as a staff member can be quicker.”

Talks between the NBA and the NBPA have been going on for several days about a potential shortening of the return-to-play protocols, though nothing has been finalized.

The Raptors hadn’t played for more than a week. But the schedule said they were playing Sunday, so they showed up to play on Sunday.

“We haven’t done a thing since our last game,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said about 90 minutes before tip-off.

In Chicago, where the Bulls just had 10 players go through protocols and are now without coach Billy Donovan as he navigates them, it had been pointed out that Lonzo Ball was the lone player to appear in every game for the team so far this season.

That streak is about to end: Ball is one of three players on the latest list of Bulls in the protocols.

“Y’all jinxed me,” Ball tweeted.

Memphis saw its protocols list grow to five on Sunday. San Antonio — one of the few teams that hadn’t had a player in protocols of late — had its run of luck on that front end when Dejounte Murray was added to the list, and Atlanta added John Collins to its already-jammed list, now up to 10 players.

“It’s a crazy virus. It really is,” Spoelstra said. “It just brings out the worst in people. It can happen. The league, they have to make really tough decisions right now. I don’t envy what they’re having to do, but organizations are having to make tough decisions daily. Same thing with the players association and staffs.

“We just have to stay the course. The business is still moving forward. It’s thriving. Everyday life is still moving forward. But you have to have the appropriate level of precautions and awareness as well.”

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