COVID-19 Numbers in the NBA Are Still Rising as Expanded Testing Begins

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. Martin was stern in his assessment of the ever-rising number positive testing across the league.

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

It is clear that the NBA numbers keep increasing, and they will continue this trend for some time. For players still waiting for their booster shots, expanded testing was implemented Sunday. Following weeks of pressure from the National Basketball Players Association (NBA), the testing plan for booster shots will continue until Jan. 8.
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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. The numbers of players who are on the protocols can vary quickly. It does not necessarily indicate that they have been 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.

Most NBA teams currently have at least one case of virus-related problems. Others are still struggling to make sense of how a team ought to look. On Sunday, Toronto faced Cleveland with eight players. Four of these were hardship signings made because the protocol currently has 10 Raptors.

“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’s point guard Kyle Lowry was absent, as well as Jay Sabol (head athletic trainer) and Caron Butler (assistant coaches), on Sunday. Quinn was at the arena — just not in the arena. Quinn was in the parking lot, waiting to see if a testing issue would be resolved in time to allow him to get to work.

It didn’t.

Quinn might have been able to coach Sunday without any problems, Lowry informed Spoelstra that Quinn felt ready to 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.”

The NBPA and NBA have been discussing a possible shortening in the time between return-to play protocols for several days, but nothing has been agreed upon.

The Raptors hadn’t played for more than a week. The schedule indicated that they would be playing Sunday so the Raptors showed up on Sunday to play.

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

Chicago Bulls, which had only 10 players complete protocols, are without Billy Donovan, who is now navigating them. Lonzo Ball, however, was the sole player that has appeared in all of the games this season for the team.

This streak may soon end as Ball, one of the three Bulls on the most recent protocol list is over.

“Y’all jinxed me,” Ball tweeted.

The Memphis protocol list increased to five players 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. You can do it. It’s up to the league to make tough decisions. I don’t envy what they’re having to do, but organizations are having to make tough decisions daily. The same goes for the staff and players’ association.

“We just have to stay the course. It’s still going well. It’s thriving. It’s still moving forward every day. But you have to have the appropriate level of precautions and awareness as well.”



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