The NBA on Tuesday instituted aggressive measures to combat an increase of COVID-19 infection, in the wake of the Miami Heat’s game on Sunday night in Boston being postponed and pandemic protocols ravaging Erik Spoelstra’s roster.
COVID-19 infection has led to the cancellation of at least five games, including that Sunday night Heat game against the Celtics at TD Garden.
The Heat since have moved on to Philadelphia for Tuesday night’s game against the 76ers, but with eight players away from the team due to coronavirus protocols: Bam Adebayo, Avery Bradley, Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Maurice Harkless, Udonis Haslem, Kendrick Nunn and KZ Okpala.
Those eight returned Monday night to South Florida. The earliest any of those eight is expected to return is Saturday’s game against the Detroit Pistons at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat’s only intervening game between then and Tuesday’s game is a Thursday’s rematch against the 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
The 76ers also remain shorthanded due to protocols, with Tuesday absences for that reason from Seth Curry, Terrance Ferguson, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Vincent Poirier and Matisse Thybulle.
Among changes newly instituted or updated that are expected to be in place for at least two weeks:
-- Players and team staff are required to remain at their residence (when the team is in its home market) at all times 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 are limited to those with household members, family and any personal staff working regularly in the home. When on the road, players and team staff are prohibited from leaving their hotel (other than for team activities or emergencies) or interacting with non-team guests at the hotel.
-- Any pre-game meeting in the locker room is limited to no more than 10 minutes in duration and all attendees must wear a facemask. All other meetings involving players and team staff must continue to occur on the court, in a league-approved space, or at the arena in a room large enough to provide for at least 6 feet of distance between individuals. Meeting attendees must continue to wear facemasks at all times.
-- For team flights, teams must create a seating plan on planes 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.
-- All treatment sessions at a hotel, such as massages and physical therapy, must occur in a ballroom or other large open space, with at least 12 feet between individual stations. Facemasks and face shields are required for all individuals during such sessions.
-- Players are prohibited from arriving at the arena more than three hours before tip-off. During the pre- and post-game periods, players must limit interactions to elbow or fist bumps, avoid extended socializing and maintain 6 feet of distance as much as possible.
-- All players must wear facemasks on the bench at all times. Upon exiting the game, and prior to returning to the bench, players can sit in “cool down chairs,” arranged at least 12 feet from the bench with each chair 6 feet apart, where facemasks are not required.
-- Once a player has cooled down, he must return to his assigned seat on the bench and wear a facemask until he enters the game again.
-- Players must always wear facemasks in the locker room, during strength and conditioning activities and when traveling with anyone other than a household member.
-- 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.
-- 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.
The NBA last month released only the first half of the pandemic-reduced 72-game schedule in order to allow for the rescheduling of postponed games over the second half of the season.
While Sunday’s Heat-Celtics game was postponed due to contact-tracing timing elements related to the Heat, the Celtics since have had two additional games postponed, with the league on Tuesday announcing that Wednesday’s Celtics-Orlando Magic game would not be played, “in accordance with the league’s Health and Safety Protocols. Because of testing and contact tracing within the Celtics, the team does not have the league-required eight available players to proceed.”
The Heat’s injury report for Tuesday night’s game remained unchanged from Monday night’s release, with Meyers Leonard (shoulder) questionable, and Kelly Olynyk (groin) and Gabe Vincent (knee) probable. At least two of those three would have to be active in order for the Heat to meet the requirement of at least eight players in uniform.
Players testing positive for COVID-19 are expected to miss at least 14 days. Those sidelined due to contact tracing likely would miss about one week.