The NBA is continuing its season as planned even after concerns about COVID-19 exposure forced the postponement of Miami’s game at Boston on Sunday, a day where no fewer than 15 players around the league officially were declared unable to play for virus-related reasons.
The Celtics had seven of those players and Miami had another. But after Heat guard Avery Bradley was ruled out — his test result was not announced, just his status — the rest of the Miami players needed their contact-tracing data analyzed to determine if they had been potentially exposed.
That process would not have been completed in time for the 7 p.m. Eastern game, so the league called it off. Boston was preparing to play the game with eight available players; the Celtics have 17 on their roster, seven were out because of the COVID-19 protocols and two more with injuries.
Meanwhile, the Heat simply were not cleared to play anyone.
“We anticipated that there would be game postponements this season and planned the schedule accordingly,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement. “There are no plans to pause the season, and we will continue to be guided by our medical experts and health and safety protocols.”
The NBA had 148 games on the schedule so far through Sunday; the Boston-Miami game was only the second to be postponed for virus-related reasons. The other was Dec. 23, an Oklahoma City at Houston game where the Rockets did not have the required eight players available.
But many teams are feeling the effects of missing players because of testing or other possible exposure. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant had the virus in spring 2020, but he had to miss three games last week after being exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. He returned to the Nets on Sunday.
“You are starting to see what is going on in our country directly affect the NBA because we are no longer in that safety net of the bubble,” said Denver coach Michael Malone, whose team has been without Michael Porter Jr. for its past six games — and counting — because of the league's protocols.
The Heat were staying in Boston overnight Sunday and are scheduled to play in Philadelphia, another team with virus issues, on Tuesday and Thursday. The 76ers had eight eligible players and used only seven Saturday in a loss to Denver, doing so in part because some were ruled out in accordance with the virus protocols.
The Celtics were to have been without Jaylen Brown, Javonte Green, Semi Ojeleye, Jayson Tatum, Tristan Thompson, Grant Williams and Robert Williams on Sunday. That’s the most any team has ruled out for a game because of virus-related issues so far this season but does not necessarily mean any of the affected Celtics tested positive.
They were in Miami for a game Wednesday, and Bradley played in that game for the Heat.
Additionally, a fourth Dallas player was added to the COVID-19 protocol list, but Maxi Kleber is listed as questionable instead of out for Monday’s home game against New Orleans. Starters Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith and backup Jalen Brunson still are listed as out. Those three stayed behind in Denver after a win Thursday against the Nuggets and missed Saturday’s victory at home against Orlando.
The NBA and National Basketball Players Association put together a plan last year to finish the season in a bubble environment at Walt Disney World in Central Florida, where nobody tested positive and no games were missed because of the virus. But NBA commissioner Adam Silver told teams in December that issues would be “inevitable” with games going on outside a bubble, and he’s been proven correct.
“I think the NBA’s doing all they can and they’re doing a great job, and the (National Basketball Players Association) as well, working together to do a great job to make sure we are as safe as possible,” Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said. “It’s tough. You can try your best and unfortunately there will still be some people that catch it.”
Bradley — who signed with the Heat during the offseason — opted not to join the Los Angeles Lakers, his former team, in the bubble last year because he has a child with breathing problems and did not want to take any unnecessary risks. He chose to play this season, calling living in a COVID-affected world “the new normal."
“The numbers are spiking,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. “That is the reality. We are committed to proceeding with our industry and we’re doing it with all the best science and adherence to the protocols, but ultimately we’re not in control.”