- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2021

When Scott Brooks learned Tuesday morning that two of his players had been added to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, prompting practice to be canceled, the Wizards coach wasn’t surprised. All he had to do was look around the league at all the positive cases and postponements.

“We knew throughout the league it’s happening,” Brooks said Tuesday in a video conference call, hours before the NBA announced that Wednesday’s Washington Wizards-Utah Jazz game would be postponed because Washington had less than the league-required eight players available due to contact tracing efforts.

“We knew that there was always going to be a possibility that it might happen with us,” Brooks said.

Washington is just the latest NBA team to feel the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. When the league used a bubble at the World Disney World Resort in Florida last summer to conclude the season, no players tested positive during those three months.

But with teams back in their home markets, cases have popped up throughout the league.

Brooks had called the players in the protocols day-to-day — suggesting there hadn’t been confirmed positive tests yet — and said canceling Tuesday’s practice was “just so we can be smart about it.” The subsequent contact tracing should lead to more players being sidelined by the health and safety protocols.

In addition to Sunday’s game between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, a game between the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans was postponed Monday due to positive cases on the Mavericks. Tuesday’s matchup with the Celtics and Chicago Bulls has also been postponed, and Wednesday’s tilt between Boston and the Orlando Magic has also been pushed back.

Amid the myriad postponements, the NBA and NBA Players’ Association agreed to additional coronavirus protocol measures Tuesday.

The newest measures state that all players must wear facemasks while on the bench. When players exit the game, there will be “cool down chairs” positioned at least 12 feet from the bench — allowing players to sit without a mask until they’re ready to return to the bench.

No pregame meeting in the locker room can last more than 10 minutes for the next two weeks, and on-court interactions between players has been limited to elbow or fist bumps before or after games.

In addition to the gameday changes regarding masks, players are required to remain at their residence for at least the next two weeks, 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.”

Traveling on the road has added complications, too. Teams must arrange players on planes according to how close they sit to one another on the bench. And players are prohibited from leaving their hotel when on road trips and from interacting with non-team guests at those hotels.

The stricter measures were put in place to slow the recent surge of cases on NBA teams — and around the country.

“We knew going into the season that we would have days like this,” Brooks said. “You don’t want them, but we don’t want to put ourselves, and our players, and players’ families and our staffs in a situation where things can possibly be worse.”

Brooks said the Wizards have already canceled shootarounds for road games, and the shootarounds at home have been shortened — “one less moment and area you can be exposed,” Brooks said.

Bradley Beal became the team’s first player to enter the safety and health protocols, missing Saturday’s loss to Miami before returning Monday for a win against the Phoenix Suns.

The Wizards have had several close calls already. They played the Celtics, Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in the last eight days — and all four teams have had at least one player enter the safety and health protocols.

The team announced Tuesday that Moritz Wagner and Rui Hachimura were questionable for Wednesday’s matchup due to the health and safety protocols. But with the postponement for further contact tracing, Washington’s issues may be more widespread.

“It hasn’t been easy, but no team in the league is going through this smooth-sailing,” Brooks said. 

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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