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NBA tightening up COVID-19 protocols with more games postponed

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns tip off during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The NBA has released a set of new policies and changes to its health and safety protocols, tightening them up after a rise in COVID-19 cases within the league.

Among the new policies: for “at least the next two weeks,” the league and union said players and team staff will have to remain at their residence when in their home markets and are prohibited from leaving their hotels or having outside guests when on the road.

Many of the new rules are similar to what existed in the NBA’s restart bubble at Walt Disney World in Central Florida last year.

Based on the most recent information released by teams, though the numbers can change quickly, at least 36 players in the NBA entering Tuesday were dealing with some sort of virus-related issue. Those issues include players having to sit because contact-tracing data showed they may have been exposed to someone who may be positive for COVID-19.

“They were pretty clear that they wanted to try and play through this,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst told Burns & Gambo Tuesday. “They believe that they will get through this rough patch and when they get on the other side they will stabilize.”

The NBA has had to postpone six total games thus far this season due to teams not meeting the minimum number of active players required (8).

The Hawk-Suns game scheduled for Wednesday is the latest.

“It’s worrisome, but I don’t think it’s stopping,” Windhorst said of the season.

The Phoenix Suns have had Jalen Smith on the health and safety protocol list since Jan. 5. The team’s postponed game against Atlanta comes after the Suns played the Washington Wizards on Monday. Washington added two players to the health and safety protocols list and according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has players who since tested positive for the virus.

All that is permitted in home markets, for now, is “to attend team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise outside, or perform essential activities,” the league and union said. On the road, team activities and emergencies are the only allowable reasons for leaving.

Additional actions taken Tuesday include a new rule prohibiting any pregame meetings in locker rooms from lasting more than 10 minutes, and when those meetings take place everyone involved must wear a mask. Meetings in larger areas, such as courts, must take place with adherence to social distancing and with masks.

Players now have to limit interactions with other players to elbow or fist bumps, with no extended socializing. And when a player is subbed out of a game, he can sit in new “cool down chairs” without a mask — but put a mask on when he returns to the bench area and sits in his regularly assigned seat.

The Associated Press contributed to this story


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