'Uncharted waters': More NBA games off as virus issues grow

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Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle and Josh Richardson (0) argue with referees after Richardson was called for a foul during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

The NBA called off two more games because of COVID-related and contact-tracing issues on Monday, and the Miami Heat were preparing to be without eight players — including All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — for several days because of possible exposure to the coronavirus.

Monday’s game in Dallas between the Mavericks and the New Orleans Pelicans was postponed by the league, as well as Tuesday’s matchup in Chicago between the Bulls and the Boston Celtics. The league's general managers met Monday to discuss the virus situation, with involvement from the National Basketball Players Association. The NBA's board of governors will meet Tuesday.

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The latest postponements came one day after Miami’s game in Boston was called off because of contact-tracing issues within the Heat. The Celtics would have been without seven players for virus-related issues for that game. Miami's Avery Bradley, who did not play in the NBA's restart bubble last season out of concern about exposure to the virus, was also ruled out of that game because of the protocols.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said.

Added to the Heat list following contact tracing: Butler, Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Moe Harkless, Udonis Haslem, Kendrick Nunn and KZ Okpala. That does not mean any tested positive, but that tracing showed they may have been exposed to a positive person. Some may be back in time for Miami's home game Saturday against Detroit.

Another three Heat players are on the injury list, raising the question if they will have the eight required players to start games. NBA GMs, according to a person familiar with the discussion who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conversations were private, talked about increasing roster sizes Monday, along with stiffening protocols about player interaction such as postgame handshakes and hugs — as well as even more of a commitment to social distancing and mask wearing.

Rivers said he's not in favor of adding to the roster size, but suggested a nine-player minimum instead of the current eight might be a prudent change “to have a healthy chance of playing an NBA game."

The Heat were flying from Boston to Philadelphia on Monday night in advance of a game there Tuesday, while another flight was bringing those who needed to be quarantined back to Miami, said a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because those details were not publicly released.

“I think the general sentiment is that everyone wants to play but also everyone wants to be safe first,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said during an appearance on Reddit.

Dallas — which was without starters Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith and backup Jalen Brunson on Saturday because of virus issues — did not have enough players cleared to play Monday because the contact-tracing process was still ongoing, said a person with knowledge of that situation who spoke with AP on condition of anonymity because it had not been disclosed publicly.

Contact tracing within the NBA has gotten much more high-tech in recent days, with a new requirement that everyone within the travel parties wear an electronic device that tracks their proximity to one another. The data from those devices is part of the determination as to whether a player needs to quarantine because of possible exposure.

The two new postponements means four games so far have been called off due to virus-related matters. Philadelphia played at home against Denver on Saturday with seven players — eight were available — because of a combination of virus issues and injuries. The NBA also fined the 76ers $25,000 on Monday for not properly disclosing ahead of time that Ben Simmons would miss that game with an injury.

“The league is doing a very good job trying to adjust to the situation," 76ers guard Isaiah Joe said.

The first game postponed this season was the Dec. 23 matchup between Oklahoma City and Houston. The NBA said Sunday night that the league anticipated there would be issues and has no plans to pause the season because of the current issues some teams are facing.

“It is an awful world right now," Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. “We’re all facing this, whether you’re an NBA team player, organization, front office or you’re somebody that doesn’t work in the industry. It’s an awful world, a scary world. We’re losing lives every single day in big numbers. So, I think the league’s doing the best we can. I think we’re trying our best to get through the season, but I think we have to be ready for everything and I think we’re all concerned."


AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York contributed.


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