WASHINGTON (AP) - Washington got back on the practice court Wednesday for the first time in more than a week, and Bradley Beal wonders if the Wizards need more time there before returning to game mode.
The NBA’s leading scorer said he believes the short-handed Wizards — who have six players who have tested positive for COVID-19 — may be following “ a recipe for injury” if they play Milwaukee as scheduled Friday night, the latest dilemma for a league that has been sternly tested by the effects of the pandemic over the last two weeks.
Also Wednesday, another game — Memphis at Portland — was postponed, the 16th this season that had to be pushed back because of the virus, and the league revealed that 11 more players in the past week have tested positive for COVID-19. The Wizards had eight bodies for their first practice in nine days, and Beal said he and fellow Washington guard Russell Westbrook may enlist the National Basketball Players Association to help ensure the team is in some semblance of game shape before playing again.
“The health of us is the most important thing, and the safety of us, and that goes far beyond the virus,” Beal said. “It’s our physical health, too. ... It’s unfair that other teams have been going and practicing and playing and having their constant rhythm. We haven’t played in a week and some change. It’s going to be tough on us. It’s going to be real tough on us.”
Contact tracing issues for the Grizzlies meant they would not have enough players eligible to play in Portland. Of the 16 postponements, 15 have come since Jan. 10 and the number could rise again soon — since Memphis is also scheduled to play in Portland on Friday.
By NBA rule, teams must have eight eligible players for games. The Wizards don’t expect to have more than eight available on Friday because of a combination of the virus and injuries.
Their Wednesday practice was mostly some 5-on-0 offense and shooting. Wizards coach Scott Brooks isn’t expecting any of the six players who have tested positive back in the next few days at least, and Westbrook is still out with a leg injury.
“It’s definitely not an ideal situation,” Brooks said. “It’s great to be back, though. ... There’s nothing we can do. We’re following the rules. It’s definitely a challenge and we’re doing the best we can.”
The decision about the Portland-Memphis postponement came on the same day that the league, in a memo sent to teams and obtained by The Associated Press, reiterated some of the new stiffer protocols that were agreed to last week.
Starting with Wednesday’s games, the NBA told teams to have their security officials “stationed near the half-court line during pre-game warmups and post-game to provide reminders to players and staff and encourage compliance” with the rules regarding interaction.
The NBA wants players to maintain six feet of distance as much as possible during pre-game warmups and post-game chats — a policy that has not been followed in many circumstances, even with the additional urging from the league about its importance.
Players, the NBA reminded Wednesday, may elbow-bump and fist-bump, but hugs and handshakes are not permitted. Players exchanging pleasantries after games are “strongly encouraged to wear facemasks during any such interactions,” the league said.
The league reminded players that speaking face-to-face while unmasked raises risks of transmission. The league has also said that should a player test positive after such an interaction, the other player could have to quarantine because of possible exposure.
Portland is the 20th NBA team to have at least one game called off in the last two weeks. Memphis had its game at Minnesota last Friday called off after Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19.
Towns and Ricky Rubio were among the Timberwolves still sidelined by the league’s virus protocols Wednesday for a game against Orlando. Dallas played with four players still out for the same reason. Miami played in Tampa, Florida against Toronto with Jimmy Butler and Avery Bradley out for a fifth consecutive game because of protocols — with the likelihood there being that they will each miss at least three more games, since they’re not on the current Heat road trip. Boston is still without Jayson Tatum as well.
“It’s important to always have a contingency plan,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, when asked what it’s like coaching without knowing who will be available from one day to the next.
Postponed games, when possible, will be made up in the second half of the season.
Players who test positive must undergo a battery of exams before being cleared to return to play, such as cardiac tests. Those ruled out by contact tracing may return after a quarantine period, provided they continue to test negative for COVID-19.
“We don’t have a blueprint for this,” Brooks said.