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Utah Jazz game postponed as NBA, union stiffen virus protocols

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Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie, left, defends against Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, center, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

TAKE NOTE: The NBA announced Tuesday, that the Utah Jazz game against the Washington Wizards Wednesday has been "postponed in accordance with the league's health and safety protocols."

With four games called off this week already and more teams dealing with virus-related issues, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have enacted additional Tuesday in the hope of keeping the season going safely. Among the new policies: for "at least the next two weeks," the league and union said Tuesday, players and team staff will have to remain at their residence when in their home markets and prohibited from leaving their hotels or having outside guests when on the road.

With four games called off this week already and more teams dealing with virus-related issues, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association enacted additional rules Tuesday in the hope of keeping the season going safely.

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 when on the road — with exceptions primarily for practices and games.

"I'm all for anything we possibly can do to ramp up the safety," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team had the NBA-minimum eight players in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, mising eight for COVID-related reasons and another with injury. "Just because we want to proceed with our profession doesn't mean that there isn't a reality of what's going on in the world. The virus is still very much out there."

Orlando's game in Boston on Wednesday is off, the fourth postponement since Sunday and the third involving the Celtics. Boston's most recent list showed eight players as unavailable because they are adhering to the NBA's health and safety protocols, which means they either tested positive or contact-tracing data showed they may have been exposed to someone who is positive.

"I'm for whatever the NBA wants us to do," Washington coach Scott Brooks said.

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 hotels.

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said "it would be irresponsible and unacceptable" to not seek better ways to keep players safe.

"No one wants to see more restrictions imposed," Roberts said. "No one also wants to see the infection rate increase if there are steps we can take to mitigate the risk. Our experts have concluded that these new procedures will add to our arsenal of weapons against the virus."

The new rules add to a challenging time in the NBA, especially when dealing with the mental strain of playing in a COVID-19 world. And the flurry of virus-related issues in the last few days have only made matters tougher.

"I feel like I'm living my life in a box," Portland guard Damian Lillard said. "I go to practice, I go back home, I don't go anywhere else."

When teams started testing in late November prior to the start of training camps, 48 players had positive COVID-19 tests. In the last four weeks, the league has seen a total of seven players test positive, part of the reason why the NBA and its governors have not seen reason to pause the season.

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 pre-game and in-game interactions with fellow players to elbow or fist bumps, with no extended socializing. And when a player is subbed out of a game, he can sit in a "cool down chair" without a mask — but must put a mask on when he returns to the bench and sits in his assigned seat.

The Wizards said Tuesday that two of their players are now dealing with the league's protocols; that raised the number of players leaguewide who have addressed some sort of virus-related issue in the past week to at least 36, based on information released by teams. Most of those are believed to be related to contact tracing, not positive tests.

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

"I think the thing that we're all trying to figure out is when somebody does test positive, the contact tracing, how does that work?" Chicago coach Billy Donovan said.

Boston's game in Chicago on Tuesday was called off because of virus concerns, as was the Dallas-New Orleans game on Monday and the Heat-Celtics matchup in Boston on Sunday. Dallas flew to Charlotte on Tuesday, indicating their Wednesday game is on as scheduled.

"This is real life, COVID-19, and taking the precautions and taking the protocols seriously is the most important thing," Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

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AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Jay Cohen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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THE NBA SAID THE FOLLOWING PROTOCOLS WILL TAKE PLACE IMMEDIATELY

  • Activities Outside the Team Environment: For at least the next two weeks, players and team staff are required to remain at their residence (when the team is in its home market) at all times 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. Away-from-work interactions are limited to those with household members, family and any personal staff working regularly in the home. When on the road, players and team staff are prohibited from leaving their hotel (other than for team activities or emergencies) or interacting with non-team guests at the hotel.
  • Meetings: For at least the next two weeks, any pre-game meeting in the locker room is limited to no more than 10 minutes in duration and all attendees must wear a facemask. All other meetings involving players and team staff must continue to occur on the court, in a league-approved space, or at the arena in a room large enough to provide for at least 6 feet of distance between individuals. Meeting attendees must continue to wear facemasks at all times.
  • On the Road: For team flights, teams must create a seating plan on planes so that players whose assigned seats are closest to each other on the bench for games are also closest to each other on the team plane. All treatment sessions at a hotel, such as massages and physical therapy, must occur in a ballroom or other large open space, with at least 12 feet between individual stations. Facemasks and face shields are required for all individuals during such sessions.
  • Game Day: Players are prohibited from arriving at the arena more than three hours before tip-off. During the pre- and post-game periods, players must limit interactions to elbow or fist bumps, avoid extended socializing and maintain 6 feet of distance as much as possible.
  • Facemasks: All players must wear facemasks on the bench at all times. Upon exiting the game, and prior to returning to the bench, players can sit in “cool down chairs,” arranged at least 12 feet from the bench with each chair 6 feet apart, where facemasks are not required. Once a player has cooled down, he must return to his assigned seat on the bench and wear a facemask until he enters the game again. Players must always wear facemasks in the locker room, during strength and conditioning activities and when traveling with anyone other than a household member. Coaches and other team staff must wear facemasks at all times during games.
  • Testing: Any individual who regularly visits the interior of the home of a player or team staff member for a professional purpose must undergo COVID-19 testing twice per week. For any team with a positive player case or high-risk staff member case, the NBA may require players and team staff to undergo five consecutive days of twice-per-day, lab-based testing, in addition to daily point-of-care testing.
  • The league’s Health and Safety Protocols may be additionally amended during the season as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic evolves.