The NBA gave Orlando coach Steve Clifford a call recently, telling him he had to do a better job of keeping his mask on during games.
Clifford didn’t argue.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
Nobody would argue the need for utmost of caution in the NBA right now.
The league has endured a rough week — 12 games postponed since Sunday amid positive COVID-19 tests for some players and potential exposures determined through contact tracing keeping others off the floor for several days. The latest three postponements were announced Friday; Cleveland’s games at Washington on Sunday and Monday are off because the Wizards won’t have enough players — and Memphis’ game at Minnesota, scheduled for Friday night, was called off a couple hours before game time because the Timberwolves didn’t have enough to play.
“The NBA’s been pointing to this period for quite some time, that this was going to be very difficult,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said. “And they weren’t kidding.”
Washington has six players positive, Sheppard said, along with three others out for contact-tracing issues and two more injured.
Miami could get as many as six of its eight COVID-affected players who have missed time this week — mostly because of contact tracing — back Saturday for a game against Detroit; Avery Bradley and Jimmy Butler will remain out, the team said.
The Wizards are just hoping to be able to have players in to resume workouts. No basketball has been played in their facility for most of this week.
“We have six players right now,” Sheppard said.
The league and the National Basketball Players Association earlier this week stiffened the protocols that players must live by during these delicate times, and coaches aren’t exempt from saying they need to be more diligent on the safety front as well — particularly when it comes to masks.
Properly wearing masks is part of life now, not just NBA life, as part of the effort to fend off the coronavirus. But when coaches feel the need to yell, many still succumb to the urge to tug the mask down and make sure their voice is heard without whatever muffling can be caused by a thin piece of fabric.
“It isn’t always easy,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “Sometimes I’m in the huddle or on the floor, and I’m doing all kinds of things to try to keep my mask on (and) let guys hear me, and after the third time they say ‘Coach, I can’t hear what you’re saying,’ you try to pull it down quick.”
The postponed games, going back to Sunday, involve 16 teams. It was also learned this week that 16 players tested positive in recent days, which was more than the NBA had seen in the last five weeks combined. And next week’s report has the potential to be equally bad, possibly worse.
Boston didn’t play for a full week and had three games pushed back. Miami lost twice in Philadelphia with half its roster unavailable. Phoenix had a three-game homestand wiped away because the Suns didn’t have enough players to field a team.
And now the Wizards have seen a league-high four games postponed. They last played Monday, against Phoenix. The earliest they’ll play again is this coming Wednesday in Charlotte.
“I think four teams have missed multiple games,” Sheppard said. “I think that’s a small victory considering what’s going on out there around the league.”
The league made it through the season’s first 2-1/2 weeks with just one postponement related to COVID-19. The tally is up to 13 now, and counting. Postponed games, when possible, will be made up in the second half of the season, which will take place from March 11 — the one-year anniversary of last season shutting down because of the pandemic — through May 16.
The league ramped up the protocols as part of its response to the recent developments, putting in strict, albeit temporary, limits on what players can do both at home and on the road — essentially limiting them to practices, games, workouts and tending to essential matters. Additional testing and roster increases are under consideration.
Coaches say they must do their part to keep things safe.
“Your form of communication has to change,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But I can’t even believe how much of the norm this has become. I’ll be in my hotel room, by myself, a lot of times with my mask on and not even realize it.”
Clifford is a big-time mask proponent, and has been since even before the league restarted last season in the Walt Disney World bubble near Orlando. He has been preaching the values of mask-wearing for months.
“I think there were seven of us who got a call from the league about ‘Keep your mask on,’” Clifford said. “So, I’m going to do better, no matter what. I have some masks that are easier for the guys to hear than others. I’m just going to wear the right mask. I’ve got to do better.”