The Phoenix Suns are now the latest NBA team to deal with contact tracing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, and their game Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks was called off by the league after it was learned they wouldn’t have enough players cleared to participate.
That was the third game on Wednesday’s schedule to be called, joining Utah at Washington and Orlando at Boston. It also marks the second consecutive time that a team ran into issues after playing in Washington; the Miami Heat lost eight players to COVID-related issues following their road game against the Wizards on Saturday.
“Not ideal,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter tweeted, shortly after the postponement of the game in Phoenix was announced.
The Hawks-Suns postponement was the sixth in the league since Sunday, and the seventh overall this season because of virus issues. The Suns, Hawks, Heat, Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers are among the teams dealing with significant roster depletion in recent days because of either positive tests, tracing — which indicates if someone has been in an unsafe amount of contact with a person who tested positive — or both.
It remains very possible that more games may have to be postponed.
Phoenix has home games coming up against Golden State on Friday and Indiana on Saturday, and Washington is scheduled to go to Detroit on Friday. The Celtics are hoping to host the Magic on Friday in the second game of what was intended to be a two-game series; if that game happens, it would be Boston’s first contest in a full week.
“I think the biggest thing is, obviously we want to be safe, first and foremost, but we want to figure out how we can do it,” Heat guard Duncan Robinson said. “Because recently, I think probably the biggest thing we’ve all struggled with is the uncertainty of, ‘Who’s playing? Who’s out? What are we doing? What’s this protocol? What’s that protocol?’ So, that’s been frustrating but everyone’s going through it.”
On Tuesday, the League and the National Basketball Players Association released updated rules that will be in place for “at least the next two weeks,” requiring players and team staff to remain at their residences when in their home markets and being prohibited from leaving their hotels when on the road — with exceptions primarily for practices and games.
Additional measures now include limiting team pregame meetings in locker rooms to 10 minutes, with the extra caveat that everyone must wear a mask. The mask-wearing rules in bench areas during games have also been stiffened.
Postponed games are likely to be rescheduled in the second half of the season. The league has only released schedules through March 4, saying earlier this season that the second half would also include “any games postponed … that can reasonably be added to the second half schedule.”