'Uncertainty is part of daily life': Pistons-Heat delayed due to COVID-19 protocols
In the midst of the pandemic, the NBA has taken on a slew of new procedures to help ensure the safety of all the players, coaches and team personnel. In addition to the morning practices and shootarounds, there are mandatory COVID tests, which have become the new harbinger of how the rest of the day will go.
An inconclusive test — or worse, a positive test — can kick-start a whole new set of protocols that could include postponing games until the second half of the season, as many teams have done because of contact tracing.
The Pistons had made it through the first 10 games of the season before they were directly impacted, with Friday’s home game against the Washington Wizards postponed because several Wizards players have tested positive for the virus.
The second hit came Monday, when the Pistons’ matchup against the Miami Heat was pushed back five hours because of testing issues in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. What was a 3 p.m. tipoff was delayed until 8 p.m. as the two teams sorted through procedural testing issues.
Traveling parties from each team do their COVID testing in the morning and if those tests are inconclusive, it could impact whether a game is will be played — especially an early-afternoon tipoff — if everything isn’t cleared in time.
“We found out (about the delay) mid-morning and we already had our breakfast and testing. So, it just changed what time the bus left,” coach Dwane Casey said before Monday’s game. “It shouldn't have changed a lot dramatically — we can't leave the rooms anyway — so there's not a lot going on and not a lot you have to rearrange, except what time the bus leaves.”
The Heat went through their own close calls with COVID protocols, with as many as eight players in contact tracing last week. In their two games against the Philadelphia 76ers, they barely met the NBA-mandated minimum of eight players available for both games.
The Heat lost both games and ahead of Saturday’s game against the Pistons, they had to get six players cleared from the contact tracing before they were sure that that game would be played. Miami was without two starters, as Jimmy Butler and Avery Bradley remained out because of contact tracing.
“Uncertainty is part of daily life. You prepare as if you're going to play the team — you have to. You don't know exactly who you're preparing for, but if it doesn't happen, you get ready for the next day,” Casey said Saturday. “We knew this year was going to be this way; we knew there was going to be a lot of uncertainty, and we have to be flexible. We have to go with the flow. And in the meantime, make sure everybody stays safe.”
Last week, the league and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to stricter COVID protocols to help reduce the spread of positive tests. In the most recent results, the NBA announced 16 new positive tests of the 497 players tested from Jan. 6-12.
Those new measures include requiring players to stay at their home when in their home market and only leave for team-related activities and for “essential” activities such as infrequent grocery shopping. On the road, players and team staff are required to stay in the hotel except for team activities.
It’s turned into a new normal in trying to deal with the new regulations in addition to all the basketball and logistical issues. Gone are the trips to favorite restaurants or clubs or doing simple things such as visiting friends and relatives or tourist attractions in other cities.
“It's this year's NBA. The only thing that's certain is uncertainty — and that's how you we have to approach it,” Casey said. “We really didn't know whether we were going to get on the plane to come down here (Friday). (General manager Troy Weaver) was in touch with Miami and they weren't sure about their protocol situation.”
Basketball games are referred to as business trips — and with the enhanced protocols, there’s much more to worry about than just the typical things on a game day. That changes the daily conversation from just the X’s and O’s to more of the things going on around them.
“We may talk about some protocols and new testing rules or whatever it is, but they're very aware of what's going on in the world,” Casey said. “We have very intelligent players, not only on our team but I think throughout the league, players are very aware of what's going on, and understand the safety protocols and should understand why the league has the safety protocols going on.
“We just have to make sure we do the right things, stay safe and be safe not only for ourselves but our fellow teammates, the rest of the league and our families.”