Sixers proceed with season despite COVID-19 vexing roster

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By KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- The coronavirus pandemic is presenting a growing problem for NBA rosters almost three weeks into the season, but the league plans to keep moving along, according to a report on Sunday.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA anticipates games will be postponed, and they'll keep being guided by medical experts and protocols, but they have no plans to pause.

As of Monday afternoon, there have been four postponements this season. And that doesn't included Saturday's Sixers game against the Denver Nuggets, which the Sixers lost 115-103 while playing only seven players.

A minimum of eight "available" players is required for a game to happen. The eighth Sixers player was forward Mike Scott, who is recovering from a knee contusion.

Yet, the NBA did not postpone Saturday’s game, even though the Sixers were clearly at a competitive disadvantage — and Seth Curry tested positive for the coronavirus only two days prior, leading to an extended stay in New York for quarantining, testing and contact tracing.

"I don’t think we should (play today)," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said before Saturday’s loss. "But that’s not for me to express that (to the NBA). I do worry about our player health on the floor."

Rivers said he trusted the league’s medical experts, but he worried about the physical toll Saturday could take. Three rookies — Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe and Dakota Mathias — each played over 40 minutes of the 48 minute game.

"COVID created this, but the concern is not COVID now," Rivers said after thengame. "The concern is injuries, because guys are playing so many minutes because we don’t have enough guys. And I think if I was deciding games in that way, I would be very careful if I’m the league because you don’t want that to happen either."

As of Monday morning, the Sixers are still scheduled to play the Atlanta Hawks on the road. The Sixers are expected to be missing at least eight of their 17 players, which will lead to nine available, at most.

Based on the NBA’s health and safety protocol, Curry is expected to miss at least the next five games.

Though Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Vincent Poirier did not test positive, they will not be available for a second game in a row because contact tracing deems them ineligible. It’s unclear how long they’ll need to stay out while continuing to test negative.

Meanwhile, Ben Simmons is out with sweling in his left knee. A team source told KYW Newsradio that Simmons is day-to-day. Furkan Korkmaz remains out as he recovers from a left adductor strain. Terrance Ferguson has missed time recently due to personal reasons.

One of the positive developments is that Joel Embiid will likely play after having missed Saturday because of back tightness. Scott is available as well.

Saturday’s loss to Denver ended a 20-game winning streak for the Sixers at Wells Fargo Center that dated back to December 2019. One positive outcome that night was Maxey's sensational performance — scoring 39 points on 18 of 33 from the floor, while grabbing seven rebounds.

"He’s gonna be a terrific player," Rivers said.

"You have to be a pro’s pro," Maxey said Saturday of himself and his teammates, most of whom are young and inexperienced. "We all tried our best. That’s what matters in a situation like this."

NBA coronavirus protocols are also plaguing the Miami Heat.

In the meantime, the Sixers aren’t the only team dealing with coronavirus-related issues right now. As mentioned earlier, there have been two postponements, so far, this season. One of them was

The Boston-Miami game scheduled for Sunday was postponed because Miami didn’t have the required minimum of eight players.

The day before, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was asked about the Sixers playing with only seven guys.

"This, right now, is a reflection of the virus everywhere in the states," Spoelstra said. "And we are committed to proceeding with our industry. We’re doing it with all the best science and adherence to the protocols, but it is sobering because ultimately, we’re not in control, and there are going to be instances like we’ve seen where there potentially could be multiple players out."

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens — while having enough players to proceed against Miami before postponement — went into detail Friday, before his team’s game against the Wizards, about the contact tracing work the NBA does to align with public health requirements.

"The NBA goes through an incredibly detailed program whenever there are any concerns at all. So, they basically relive the last few days of your time all together, and I know they do that with every team. It’s a long, arduous task for our people that are in charge of all of our protocols," he said. "Those people are putting in a lot of time and effort, and they are the experts. So, I listen to them, and they tell me what we can and can’t do."

He continued, "(COVID-19) is still going to find its way into the league and to the travel parties. And so we’re all assuming some level of risk, and I think we accept that and, at the same time, we trust that the people in charge have health and safety as the No. 1 priority. And if it becomes too much, that’ll be somebody else’s decision who is an expert at it."

The NFL was able to power through many COVID-19 issues this season, but their situation is different from the NBA's. Whereas NFL teams play once a week, NBA teams play much more frequently.

There will likely be more of these challenges going forward, but the NBA seems to accept that and is willing to take the obstacles head on.