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Knicks' Austin Rivers: 'The number one skill is availability'

The Knicks' Austin Rivers, left, pushes past theThunder's

The Knicks' Austin Rivers, left, pushes past theThunder's Luguentz Dort during the second half of an NBA game on Friday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

The Denver Nuggets will arrive at Madison Square Garden on Sunday missing one of their key players and fresh off a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, or at least what was left of the 76ers.

The two teams, to varying degrees, are victims of the COVID-19 virus and the health and safety protocols put in place by the NBA. And as the concerns spread throughout the league, the Knicks are well aware that avoiding the risks not only protects their health but also their chances of making their way through the schedule — and possibly even getting a competitive advantage.

While the 76ers were down to seven healthy players for Saturday’s 115-103 loss to the Nuggets — injured Mike Scott also was in uniform, giving Philadelphia the NBA-minimum eight players required, but was not available to play — after the positive COVID test for Seth Curry on Thursday in Brooklyn, Denver was without Michael Porter Jr. The rising young star was sidelined for a week because of health and safety protocols, and when he was due back Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks, he was ruled out shortly before tipoff. He faces an additional 10 to 14 days of quarantine.

"I guess as a player you can only control what you can control," said guard Austin Rivers, whose Knicks will host the Nuggets on Sunday night and whose father, Doc, coaches the 76ers. "It’s tough. I wish everybody safety and health. Everybody’s doing the best they can, following the protocols they set in place for everybody to remain healthy and safe, be able to play basketball and be a family man if you have family.

"At the end of the day, we can only control what we can control. My job is to limit myself and try to remain clean in terms of, obviously, everything. You’re talking about COVID. We’ve just got to do our part individually. It’s tough, though. It is everywhere. Unfortunately in our country, people don’t wear masks all the time. You have ignorance displayed every day, which is causing this to be more delayed and more serious."

The Knicks have been beset by injuries in the early part of the season but have managed to avoid succumbing to the COVID-19 testing process. Rivers, who missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a groin strain, has felt the virus personally, losing one of his AAU coaches to the disease Friday.

"It’s not a game," he said. "It’s frustrating to see people mess around with that stuff. You can just control what you can control. The Knicks have done a great job of keeping us in line with that stuff. You want to go out. You want to see family. You want to do things. But not all those are things that you can do."

The league managed to get through the restart of last season in a bubble in Orlando, Florida, without incident. But now, with players and staff traveling and interacting without the restrictions of that bubble environment, even constant testing has been unable to fully protect players and teams.

When Curry’s positive test was revealed to the 76ers on Thursday, he immediately was removed from the bench (he already was in street clothes, sitting out with an ankle injury). He had tested negative earlier in the day in a rapid test and the PCR test result did not come back until the game already had begun. That put the 76ers in a situation in which they opted to remain in Brooklyn and quarantine and contact trace before leaving town.

They are not alone. The Chicago Bulls have had players test positive in recent weeks and the Boston Celtics announced Saturday that Jayson Tatum will be held out for 10 to 14 days for health and safety protocols.

"The number one skill is availability," Rivers said. "If we can remain doing the things that we’re supposed to do — a lot of it has to do with just bad luck and good luck in terms of getting it. Some guys aren’t taking all the precautions. It’s a crazy thing. Some people touch something and end up getting it.

"With that being aside, if we do our job and we remain available, it gives us a chance to win every night and it gives us an advantage because you see a lot of teams having star players [out]. Just saw Tatum today with Boston go down. You get to see some of these teams missing some of their guys and if we’re fully loaded, it just gives us another advantage. So we’ve got to try to do our part."

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