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COVID-19 restrictions ramp up as Knicks embark on four-game West Coast trip

Knicks forward Julius Randle holds onto the ball

Knicks forward Julius Randle holds onto the ball before driving down court during the first half of an NBA game against the Magic on Monday at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

Heading out to travel in any capacity carries a risk for everyone these days. It is no different for NBA teams despite how hard they try to limit the risk through the advantages of wealth — using private jets and buses and carefully guided paths to privacy at team hotels.

But it still is a risk, as evidenced by the rising number of postponed games, shut-down practice sites and — even if the numbers might be good in comparison with society as a whole — positive COVID tests among players.

The Knicks have managed to maneuver through the first month of the season without incident, and with the league clamping down even tighter, began a four-game West Coast trip in San Francisco against Golden State on Thursday night.

The Knicks actually headed out a day early, leaving Tuesday on an off day and practicing at the Chase Center on Wednesday. But it was far from a vacation day.

The members of the team are restricted to their hotel rooms, unable to head out to local restaurants — even the limited list of NBA-approved dining spots have been eliminated — and the usual team gatherings are reduced to distanced events.

"I don’t have all the answers, honestly," Julius Randle said. "I just think the league is trying to do what’s in the best interest of us right now. For us and, like I said, our families. We’ve got to do the necessary precautions that we have to do if we want to keep playing basketball.

"That’s just kind of where it is right now. It sucks, being stuck in the room in the hotel. It’s really boring. We watched so many shows. Room service gets old. But we’re blessed and very lucky that we get to play the game that we love on a night-to-night basis. I would say we’re fortunate."

It hasn’t exactly been a vending machine at a motel, but this new experience is quite different for NBA players. The Knicks have tried to make it as good as it can be while protecting the players and staff, utilizing catering from local restaurants on the road. There have been meals brought in from St. Elmo Steakhouse in Indianapolis, Strega in Boston, Hattie Marie’s in Atlanta and Mabel’s in Cleveland.

After games, the Knicks will have a local restaurant spread waiting for the team, but otherwise, they have to resort to calling room service.

The focus for the NBA throughout the start of this season outside of the bubble-like environment in Orlando utilized to resume last season has been on these off-court interactions. But more restrictions have been put in place this week for on-court behavior, placing league security in place to stop the usual hugs and handshakes after games.

"It’s definitely different," Randle said. "I don’t know how it’s really going to be enforced just ’cause naturally it’s just something we do, a part of what we do. Everybody shows everybody love. So I don’t really know how they’re going to enforce it or not.

"We’ll do our best to be conscious of it. They’re looking out for the best interest of us and our safety, our family’s safety. So we’ll try to be as conscious of it as we can. But naturally, you might mess up."

"That’s sort of the nature of our season, a shortened training camp and then how quickly can you adapt to everything," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When the schedule came out, you have the opportunity to dig into it and actually thought there was some benefits to having a heavy road schedule like we did. It did allow us to spend a lot of time together. We had a lot of people working together for the first time. We tried to take advantage of it that way — film sessions, dinners, all the time we spent together.

"There’s definitely a benefit to it. Whatever comes your way, you have to make the best of it. For the most part, our guys have done that."

New York Sports