The Knicks entered Tuesday night's game against Detroit with six players — Miles McBride, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox — in COVID-19 protocols.
League-wide as of Dec. 19, at least 70 players were in protocol Tuesday night. The uptick in cases had led to seven postponed games this month and forced the league to draw up new rules so that undermanned teams can sign replacement players.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview on ESPN Tuesday that the NBA is not looking to suspend play at this time, adding that 90% of the new cases were the omicron variant.
"No plans right now to pause the season," Silver said. "We have of course looked at all the options, but frankly we are having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now.
"As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country, let alone the rest of the world, I think we're finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to over the past several months, and that is this virus will not be eradicated, and we're going to have to learn to live with it. I think that's what we're experiencing in the league right now."
Yet, living with it when you play a game that requires close physical contact with others is not easy. The missing teammates not only impact players physically as the healthy players have to put in extra time, it also impacts them emotionally as many have to worry about not only catching the virus themselves but bringing it back to their families.
Though the Knicks players are all vaccinated, children under the age of 5 cannot be vaccinated and many of the players have young kids at home. At least three Knicks, including Julius Randle, have babies who have been born since the start of training camp.
This means taking extra precautions at work and at home.
"Yeah, it’s definitely something I try to be cautious of," Randle said. "When I’m at home and around my son, I try to be cautious of how I’m interacting with him and touching him and all that different type of stuff. It’s tough.
"My mom was just in town. She’s diabetic. She left right before all this happened. I was talking to her yesterday and I’m glad she’s back home and safe. It’s definitely in the back of my mind when you’re at home and interacting with family members for sure."
On Monday, the Knicks had just 10 players available for practice.
"You just take it day by day," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Come in, work, concentrate, get ready. The same thing goes into winning. Whoever you have, you can’t be [in the NBA] without being a great player. Everyone is capable. It’s get in there and get the job done."
Ninety-five percent of the league is vaccinated, and everyone on the Knicks roster has had the vaccine. Thibodeau said as the numbers of those in protocol rise, he notices players being more and more cautious.
"I think so," he said. "Just being aware of what’s going on right now. You want to take every precaution. You want to play it safe. Safety has to come first. These guys, you can’t overlook that they have families. They have things they are concerned about as well. I think we are all in the same boat."
Still, with so many teammates out, there is a different, more somber, vibe about the team.
"We’re taking all the precautions necessary and wearing a mask and different types of stuff," Randle Said. "But it’s tough. It’s different when you get on the plane and the people you’re normally sitting by aren’t there. So yeah, it’s a little weird.
"But it’s the league right now. It’s the world."