The reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic finally caught up with the Nets on Sunday. With an NBA-high 10 players unavailable because they are in health and safety protocols, the league postponed the final two games of the Nets’ current homestand scheduled against the Nuggets on Sunday and the Wizards on Tuesday.
The Nets were not alone. The NBA also postponed the Cleveland at Atlanta and New Orleans at Philadelphia games on Sunday plus an Orlando at Toronto game scheduled on Monday. That brings the total number of postponements to seven as of Sunday. According to the "COVID-tracker maintained by CBSSports.com, a total of 68 players from 19 teams were in health and safety protocols as of Sunday.
The Nets issued no formal statement regarding the postponements beyond the one provided by the NBA, and there was no word whether any additional players, entered health and safety protocols on Sunday.
But one source told Newsday some Nets suffered injuries Saturday against the Magic and would not have been able to play Sunday, leaving the Nets below the eight-player minimum requirement.
The Nets played short-handed in each of their past three games. On Dec. 13, Paul Millsap entered health and safety protocols, and six other Nets, including James Harden, joined him before they defeated the Raptors last Tuesday while using the minimum eight players. They defeated the 76ers last Thursday with a roster numbering nine, and they lost to the Magic Saturday with eight players because Nic Claxton was injured.
Before the Magic game on Saturday, it was announced that Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Day’Ron Sharpe also had entered health and safety protocols, bringing the total number of Nets in quarantine to 10.
All of the Nets are said to be fully vaccinated except for Irving, who is not eligible to play games in the New York area because he is in violation of the city’s vaccine mandate. The Nets on Oct. 12 decided Irving could not practice or play road games for which he was eligible until he became eligible for all games because they didn’t want a part-time player.
They reversed that stance Friday when they announced Irving could return and would be used in road games. But on Saturday, Irving entered health and safety protocols after either returning a positive COVID test, an inconclusive test or because of contact tracing as an unvaccinated player.
All unvaccinated players must be tested every day. Everyone in health and safety protocols must quarantine for 10 days but can return sooner if they have two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
With their homestand cut short, the Nets’ next scheduled games involve a three-game West Coast trip for a game Thursday in Portland and two games in Los Angeles, including a Christmas Day game at the Lakers and then Dec. 27 at the Clippers. Originally, it was believed that would be Irving’s first chance to play, but when he entered quarantine, it meant his next chance would be a Jan. 5 game at Indiana.
Following the loss to the Magic on Saturday, Blake Griffin was asked to describe the uncertainty faced by the Nets with so many players out and the prospect of having Irving in the future on a part-time basis.
"We go play basketball whether it is eight guys or 14 guys or whatever it is," Griffin said. "As far as when everybody comes back, we will take back as many bodies as we can. When Ky comes back, we’ll obviously welcome him back. We’re excited to have him back.
"We’ll kind of cross that bridge when it comes to it. Right now, it’s just too much chaos to worry about anything else in the future that we can’t control at the moment."