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New COVID guidelines loom for players, team staff

Beginning Dec. 17, NBA players who have not received a booster COVID-19 dose will be subject to game day testing.

Nikola Vucevic says it’s been hard for the Bulls after having several players enter Health & Safety Protocols.

DENVER (AP) — There’s no game in Chicago on Tuesday, no trip for the Bulls to Toronto for another on Thursday.

Just like that, the coronavirus has disrupted the day-to-day operations of the NBA.

The Bulls are shut down for what will be at least a few days with 10 players in Health and Safety Protocols. But the impact is not limited to Chicago.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle is missing some games, the Brooklyn Nets will be without five players for their home game Tuesday against Toronto because of the protocols and Raptors President Masai Ujiri tested positive after hosting an event that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum attended and have needed to undergo daily testing since. It’s not just players and executives, either, but officials and broadcast teams, too.

This all underscores what NBA officials have been saying for weeks: The pandemic is still very much a problem and that’s why Friday is such a priority. Friday is Booster Day, when the league’s most important percentage won’t be of the 3-point variety.

The current data from the NBA indicates more than 60% of players have gotten their booster shots. Under the new guidelines, that potentially means somewhere around 150 players would now be subject to daily testing again.

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association have been urging players and staff to get their coronavirus booster shot for the past several weeks. On Friday, the latest league guidelines will be implemented.

Lately, there have been plenty of stark reminders this pandemic is far from over and won’t be going away anytime soon. In addition to depleted rosters for the Bulls and Nets, along with Carlisle remaining sidelined due to Health and Safety Protocols, Indiana and Toronto recently had to scrap some practices, just in case, and other teams have undergone additional testing to ensure that they’re safe.

The Pacers and Warriors had only two officials for Monday night’s game, with the third in Health and Safety Protocols. The Raptors announced their broadcast team will self-isolate out of precaution after contact with someone who tested positive.

Pacers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce succinctly summed up the current state of the pandemic while filling in for Carlisle last Friday when he said it is “always joyful when you just get to the court. … With the state of COVID, there’s always something going on.”

The NHL already postponed some games this season and on Monday, with the announcement that two Bulls games were off, the NBA joined hockey in the postponed club. The league always anticipated that postponements were possible again this season. About 30 games were moved around last season but all eventually got played.

One provision of the new league booster guidelines states that a team staffer who doesn’t have their booster shot by Friday — with limited exceptions — will no longer have the ability to have in-person access with players, coaches and referees. Plus, the staffer will be banned from joining their clubs on road trips.

As for the players who haven’t received their booster, they will be subject to game-day testing again, and the league will reserve the right to impose additional testing on their respective teams as needed going forward.

Ujiri announced he was among those who tested positive for the virus after he recently went to his charity event. In a statement from the team, Ujiri said: “We don’t want to live in fear of this virus, but COVID is a persistent enemy. Together, we’ll defeat it.”

The Bulls’ list of players out: Zach LaVine, Troy Brown Jr., DeMar DeRozan, Matt Thomas, Coby White, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu, Stanley Johnson and now Alize Johnson.

Players in the Health and Safety Protocols must be sidelined at least 10 days or record two negative COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period before they can resume basketball activities.

“I guess it’s part of the world we live in right now,” Bulls center Nikola Vucevic recently said. “This whole situation with COVID, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense right now. Obviously, the scientists and everybody around the world don’t have the answers, so I definitely don’t.”

Vucevic explained that when he tested positive, he wouldn’t have even known it. He said he didn’t have any symptoms besides a “little cold, and if it wasn’t for COVID, I never even would have thought about anything more. …

“When there’s a lot of guys like this at once, it’s hard. Our only hope is that nobody else pops up positive.”

Carlisle missed a game against his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. Pierce stepped in and tried to keep things as routine as possible — following in the footsteps of Carlisle. It worked, with the Pacers beating the Mavs 106-93.

Still, it was an anxious 24 hours for the Pacers before tipoff as they waited for all the tests to come back.

“Apart from the scary, I think everyone was happy we got a day off, to be honest,” Pacers power forward/center Domantas Sabonis cracked after the win. “I was happy. I’ve been in the protocol five days. So I’ve been testing. I knew I was good. We had to make sure no one else was positive.”

The NBA is stepping up its game since it’s all part of the territory — still.