SAN ANTONIO – “The nose test is kind of tricky. It brings a couple of tears down your eyes, but everything else is not too bad.”
That was Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan’s response when he was asked how it felt to have COVID-19 testing done every day. It’s one of many changes to his current lifestyle since the NBA season was officially shut down on March 11.
“Everything has been so out of the ordinary, obviously with everyday life,” DeRozan explained. “Just getting back in the gym and getting a feel for it has been a challenge because you’re used to seeing teammates. That’s kind of your sanctuary, where you get to be able to laugh, joke and compete with your teammates. Now you’ve got to get tested before you come into the gym. They limit the people in the gym. You maybe see two or three people in the gym. It’s been a challenge, but for the most part, we try to make the most of it. Just to be in the gym is something beneficial.”
As the Spurs gear up to finish what remains of the shortened season, the state of Texas and the country as a whole are coping with another outbreak of coronavirus cases. San Antonio alone has topped 1,000 new cases in the last 24 hours.
There are a litany of risks associated with returning to practice from different facilities and then traveling to another main venue for high-intensity contact sports. While the NBA has been adamant that their bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando will be secure, there have been concerns over commuting staff members putting the players at risk of contracting the virus. As a result, some players have opted out of returning to play, while others will be making the trip to Florida next week.
“I think we’re all aware of that risk,” Spurs center Jakob Poeltl said. “Obviously, it wasn’t an easy decision, and everybody had to think individually about the situation, but from what i’m hearing, the NBA is going above and beyond to create the safest possible environment for us in this bubble. It’s going to be more safe for us to be in that bubble, where we’re getting tested very regularly and where everything is getting cleaned at all times, than maybe even being at home. We’re going into this not really knowing what to expect, but I think it was important for us to get started again.”
Getting started again is one thing, but finding a semblance of normalcy is another. With no fans in the stands, there’s a good chance the atmosphere during games will be completely different and that television microphones will be able to pick up more in-game interactions. That’s yet another challenge that players will have to adapt to on the fly.
“It’s crossed my mind here and there, but I haven’t really thought about what it’s actually going to be like,” Poeltl explained. “I think it’s definitely going to be an odd feeling when you’re going to have a run going and it’s just quiet in the arena. It’s the same situation for everybody, so we’re all going to deal with it. Basketball games can get pretty heated, pretty emotional. Usually a lot of that gets drowned out by the noise around us. I’m guessing we’re going to hear a lot more. I don’t know how good they are at bleeping it out in real time, but I’d expect there to be some swearing here and there.”
With all of that in mind, the Spurs now have eight games left to try and make a playoff push to extend their current NBA record-tying streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances. They will have to accomplish that feat without one of their biggest weapons in LaMarcus Aldridge, who will sit out the remainder of the season after his successful shoulder surgery in April. San Antonio will begin play four games behind the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, and the team knows the odds of making the cut are slim.
“Basketball coming back is a second chance for everybody,” DeRozan said. “It sucks that we couldn’t play out the last 20-21 games we had left to really be able to give ourselves a chance. I felt like we were really on a roll at the end of the season. This format is a tricky situation because you have to hope for other things to go wrong, and you’ve damn near got to go out there and be perfect.”
That quest for perfection begins next week, as the Spurs travel to Orlando on July 9. After a couple weeks of training camps, they will officially restart their season against the Sacramento Kings on July 31. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.