SAN ANTONIO – The NBA’s “bubble” is officially being put to the test.
By the end of Thursday, all 22 teams competing in the NBA’s restart will have arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. That includes the San Antonio Spurs, who are part of the last travel group departing on July 9 alongside the Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Bucks, 76ers, Trail Blazers and Raptors.
Since returning to practice on June 23, the Spurs have already been dealing with a number of safety regulations and have steadily increased the number of players and staff who can be at their practice facility at any given time. This week, all NBA teams were allowed a maximum of 8 players and 10 coaches on site at once.
Now, with teams traveling from different parts of the country and arriving in scheduled groups over the past three days, the challenge becomes creating and maintaining the “bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. In essence, the bubble is created by bringing in confirmed healthy players and staff and limiting their exposure to the virus from outside influences.
Several players have opted out of this restart entirely due to health concerns. If one players tests positive inside the bubble, the virus has the potential to spread rapidly. Other players have tested positive for the coronavirus and been ruled out, like San Antonio native and Brooklyn Nets forward Taurean Prince. Some teams, like the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers, have even had to shut down facilities over the last week due to a spike in the number of positive tests for the coronavirus.
So before the Spurs and the rest of the NBA can officially return to action on July 30, there are a number of process requirements that need to be met. Here’s a breakdown of what teams will be in for after they arrive in Florida:
Even though players have been individually tested prior to returning to workouts in San Antonio, the Spurs will be tested again when they touch down in Orlando. As one of the six teams entering the bubble not currently in the playoff picture, the Spurs will stay at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. The testing site will be a room inside the team hotel. No Spurs players have tested positive for the virus so far.
Coaches of an advanced age, like Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, have received additional testing to ensure that they are 100% safe and fully aware of the risks involved with this restart.
After checking into the team hotel, players and staff will be sequestered for 36 to 48 hours. The Spurs will have their own designated chef and food room that is open up to 24 hours a day, and meals will be delivered to each individual room to help enforce isolation. Only after receiving two negative tests will players be allowed to return to organized team activities.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has recently explained that this is the most important part of the NBA’s restart. The major concern isn’t that players could test positive upon arrival, but rather if players pass this first wave of tests and then test positive in the coming weeks while being inside the bubble.
“Once players enter this campus and then go through our quarantine period, then if they were to test positive or if we were to have any positive tests, we would know we would have an issue,” Silver said.
The number of positive tests that could constitute a “critical mass” and shut down the league’s restart entirely has not yet been determined.
3. TEAM TRAINING CAMPS
With players officially cleared, teams are allowed to return to normal, full-contact workouts. This stage is used primarily as a means of ramping players back up into their proper playing shape.
From July 9-21, players will not be allowed to interact with members of other teams and will be tested regularly. No official schedule for testing during this time has been released. Team practices can be held in three-hour blocks in any of the various arenas or hotel ballrooms at the complex.
Masks are required when players and staff are indoors with the sole exceptions of eating and staying in their individual rooms. They will not be required during outdoor physical activity.
4. INTER-SQUAD SCRIMMAGES
As part of the build back up to regular season intensity, NBA teams will compete in a trio of inter-squad scrimmages from July 22-28. The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has three separate arenas that will be in use for full scrimmages and regular season games. Over the course of that week, these arenas will host anywhere from three to six games per day.
The Spurs will play the Bucks, Nets and Pacers, all Eastern Conference teams. No broadcast details have been released at this time.
For San Antonio’s full scrimmage schedule, click here.
5. SEASON STARTS
The NBA season officially resumes on July 30 with a matchup between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans at 5:30 p.m. Reopening the season with the Jazz is a symbolic gesture, as Utah center Rudy Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus on March 11. His positive test essentially initiated the league’s instantaneous shutdown.
Game days for every team will include a team breakfast, a shootaround, lunch and some free time prior to tip off at night. Longer interactions at the arena will be limited to game action. Players will be required to dress at their respective hotels and then return to their individual rooms to shower.
During the season, players will be allowed to leave the campus, but if they do so without prior approval, quarantine will be enforced for 10 days. Some absences will be excused, such as family emergencies or the birth of a child. In these situations, players would then undergo a four-day quarantine, provided that they tested negative for the coronavirus every day they were outside the bubble.
The Spurs play their first game on July 31 against the Sacramento Kings at 7 p.m., kicking off a stretch of eight games over 14 days. As they enter this restart, San Antonio finds themselves four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. To make the cut and extend their NBA-record tying 22-consecutive season playoff streak, they will likely need to win the majority of their games and get other teams ahead of them in the standings to lose.
If the Spurs can climb the standings and reach the 9th spot at a minimum, and they are within four games of the 8th seed, they can force a play-in series against the 8th seed. In that scenario, San Antonio would need to win two games against the 8th seed to claim the playoff spot. If the Spurs are the 8th seed, they would only need to win one game to advance. These games would be played on Aug. 15-16. If the 8th seed is more than four games ahead of the 9th seed at the end of the regular season, there will be no play-in series.
Should the regular season conclude as scheduled, the first round of the standard NBA playoff format will begin on Aug. 17. With the start of the second round on Aug. 30, select guests and family members will be allowed to enter the bubble and attend games under strict quarantine and testing guidelines. Conference Finals will begin on Sept. 15. The NBA Finals are currently scheduled to start on Sept. 30.
NBA SEASON KEY DATES
|July 30||NBA Regular Season resumes|
|August 15-16||Potential Play-in games|
|August 17||Round 1 of Playoffs begin|
|August 30||Round 2 of Playoffs begin|
|September 15||Conference Finals begin|
|September 30||NBA Finals|