NBA postpones Heat-Spurs, after Miami has COVID outbreak

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

MIAMI – The NBA postponed Wednesday's game between Miami and San Antonio after a combination of injuries and positive COVID-19 tests left the Heat unable to meet the league's requirement of eight available players.

It was the 10th game postponed in the NBA this season because of virus-related issues. None has been rescheduled at this point.

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Miami had 12 players listed as out for the game against the Spurs for a variety of reasons. The Heat beat Washington on Tuesday night with eight players available — and of those, only five would have been able to play Wednesday in San Antonio.

Gabe Vincent, who played 35 minutes in Tuesday's win, learned after the game that he had a positive test and couldn't travel. Jimmy Butler was ruled out for Wednesday after spraining his right ankle with about a minute left in the Wizards' game and KZ Okpala was unable to play because of an injury he sustained Tuesday as well.

The Heat also added P.J. Tucker and and Zylan Cheatham, neither of whom played Tuesday, to the health and safety protocols. And Tuesday's game came after Miami guard Max Strus — who had been feeling no symptoms — was pulled after he warmed up, because of a positive test that required him to enter the protocols.

“That’s the perplexing thing about this right now, this variant," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think we’ve gotten to a point — I’ve said it before — we need more information. Are there more asymptomatic cases? All of this is with the caveat of double vaccination, with a booster and then asymptomatic, what does that mean and what adjustments can we make there? ... I think it leads to a lot of confusion."

Miami had tried to get roster help Wednesday — ironically — from the Austin Spurs, San Antonio's G League affiliate, in part because those players could get to San Antonio relatively quickly and in time to play Wednesday. Miami was in the process of signing Austin center Aric Holman to a hardship contract Wednesday, and it likely will need more reinforcements before its next scheduled game Friday in Houston.

Almost every team in the NBA has been dealing with a virus-related issue in recent days, with 119 players known to be in the protocols by Wednesday evening. That figure, which changes often as players test in and out, does not include coaches, staff and others in the protocols — including referees. The NBA said Wednesday night that referee Justin Van Duyne had entered protocols, leaving the league with a two-man crew to work the game between Phoenix and Oklahoma City.

The league told teams early Wednesday that it was amending its protocols again, this time to shorten the amount of time a player who tests positive needs to spend in isolation to five days — following guidance released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The league made that disclosure in a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

The five-day isolation is predicated on the player either being asymptomatic or having his symptoms gone by the fifth day. That change doesn't necessarily mean a player could return to the court more quickly, since the updated CDC guidelines also call for an additional five days of wearing a mask when around others after leaving isolation.

But it does allow teams, when a player or staffer tests positive on a road trip and must begin isolating immediately, the ability to use commercial airlines to fly that person home sooner than has been the case in some instances while the 10-day isolation period was in effect.

Another policy tweak is coming for those attending Golden State Warriors games after Feb. 1, requiring most fans to have received a booster shot.

Complying with a revised mandate issued Wednesday in San Francisco, the Warriors said they'll be verifying “proof of up-to-date vaccinations, which includes proof of a booster shot at least one week prior to an event for eligible guests" before allowing those guests into the arena. Until then, the only mandate for those games remains a guest be fully vaccinated.

And in the next step toward his season debut, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving — who has not played this season because of his decision to not get vaccinated but cleared the NBA's protocols earlier this week — returned to practice Wednesday.

“I know everybody’s feeling it," Irving said. “Just praying for everybody to be healthy during these times."


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