Florida sees rapid rise in coronavirus cases as NBA prepares to arrive

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The rate of positive coronavirus tests in the Orlando, Florida, area has been soaring in recent days.

The NBA hopes that doesn’t matter.

After spending weeks on putting together an incredibly elaborate series of health and safety protocols — the word “testing” appears 282 times in the document — the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association believe they have done what is necessary to keep the 22 teams and others who will be part of the season restart at the Disney campus near Orlando next month safe and healthy.

Ready or not, basketball is almost back.

“No one is suggesting that this is going to be an infection-free, guaranteed environment,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told The Associated Press. “I guess, unless we go to … well, where would we go? What state has the lowest rate? There’s just no way of finding a sterile environment probably on this planet, but certainly, not in this country.”

Among the details that were included in the protocols released to teams Tuesday night: players will be invited to wear what the league calls a “proximity alarm” that will set off an audio alert when the person is within six feet of another person for more than five seconds and therefore not following social distancing guidelines, plus they can choose to wear a ring that will generate “a wellness assessment derived from metrics such as body temperature and respiratory and heart rate.”

Players and staff will also be given thermometers and a pulse oximeter so they can track their data and record it on the league’s daily health platform.

“I am optimistic about the NBA’s return to play policies and procedures,” Denver coach Michael Malone, who found out last month that he had already beaten COVID-19 after an antibody test showed he had the virus. “They are going to do whatever it takes to make this the safest environment as possible. There are no guarantees and there will be a risk, but I feel confident in the measures to be taken pre-Orlando and once in Orlando.”

True, there will be a risk.

And the league acknowledges that no plan can be perfect.

“These Protocols are designed to promote prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce exposure to, and transmission of, the coronavirus,” the league said. “However, it is possible that staff, players, or other participants in the resumption of the 2019-20 season nonetheless may test positive or contract the coronavirus.”

But by following strict rules – including regular testing, no leaving the Disney campus without returning to quarantine, no unauthorized guests, no family members even being permitted to arrive until late August and, though this didn’t likely have to be said, no spitting on the court – the NBA and the NBPA hope the risk is minimal as teams prepare for a Disney stay that could exceed three months for the teams that make the NBA Finals.

“It’ll still probably bother everybody that we’re not home,” Miami center Bam Adebayo said. “But at the end of the day, we’ll be happy to play basketball.”

The NBA’s arrival at Disney is looming as the rate of positive tests around the state are rising, and officials such as Gov. Ron DeSantis are facing criticism for re-opening many parts of the state’s economy. But if NBA players aren’t venturing out among the public, the hope is that no matter what’s going on beyond Disney’s fences that the quasi-bubble for basketball won’t be affected.

The rate of positive tests in the Orlando area in the seven-day period ending Monday was nearly 6%. For the seven days immediately preceding that, it was 2.4% – meaning the rate has more than doubled in a one-week span.

“It’s concerning but not surprising,” Roberts said. “I’ve watched this governor behave as if the virus is an inconvenience as opposed to a virus. So, I guess watching the way the state is adhering or not adhering to CDC guidelines, it’s not surprising that these numbers would go up.”

DeSantis has said Florida’s rising numbers reflects more testing and other factors, though the percentage of positive tests is also significantly higher than was the case just a couple of weeks ago across the state and in the Orlando area.

“My solace is that our guys are not going to be out and about in the city of Orlando,” Roberts said. “The players will be flown in non-commercial, and they will essentially be on campus for the entirety of their stay until such time as their season ends.”

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.