Grizzlies-Blazers called off; NBA stresses new protocols

Memphis Grizzlies Taylor Jenkins holds the play board during a timeout in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Memphis Grizzlies Taylor Jenkins holds the play board during a timeout in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Contact tracing issues for the Memphis Grizzlies meant they would not have enough players eligible to play in Portland on Wednesday night, leading to the 16th game postponement for coronavirus-related reasons by the NBA this season.

Of those, 15 have come since Jan. 10 and the number could rise again soon: Memphis is scheduled to play in Portland on Friday as well. The league has not made any announcement about whether that game will happen as planned.

By NBA rule, teams must have eight eligible players for games; the Grizzlies would not meet that threshold because of “ongoing contact tracing,” the league said.

The decision about the Portland-Memphis game came on the same day that the league, in a memo sent to teams and obtained by The Associated Press, reiterated some of the new stiffer protocols that were agreed to last week.

Starting with Wednesday’s games, the NBA told teams to have their security officials “stationed near the half-court line during pre-game warmups and post-game to provide reminders to players and staff and encourage compliance” with the rules regarding interaction.

The NBA, last week, said players must maintain six feet of distance as much as possible during pre-game warmups and post-game meetings — a rule that has not been followed in many circumstances, even with the additional urging from the league about its importance.

Players, the NBA reminded Wednesday, must limit their interactions to elbow bumps and fist bumps. Hugs and handshakes are not permitted, and when players are exchanging pleasantries after games they remain “strongly encouraged to wear facemasks during any such interactions,” the league said.

Included in Wednesday’s guidance from the league: a reminder that speaking face-to-face while unmasked raises meaningful risks of transmission. The league has also said that should a player test positive after such an interaction, the other player could have to quarantine because of his possible exposure.

The Grizzlies have not played in Portland since April 3, 2019. They were scheduled to play there on March 12, 2020 — the day after the NBA suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Portland is the 20th NBA team to have at least one game called off in the last two weeks. Memphis had its game at Minnesota last Friday called off after Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Postponed games, when possible, will be made up in the second half of the season, which will take place from March 11 — the one-year anniversary of last season shutting down because of the pandemic — through May 16. The league has not yet released that half of the schedule and isn’t expected to do so until late February at the earliest.

Players who test positive must undergo a battery of exams before being cleared to return to play, such as cardiac tests. Those ruled out by contact tracing have been able, in most circumstances, to return after a quarantine period provided they continue to test negative for COVID-19.

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