Kyrie Irving is out of the protocols. More than 100 other NBA players are still waiting to take that step.
The Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets announced Tuesday that Irving, along with Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge, have cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols — a major step toward getting them back on the court.
Irving has not played this season, largely because of his decision not to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and the Nets initially not being willing to have the perennial All-Star with them on a part-time basis. Irving has not been eligible to play home games because of a local rule in New York requiring vaccinations, and he and the Nets decided earlier this month that having him back — even if only for road games — will allow the team “to more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster.”
Durant hasn’t played since Dec. 16, but he has missed only three games because the Nets had three others postponed due to their virus issues. Aldridge has not played since Dec. 12, missing five games.
Some other teams are bracing themselves for more games with in some cases deeply depleted rosters. Atlanta added three more players to the protocols, putting its total at an astonishing 13 — a figure that doesn’t even include assistant coaches who are also sidelined.
Leaguewide, entering Tuesday evening, the number of players known to be in the protocols was at 122, with some presumably on the cusp of returning and others just starting their stints in isolation. Also out for now: Five head coaches, the latest addition being Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault, who was ruled out from coaching the Thunder game Tuesday against Sacramento.
Another notable addition to the protocols: Miami’s Udonis Haslem, who has had to play far more than usual lately because the Heat have been without centers Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon because of injury. Haslem was ruled out of the Heat game Tuesday against Washington, a matchup where the Wizards were bracing to miss at least a half-dozen players for virus issues alone.
The NBA has already seen more players appear in a game this season than in any other year in league history — 546 and counting, entering Tuesday, with the season not even to the midway point yet. The previous record for players used in a full season was 540.
NHL adds nine postponements, shifts game from Canada
Sixteen months after choosing Canada as the safest place to complete its season, the NHL postponed nine more games — all of them in Canada — and cited attendance restrictions in Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Calgary. It also moved a Jan. 12 game in Montreal between the Bruins and Canadiens to Boston.
With 80 games now postponed this season, the NHL hopes to shift the games in Canada to later in the season “when such restrictions may be eased or lifted.” More than other leagues, the NHL heavily relies on ticket sales revenue.
Attendance limits are only one piece of the NHL's Canada problem.
The NFL and NBA can swiftly move to adopt shorter isolation periods for those who test positive for the coronavirus in accordance with new guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the two leagues also can consider not testing asymptomatic, vaccinated players.
The NHL, with seven teams north of the border, must balance stricter COVID-19 regulations set by Canadian federal and provincial authorities.
“We have always had the issue of differing rules in different jurisdictions, so it’s not a new challenge,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Associated Press, hours before play resumed after an extended holiday break. “[We are] navigating choppy waters the best we can.”
The CDC recommendation to trim quarantine time from 10 to five days prompted an NHL review of its virus protocols. But there is little evidence Canada is ready to move like the US toward looser rules as provinces clamp down on crowd sizes and impose additional restrictions.
The American Hockey League, which has 26 teams in the US and five in Canada, is wrestling with the same issues. The AHL has so far postponed 63 games; AHL president and CEO Scott Howson said shuffling the schedule for teams in Quebec and Manitoba is not feasible in the middle of the season, despite the possibility of games in empty arenas.
US men in quarantine at World Juniors; women’s exhibitions called off
The pandemic disrupted a pair of top events in international hockey, with the two top women’s teams in the world calling off their final pre-Olympic tune-up games and the defending champion US men forfeiting a game at the world junior championship.
Hockey Canada announced the final two rivalry series games against the US — Jan. 3 in Edmonton, Alberta, and Jan. 6 in nearby Red Deer — were canceled because several players and staff on Canada’s women’s national team are in COVID-19 protocol.
“The risk associated with playing the final two Rivalry Series games with less than one month before our teams are set to compete in the 2022 Olympics is too high to finish our series with the United States,” Hockey Canada director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury said.
Hours earlier, the US men were forced to forfeit a world junior game against Switzerland after two players tested positive for the coronavirus. The tournament is also taking place in Edmonton and Red Deer. The positives led to a mandated team quarantine; the International Ice Hockey Federation said the quarantine status will be evaluated later to determine the status of the Americans’ next game, scheduled for Wednesday against Sweden.
Meanwhile, USA Hockey has asked the IIHF to reconsider canceling the women’s under-18 world championship that was scheduled to take place in Sweden in January. It’s the second consecutive year the tournament has been canceled because of the pandemic. The IIHF’s announcement last week, which cited a recommendation from the organization’s medical committee and league commitments within Sweden that made rescheduling impossible, sparked outrage across the hockey community.
Holiday latest bowl lost to pandemic
The Holiday Bowl became the fifth postseason college football game to be canceled when UCLA was forced to pull out just hours before Tuesday’s kickoff with No. 18 North Carolina State at Petco Park in San Diego because of COVID-19 issues with the team.
The Hawaii, Military, Fenway, and Arizona bowls have already been canceled due to virus outbreaks, leaving teams without enough available players. The Sun and Gator bowls have had to scramble to find replacement teams for their games.
NC State athletic director Boo Coorigan called it “an incredibly frustrating outcome for our players and staff who worked so hard to put themselves in position to get a 10th win. The timing of the announcement in proximity to kickoff was very disappointing.”
He said NC State has been in contact with numerous teams about playing a game, but did not say when or where that might be.
UCLA’s football team is the fourth Bruins program sidelined due to COVID-19 issues, joining both basketball programs and gymnastics.
Big Ten, Atlantic 10 revise basketball forfeit policies
The Big Ten joined the other Power Five conferences, the Big East, and most others by changing its policies and declaring games won’t automatically be forfeited if a team or teams are unable to participate due to COVID-19. Instead, games can be rescheduled, declared a no contest or a forfeiture.
The Atlantic 10 also revised its COVID-19 forfeit policy. The A-10 medical advisory committee will meet Wednesday to review the newest CDC policy reducing the isolation days of asymptomatic vaccinated individuals from 10 to five days.
Several basketball games across the country have been affected.
Indiana canceled its game Wednesday against UNC Asheville, while the Temple-Villanova game scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed. San Diego postponed its home game against No. 4 Gonzaga on Thursday night. The No. 12 Texas women’s game Wednesday night against Alcorn State has been canceled, while UConn’s Friday game at conference foe DePaul has been postponed, pending a reschedule.
Closer to home, the Northeastern women’s games against Charleston on Friday and UNCW on Sunday have been postponed due to protocols within the Northeastern program. The Charleston game has been rescheduled for Jan. 26; the UNCW game is TBD. Both the Dartmouth men and women had games postponed; the women were to play UMass on Tuesday, while the men were hosting New Hampshire on Wednesday.
EPL loses additional fixture
The 20th round of the Premier League was reduced to seven fixtures when the Thursday match between Everton and Newcastle was postponed because of a pile-up of COVID-19 cases and injuries in the Newcastle squad. The Arsenal-Wolves and Leeds-Aston Villa games, due to be played Tuesday, had previously been called off. It takes the number of Premier League matches to be called off as a result of coronavirus issues to 16 in barely three weeks . . . The ODI leg of the white-ball cricket series between the United States and Ireland in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was canceled after two members of the Irish team’s support staff tested positive, as well as several partners of players.