The NBA on Sunday, December 19, 2021, postponed a total of five games involving nine teams in response to rising coronavirus numbers, raising the number of contests that have been pushed back this season to seven.
Called off were three Sunday games: Cleveland at Atlanta, Denver at Brooklyn, and New Orleans at Philadelphia. Also called off were Orlando’s game at Toronto on Monday and Washington’s game at Brooklyn on Tuesday.
The postponements came on the same day that Atlanta announced star guard Trae Young entered the league’s health and safety protocols and the Los Angeles Lakers said coach Frank Vogel had also been added to the list.
The Cavaliers had five players enter protocols on Sunday, the team said. All five — center Jarrett Allen, forwards Lamar Stevens and Dylan Windler and guards Denzel Valentine and RJ Nembhard — tested positive for COVID-19, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not release that specific detail.
They join Isaac Okoro and Evan Mobley, who entered the protocols previously.
Vogel won’t be on the bench when his team plays Sunday at Chicago. David Fizdale will coach in Vogel’s place, the Lakers said. The Bulls are returning to the court after having two games postponed last week. Through Saturday’s games, those were the only games the NBA had pushed back during this outbreak — with more than 50 players placed on the protocols list in recent days.
But on Sunday, the league added significantly to the list of postponements, with teams simply not having enough players to compete. Brooklyn alone has 10 players — plus some staff — in the protocols.
“It is what it is. Just trying to stay safe as possible and that’s all you can do,” Lakers guard Russell Westbrook said of the NBA’s rising numbers. Westbrook was briefly in the protocols late last week, before returning at least three negative tests and being cleared to return to play without missing a game.
The league and the National Basketball Players Association have been discussing a plan in which teams in desperate need of players would be able to sign reinforcements to 10-day contracts but without those deals impacting salary cap and luxury tax figures. That deal has not yet been finalized, though talks are continuing.
Brooklyn’s list of players in protocols includes Kevin Durant, James Harden, and — even though he’s still not yet able to play — Kyrie Irving, who has sat out all season for not complying with New York City’s vaccine mandate. The team reversed course Friday and said Irving would be welcomed back “for games and practices in which he is eligible to participate,” meaning road games except for those in San Francisco, which also mandates vaccines.