If the coronavirus is going to affect the NBA, perhaps the Oklahoma City Thunder are destined to be in the middle of it, even as bystanders.
So it was back on March 11, when Utah’s Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID test kept the Thunder and Jazz from tipping off inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, making their game the first COVID casualty of North American sports. And so it was again Wednesday, when the Houston Rockets could not field a team of the required eight players following their own virus issues.
The Rockets and Thunder were supposed to tip off at 7 p.m. inside Toyota Center. The second day of the NBA season, the game was to be both team’s season opener.
Instead, in the hours before the scheduled tip, a drip, drip, drip of tweets from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania appeared to put the contest in jeopardy.
Soon after, the game was called. For the moment, at least, the NBA is referring to the game as “postponed.”
The list of players unable to suit up for Houston include former MVP and reigning league scoring champion James Harden, due to a violation of the league’s health and safety protocols.
Additionally, three other Rockets have tested positive or inconclusively for the virus, according to a statement issued by the league, while four other Rockets have been quarantined due to contact tracing.
According to reporting from Wojnarowski, contact tracing required the Rockets to “send home” three players on Wednesday after several players had gathered in an apartment on Tuesday to receive final preseason haircuts.
One of those players, rookie Kenyon Martin, reportedly tested both positive and negative for the virus on Wednesday and would be needing a third test for clarity.
Two of the players reported to have joined Martin for haircuts were John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
It’s unclear if the postponement could eventually become a forfeit.
Because the 2019-20 season ended so late on the calendar, the 2020-21 season has been reduced to 72 games, the regular season due to end on May 16 of next year with the play-in-to-the-playoffs tourney set to begin on May 18.
It’s also unclear how aggressive the league will be trying to make up lost games. Wednesday to May 16 is a span of 145 days, meaning the league’s 30 teams are already scheduled to play, essentially, every other day.
No single test or incident — a final positive test for Martin, for instance — has been identified as the straw that broke the Rockets’ opening-day back on Wednesday.
Officially, the NBA went no further than to say Harden was out, three others returned positive or inconclusive tests, four were victims of contact tracing and being quarantined and one other player, unidentified, is injured.
“As such, the Rockets do not have the league-required eight players to proceed with tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder,” concluded the league’s statement.
When the Rockets might resume their season remains an open question.
Unless they can make up the game today or Christmas day, Oklahoma City should find itself belatedly opening the season on Saturday at Charlotte.