An NBA season that began under the threat of COVID-19 appears to be ending the same way. In addition to Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who has been ruled out of Saturday night’s Game 5 after being placed in health and safety protocols, the Bucks will be without assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer, tweets Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. This will be the third straight game that Oppenheimer has been forced to miss, Wojnarowski adds (Twitter link), but there’s hope he might be back for Game 6 (Twitter link).
The virus has also affected Saturday night's officiating crew, as the league announced (via Twitter) that referee Sean Wright has been placed in health and safety protocols. James Williams will take his place.
There has been growing concern that the league wouldn’t be able to crown a champion without COVID-19 becoming a factor again, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. Cases are rising across the country, and the sports world is feeling the effects. Bradley Beal had to leave the U.S. Olympic team this week, and Jerami Grant‘s status is uncertain as he remains in health and safety protocols.
Amick points out that the league has taken great precautions since the season started in December to minimize the effects of the virus. Testing has been constant for players, coaches and staff members, and some teams have been shut down for a week or more after recording multiple positive tests.
“There’s a real push to stay safe, to stay healthy, to be vigilant,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before Saturday’s cases were reported. “Both teams, we’re very, very close to the finish. We’re excited about finishing this strong.”
There have been recent changes throughout the NBA landscape, Amick adds. Masks are once again required for media members after those policies had been relaxed, and staff members are being asked to stay away from public settings as much as possible. Suns guard Devin Booker told Amick that most players are choosing to stay inside to avoid potential risks.
Teammate Chris Paul had to sit out the first two games of the Western Conference Finals after returning a positive test. He’s concerned about his family in the Los Angeles area, which has experienced a recent surge in the virus.
“I pay close attention to it,” he said. “I have family just like everybody else. My parents (are) traveling to Milwaukee (for games), coming to this game (in Phoenix). My kids. L.A. just put a new mandate in where you wear a mask inside. My family is there. I pay attention to it just like everybody else. Try to control what I can control. Stay in the moment with the Finals, but health is a huge concern, not just for my family but for everybody.”