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Friday January 22nd, 2021 5:20AM

Hawks-Suns game latest to be called off by NBA amid virus

By The Associated Press
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The Phoenix Suns are now the latest NBA team to deal with contact tracing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, and their game Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks was called off by the league after it was learned they wouldn’t have enough players cleared to participate.

The NBA also revealed Wednesday that 16 players — by far the most in a one-week period since training camps started — returned positive COVID-19 tests between Jan. 6 and Tuesday. With 497 players tested, that reflects a positivity rate of 3.2%.

In the previous five weeks combined, only 15 players were positive. But even the current rate is well below what the league dealt with going into training camps, when 48 players tested positive in the week before practices could formally begin leaguewide.

That Suns-Hawks game was the third on Wednesday’s schedule to be called, joining Utah at Washington and Orlando at Boston. It also marks the second consecutive time that a team ran into issues after playing in Washington; the Miami Heat lost eight players to COVID-related issues following their road game against the Wizards on Saturday.

“Not ideal," Hawks guard Kevin Huerter tweeted, shortly after the postponement of the game in Phoenix was announced.

Also not playing Wednesday: Zion Williamson, ruled out by the New Orleans Pelicans for their game at the Los Angeles Clippers because of the league's health and safety protocols. That doesn't mean he tested positive and simply could mean he was potentially exposed to someone who has.

The Hawks-Suns postponement was the sixth in the league since Sunday, and the seventh overall this season because of virus issues. The Suns, Hawks, Heat, Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers are among the teams dealing with significant roster depletion in recent days because of either positive tests, tracing — which indicates if someone has been in an unsafe amount of contact with a person who tested positive — or both.

It remains very possible that more games may have to be postponed, in a turbulent week that also saw the league and the National Basketball Players Association release updated rules strictly limiting players from venturing away from their homes or hotels for anything other than games, practices, workouts or emergencies. The new rules will be in place for at least two weeks, with hopes the virus issues around the league calm down in the interim.

“I’m not terribly upset about any of the things we have to do. It kind is what it is at this point and we’ll try to make the most of it and get through it,” Toronto guard Fred VanVleet said Wednesday. “It does feel like it’s getting a bit much ... like trying to plug holes in a sinking boat.

“It’s not changing anytime soon,” VanVleet added. “Either get with the program or stay home, and I’m at work today.”

Phoenix has home games coming up against Golden State on Friday and Indiana on Saturday, and Washington is scheduled to go to Detroit on Friday. The Celtics are hoping to host the Magic on Friday in the second game of what was intended to be a two-game series; if that game happens, it would be Boston's first contest in a full week.

“I think the biggest thing is, obviously we want to be safe, first and foremost, but we want to figure out how we can do it," Heat guard Duncan Robinson said. “Because recently, I think probably the biggest thing we’ve all struggled with is the uncertainty of, ‘Who’s playing? Who’s out? What are we doing? What’s this protocol? What’s that protocol?’ So, that’s been frustrating but everyone’s going through it."

Additional measures now include limiting team pregame meetings in locker rooms to 10 minutes, with the extra caveat that everyone must wear a mask. The mask-wearing rules in bench areas during games have also been stiffened.

Postponed games are likely to be rescheduled in the second half of the season. The league has only released schedules through March 4, saying earlier this season that the second half would also include “any games postponed ... that can reasonably be added to the second half schedule."

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