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Hawks’ McMillan in protocols; NBA calls up 4th G League ref;

By Tim Reynolds AP Sports Writer
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Another G League referee was called up by the NBA to work a game on Saturday and another head coach entered the league’s health and safety protocols as it continued finding ways to play through the latest coronavirus outbreak.

Ref Sha’Rae Mitchell was assigned the San Antonio-Detroit game. She becomes the fourth G League referee called up in a span of two days — three others worked games on Friday — and is now the 15th woman in league history picked to work a regular-season game.

Mitchell has worked in the G League since 2018. Her call-up comes as the NBA’s referee corps continues dealing with several officials who have either virus-related issues or injuries. So the refs, like most teams, have looked to the G League for help.

NBA teams saw 544 players get into at least one game in December alone, the most for any month — and any previous season — in league history. The single-season mark entering this year was 540, set last season; the NBA’s total this season entering Saturday was 567.

The league has had 11 head coaches in protocols at times this season, with the latest entry coming Saturday when Atlanta’s Nate McMillan joined the list. He’s the eighth head coach currently in protocols.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel rejoined his team Friday after a six-game absence and said it was a strain both mentally and physically.

“It’s something I really never want to do again,” Vogel said.

The Hawks took six of what had been their league-high 12 players in protocols off the list Saturday, including Kevin Huerter and Danilo Gallinari.

And while eight teams started the day with at least five players apiece in various stages of the league’s health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus, the number of players on the list was trending downward.

By late Saturday afternoon, the number of players revealed by teams to be in the protocols was around 100, about a 20% dip from the highest known figure the NBA was dealing with earlier in the week. The numbers fluctuate on almost an hourly basis; some players are closer to a return than others.

Among the big names coming off the list Saturday: Dallas’ Luka Doncic, who hasn’t played since Dec. 10 — a 10-game absence so far, five with ankle issues and the last five after being put into the protocols.

Doncic is in line now to return Sunday against Oklahoma City. The Thunder placed their leading scorer, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, on the protocols list Saturday.

The NBA has changed its protocols at least twice in recent days after data suggested it could safely shorten the return-to-play plans for those who test positive for the virus, provided that the players are asymptomatic and return multiple test results that meet the league’s standards for showing they are no longer contagious.

“This landscape has been changing pretty consistently for the last two years,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said of the league’s latest changes to the protocols and the prospects of getting players back more quickly. “In the last month or so, you’re just seeing more and more vaccinated, boosted players who are asymptomatic who are sitting out an inordinate amount of time. I think this is a good solution now. It’s a good step forward.”

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