COVID-19 concerns prompt Pacers, Raptors to cancel practices

Sports

Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon (7) shoots against New York Knicks’ Alec Burks (18) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors canceled their Thursday practices in precautionary moves, citing the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Both teams made the announcements on Twitter.

Chicago forward Derrick Jones Jr. also entered the protocol Thursday, the fifth Bulls player in nine days to join the list.

And later Thursday, the Raptors announced that team president Masai Ujiri had tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolating at home.

Indiana has won twice this week — beating Washington on Monday and routing the New York Knicks on Wednesday. Pacers guard Justin Holiday has not played since entering the protocol on Nov. 30 and team officials have not yet said whether anyone else has been ruled out. Indiana is scheduled to host Dallas on Friday.

The Raptors lost to Oklahoma City at home on Wednesday night and are scheduled to host the Knicks on Friday.

Toronto has not had any positive COVID-19 tests since the season began and the Raptors have said all of their players are fully vaccinated.

Ujiri said in a statement that he, too, is fully vaccinated and has received a booster shot. He said he attended an in-person event on Sunday for his nonprofit Giants of Africa at which everyone was required to be vaccinated. Ujiri said after the gala, he learned that some guests had tested positive and he subsequently tested positive.

Meanwhile, it’s been a wild week for the Pacers, who snapped a four-game skid on Monday.

Then, in the midst of a season where the average attendance at Indiana’s home game sunk to 13,137 entering Wednesday, tied with Detroit for a league low, coach Rick Carlisle and president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard opted to meet with their top players to address speculation about breaking up the team and rebuilding.

“Kevin and I made it clear we want to win with this team,” Carlisle said during a postgame availability in which he was coughing. “This team was put together with the idea this could work. We’ve been up against it with some injuries and bad luck, but that’s the NBA. Trades are always possible in this business and our guys know that.”

Players also were asked about the reports.

“My name is in a trade rumor every day,” said Myles Turner, last season’s league blocks champion. “That’s just part of the business.”

Now there are COVID-19 concerns, too.

A win Friday would give Indiana its first three-game winning streak of the season just in time for Golden State’s only visit this season Monday as Stephen Curry closes in on the league’s career record for 3-pointers. He needs 10 to break Ray Allen’s mark of 2,973 and if he doesn’t break it Saturday in Philadelphia, he could do it in Indy.

Indiana and Toronto aren’t the only teams affected by the pandemic despite 97% of all players being fully vaccinated, according to league officials.

Jones is averaging 7.0 points in his first season in Chicago. The other Bulls in the protocol are All-Star DeMar DeRozan and guards Coby White, Matt Thomas and Javonte Green. Resurgent Chicago had the Eastern Conference’s second-best record through Wednesday’s games and added guard Stanley Johnson to the roster with a 10-day contract.

Memphis guard Ja Morant and Denver guard Austin Rivers also remain out of action because of COVID-19. Both have already been ruled out for Thursday’s games.

And earlier this week, ESPN reported it had obtained an NBA memo that reminded teams that any unvaccinated players would not be allowed to travel to Toronto starting Jan. 15 because of new Canadian laws mandating all visitors entering the country be vaccinated. The report also said teams must provide the league office with a list of unvaccinated players by Friday.

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