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NBA’s evolving schedule plans complicated by CDC guidelines

Crews remove chairs from the court after the Mavericks defeated the Nuggets on Wednesday in what may wind up being the final NBA game of the season. (Ashley Landis/Dallas Morning News/AP)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday announced new recommended guidelines for mass gatherings that could complicate the NBA’s plans to salvage what remains of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Under the recommended guidelines, any in-person gathering of at least 50 people in the United States should be “canceled or postponed” for the next eight weeks.

“Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities,” the recommendation read. “Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.”

Commissioner Adam Silver suspended the NBA’s season and placed the league on a 30-day hiatus last week while noting that the National Basketball Players Association and the league’s television partners shared a desire to resume the schedule later this year if possible. That hiatus, which was set to run through April 11, has been effectively extended to May 15 in light of the CDC’s recommendation.

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That extension has wide-reaching ramifications for individual NBA teams, which were awaiting guidance from the league office on next steps. Before the coronavirus crisis, non-playoff teams anticipated that their seasons would end April 15. The two-month stoppage theoretically would have required teams to keep their players in town for a month past the standard conclusion of the regular season without any guarantee that games would be able to resume, with or without fans in attendance.

Most NBA players had returned to their teams’ home cities but have family and other obligations elsewhere. NBA teams had been advised to hold individual workouts rather than team practices, which had left players in professional limbo and could have kept them away from their families for at least two months. In response to those concerns, the NBA sent a memo Sunday indicating that players could beginning traveling away from their team’s home market Monday as long as they remained in contact with their teams. The Athletic first reported the memo.

These complexities led two high-ranking team executives, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity, to predict that the NBA would be forced to cancel the balance of the regular season and drastically alter the draft combine, set for May 21-24 in Chicago.

In a sign of how quickly the coronavirus crisis has evolved, Silver floated a possible four-week shutdown as recently as Thursday.

“Even if we’re out for a month or out for six weeks, we could still restart the season,” Silver said in an interview with TNT. “It might mean that the Finals take place in late-July.”

That timeline would be rendered impossible by the CDC recommendations, which are meant to help in slowing the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging social distancing. Given these new challenges, multiple high-ranking executives said the league probably would turn its attention to salvaging its postseason.

Potential measures to save the playoffs, some executives said, include pushing back the start date to June, playing games in empty arenas, eliminating extra rest days between games, cutting down the 16-team field or hosting a single-site tournament to reduce travel between multiple markets.

“The playoffs,” one high-ranking team executive said, “are in jeopardy.”

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Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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