Six are the most positive tests any team has had this season, topping the Dallas Mavericks’ four this week. Illustrating how dire the situation is for Washington, when General Manager Tommy Sheppard was asked on a virtual news conference Friday whether he was worried the outbreak would continue to grow, he half-joked the team was running out of players to test positive.
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” Sheppard said, conducting the news conference alongside Coach Scott Brooks. “As we know, you can get it again, so that doesn’t really give us much comfort.”
Washington has not released the names of players who tested positive, citing privacy laws, though Sheppard said four of the team’s cases are asymptomatic. No staff members have tested positive.
All those who test positive must quarantine for 10 to 14 days. After that period, players will need to time to get back in game shape before returning to action, making it difficult to know when the Wizards will be able to play again, much less back at full strength.
The Wizards already had two games postponed this week, and the NBA on Friday delayed Washington’s games against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday and Monday at Capital One Arena. The league has postponed 13 games — less than four weeks into the season — and the Wizards have missed the most of any team.
The next game on the schedule, a bout against the Hornets in Charlotte on Wednesday, is in serious doubt given the team doesn’t even have enough players to practice. Point guard Russell Westbrook is still out with a left quadriceps injury, and starting center Thomas Bryant is out for the season after partially tearing his ACL on Saturday.
The team is hopeful that if there are no further positive tests Saturday, it will be able to bring in healthy players for individual workouts.
“We’re hoping if there’s no positive test tomorrow that we can get guys back in the gym one-on-zero, kind of similar to where we were preparing to go to the bubble as we continue to test,” Sheppard said. “Right now, everyone is testing twice a day. We’re following the very strict protocols the NBA have going on right now, and certainly our hope is to start getting at least some semblance of activity tomorrow in the building, but none of that’s guaranteed.”
In the meantime, healthy players have been operating this week much as they did during the league’s pause in March — participating in Zoom workouts and ballhandling drills while separated from the rest of the team. The Wizards canceled practice Tuesday after center Moe Wagner and forward Rui Hachimura entered the league’s coronavirus protocols that morning. Players and coaches have not gathered since.
The Wizards’ relatively large number of positive tests has not surprised anyone within the organization because of the number of close calls the team had with the virus this season.
After playing the 76ers on Jan. 6, Philadelphia guard Seth Curry tested positive the following day. After playing in Boston on Jan. 8, the Celtics had two players test positive. After playing Miami on Saturday, one Heat player tested positive Sunday.
“If you follow our track, really going back to when we played Chicago, almost every team we’ve played had a player test positive the next day . . . multiple players, in some places,” Sheppard said. “It was inevitable. The NBA’s been pointing to this period for quite some time that this was going to be very difficult, and they weren’t kidding.”
Yet until this week, the Wizards’ schedule continued uninterrupted — in contrast to how the league is handling Washington’s most recent opponent.
The Phoenix Suns have not had a game since they played the Wizards on Monday because of contact tracing. The league did not immediately comment when asked about the discrepancy in handling Washington’s and Phoenix’s situations.
“You certainly don’t blame anyone. This is a circumstance that’s out of everyone’s control,” Sheppard said when asked whether the league should have stepped in last week when the Wizards’ opponents began testing positive. “The NBA, with the union, they’ve done the most unbelievable job of trying to do the very best job of keeping everybody safe and healthy. . . . The schedule was the schedule. You can’t pick and choose, and you trust the system to make sure that everybody’s as safe as possible.”
In response to a growing number of positive cases cropping up across the league, the NBA tightened its protocols Tuesday.
While Sheppard and Brooks were speaking Friday, the league postponed another game, between Memphis and Minnesota, hours before it was set to tip off.
Asked whether the league should consider pausing the season, Sheppard deferred.
“You know, that’s a great question for the league,” he said. “Where we’re at, we’re going to support — and all of our players across the entire league — have voted to continue to play. So I think the league has the best perspective on what’s best for all the teams.”
Here’s a full list of postponed games:
- Dec. 23: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets
- Jan. 10: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
- Jan. 11: New Orleans Pelicans at Dallas Mavericks
- Jan. 12: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls
- Jan. 13: Utah Jazz at Washington Wizards
- Jan. 13: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics
- Jan. 13: Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns
- Jan. 15: Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons
- Jan. 15: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
- Jan. 15: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves
- Jan. 16: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns
- Jan. 17: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards
- Jan. 18: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards