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Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden enter protocols as NBA’s coronavirus problems worsen

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will be sidelined for a bit. (Charles Krupa/AP)

One day after a coronavirus outbreak forced the NBA to postpone games for the first time this season, a pair of former MVP winners entered the league’s health and safety protocols.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden entered the coronavirus protocols Tuesday, the latest sign of mounting coronavirus concerns for the league as its annual Christmas Day showcase games approach. Antetokounmpo has been ruled out for a Wednesday game against the Indiana Pacers, the Bucks said. Harden missed Brooklyn’s overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday.

Per the league’s protocols, fully vaccinated players such as Antetokounmpo and Harden are generally exempt from daily testing and must undergo testing only if they are symptomatic, come into close contact with an individual who tests positive or are required to test in compliance with local governmental guidelines. But the NBA instituted enhanced testing of all players regardless of vaccination status in the days after Thanksgiving, and more than 30 players have entered the protocols in December.

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Also Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers canceled practice after guard Talen Horton-Tucker tested positive and was placed in the covid-19 protocols, where he was joined by center Dwight Howard and guard Malik Monk later in the day. Several other teams have dealt with outbreaks, including the Chicago Bulls, who had two games postponed this week because 10 of their players, including stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, were in the protocols. Antetokounmpo joined Bucks guards Wesley Matthews and Donte DiVincenzo in the protocols, while Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and James Johnson are among seven Nets players sidelined

While the NBA estimates that 97 percent of its players are fully vaccinated, it also has recommended booster shots for players, coaches, referees and team employees. To return to the court after entering the protocols, players must remain in isolation for 10 days or test negative twice on separate days. All players who enter the protocols must receive medical clearance from a team and league physician before they can rejoin their teams, and those who exhibit moderate or severe symptoms also must receive a cardiac screening.

Ten teams are scheduled to play on Christmas, including the Bucks, Nets and Lakers. Assuming Antetokounmpo and Harden receive their clearance after 10 days, they should be able to return just in time for the holiday quintuple-header. Antetokounmpo’s Bucks will host the Boston Celtics; the Nets will travel to Los Angeles to face the Lakers.

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