Head coach Doc Rivers was most certainly being disingenuous when he called attention to the National Basketball Association’s decision to push through with the Sixers’ homestand against the Nuggets yesterday. “I don’t think we should [play], but it’s not for me to express that,” he argued. He just did, of course, with his convenient sidestep enabling him to steer clear of possible sanction from the Commissioner’s Office for speaking his mind on a development that, for all his protestation, followed standing health and safety protocols.
Not that Rivers was wrong in his assessment. Point guard Seth Curry’s positive test late last week triggered quarantine measures that sidelined eight players, but the subsequent clearance of three of the eight appeared to give the Sixers enough bodies for the set-to. Unfortunately, injuries to stalwarts Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons left them with seven and compelled them to activate otherwise-unavailable Mike Scott on paper. The turn of events prompted the bench tactician to “worry about player health on the floor.”
As things turned out, the Sixers saw no injuries, but had to ride three rookies hard en route to an unsurprising setback. Isaiah Joe, Tyrese Maxey, and Dakota Mathias wound up burning rubber for 45, 44, and 41 minutes, respectively, while regular starter Danny Green saw action for 36. Little wonder, then, that they failed to keep up as the contest progressed. A slight lead late in the second quarter turned into a double-digit deficit early in the third, and they got no closer until the final buzzer.
For pundits, Rivers’ lament is but a reflection of the harsh realities of getting a season under way amid a pandemic. If there’s anything yesterday showed, it’s that the NBA is bent on pushing through with its schedule as best it can, and willing to postpone matches only in the extreme. Operating in a bubble environment may be ideal in light of the still-spiking number of novel coronavirus nationwide, but logistical and cost considerations make the plan untenable at best.
Thusly, there will be more instances of teams penciling in losses as depleted lineups take to the floor. The hope is that the Sixers’ plight was but an offshoot of the increased interaction over the holidays, and that social distancing would once again rule as the calendar moves farther away from the turn of the year. Then again, uncertainty reigns and nothing can be etched in stone.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.