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Optimistic NBA players are betting it might be safer in Orlando bubble

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry dribbles against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco on March 5.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Kyle Lowry made sure one longtime Toronto basketball reporter knew that his WiFi connection was trash. He made sure to needle another about his height and another about the quality of his question.

Lowry can be playfully difficult — and sometimes not all that playful — and is an owner of a “thorny” personality, as another Toronto-based reporter described it on a Zoom call Monday morning.

But when Lowry was asked about the safety of NBA players inside the league-created “bubble,” there wasn’t the faintest trace of snark or, for that matter, negativity.

“I think this thing will work perfectly,” Lowry said from Orlando. “I think the league, the players, the players association, has done a phenomenal job of making sure that we’re doing everything we can possibly do to make sure that we’re healthy, we’re safe and we’re in an environment where we can be successful and do our job at a high level.”

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Rockets’ Russell Westbrook tests positive for coronavirus and did not travel with the team to Orlando, Fla., in preparation for the NBA’s restart.

Lowry’s confidence matters because Tuesday will be the three-week anniversary of Toronto training in Florida, where they arrived early because of the quarantine rules for Americans in Canada.

Depending on your perspective, the latest coronavirus news in the NBA either confirms or refutes Lowry’s certainty.

Two players who traveled to Orlando tested positive for COVID-19 while in quarantine. The two players have either left campus to “isolate at home or in isolation housing,” the NBA and players association announced in a joint statement. The NBA tested 322 players.

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Two other players have broken rules in Orlando and have had to reenter quarantine procedures. “Bruno Caboclo of the Houston Rockets and Richaun Holmes of the Sacramento Kings are both currently subject to 10-day quarantines,” NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said in a statement.

“These quarantines are the result of separate circumstances in which the players had interactions with members of the public outside the Disney entrance gate, and are in accordance with the health and safety protocols agreed to by the NBA and the Players Association.”

Holmes tweeted that his breach of protocol occurred when he tried to pick up food from a delivery service.

Another 19 players have tested positive since July 1 during testing at their home facilities and haven’t traveled to Orlando to rejoin their teams.

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One of those players, presumably, is Rockets star guard Russell Westbrook, who announced on Twitter that he had tested positive for the virus.

“I tested positive for covid-19 prior to my teams departure to Orlando,” he tweeted. “I’m currently feeling well, quarantined, and looking forward to rejoining my teammates when I am cleared. Thank you all for the well wishes and continued support. Please take this virus seriously. Mask up! #whynot”

Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook shared on social media on Monday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
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According to league health-and-safety protocols, NBA players may rejoin teams if they have no symptoms and have taken two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. They also must receive doctor’s approval and undergo a cardiac screening.

“He’ll be ready,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

James Harden hasn’t traveled to Orlando either, for undisclosed reasons.

Once arriving in Orlando, players need to quarantine and again produce at least two negative tests at least 24 hours apart before rejoining a team.

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The testing numbers and protocol violations haven’t negatively affected Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ perceptions of the NBA’s plan to keep players safe even if the virus continues to cause havoc around the NBA campus.

“It’s probably grown if anything,” Rivers said. “I mean, right now, look outside the bubble what’s going on. I mean, right now the United States is on fire in some ways as far as COVID. Here we’ve had two tests. We’ve had two guys, two guys who broke protocol. One I know that was a mistake, and the other one just happened. I’m very, very happy with what’s gone on so far.

“Does that mean we’re going to be able to pull this off? I don’t think anybody knows that yet.”

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But it’s promising that high-profile players such as Lowry and Clippers’ star Kawhi Leonard are on board, with Leonard saying it didn’t surprise him that there were positive tests in Orlando.

“You bring in so many people from different cities and states, and there’s no control over it pretty much. But I think we’re doing the best that we can,” Leonard said. “The NBA put together this process, this quarantine, and we’re doing everything under the guidelines of testing every day, trying to keep ourselves socially distant from everyone.

“But who knows, I mean, what’s going to happen. All we can do is try to stay optimistic about it and positive, and hopefully we can finish this season.”


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