PORTLAND, Ore. — When star point guard Damian Lillard went to the Portland Trail Blazers practice facility the day after Christmas, he expected to get in a practice before the Blazers' game against the Dallas Mavericks. However, he found only a few people there because seven Blazers were in the NBA's COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
"I literally didn’t know until I came into the building and was like, 'Where is everybody?'" Lillard said.
The Blazers have had a total of 10 players enter COVID health and safety protocols since Dec. 24, and have had as many as nine players in isolation at one time during that time frame (even though that high mark of nine was only for a couple hours; it dropped back down to seven quickly).
Missing so many players has required the Blazers to sign four players to 10-day hardship contracts. Of those four players, two have had to enter COVID isolation since joining the team.
Blazers guard/forward Norman Powell has experienced this before. He was a member of the Toronto Raptors before being traded to the Blazers last season. The Raptors had two games postponed last season because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the team.
"This is my second time going through it, so I kind of know how it feels," Powell said. "I tell the guys it’s a great opportunity for the guys who just signed and some of the guys who don’t play as much when all of the veteran guys are healthy to go out there and play hard and show what you’ve been working on."
BLAZERS PLAYERS TO ENTER COVID PROTOCOLS
- Dennis Smith Jr. (since cleared)
- Trendon Watford (since cleared)
- Robert Covington (since cleared)
- Ben McLemore (since cleared)
- Keljin Blevins (since cleared)
- Anfernee Simons (since cleared)
- Jusuf Nurkic (since cleared)
- Brandon Williams (still in protocols)
- Cameron McGriff (still in protocols)
- Cody Zeller (still in protocols)
On Monday afternoon, Nurkic tweeted that he'd cleared health and safety protocols and expected to play that night against the Hawks. Nurkic did start Monday's game and had 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the Blazers' 136-131 win against Atlanta.
Portland has also had three coaches, including head coach Chauncey Billups, enter health and safety protocols. Billups was cleared to return to the bench for Monday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Assistant coach Scott Brooks, who was acting head coach for the team while Billups was in protocols, entered COVID protocols on Sunday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. He said the strain on the players and coaches has been significant.
"This is not only the physical part, this is mentally exhausting," Brooks said. "You have to deal with a lot of stuff."
COACHES TO ENTER COVID PROTOCOLS
- Chauncey Billups (since cleared)
- Roy Rogers (current status unknown)
- Scott Brooks (still in protocols)
Players and coaches have to remain isolated for at least six days. If they show no symptoms, they must pass two COVID-19 PCR tests taken 24 hours apart to be able to return.
The Blazers snapped a four-game losing streak with Monday's win against teh Hawks. But overall, Portland (14-22) has lost 14 of its past 18 games and has the seventh-worst record in the NBA.