With roster depleted by COVID protocols, Miami Heat’s Spoelstra addresses state of team

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Barry Jackson, David Wilson
·3 min read
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The Miami Heat will face the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday with the bare minimum of eight players available.

Meyers Leonard is out because of a left shoulder strain and eight others are sidelined because of COVID-related issues, leaving the Heat with only eight healthy players as its road trip continues in Philadelphia.

“We have eight players available,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “the guys that are available are looking forward to this tonight.”

Those eight: guards Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Andre Iguodala, Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, and forwards Kelly Olynyk, Precious Achiuwa and Chris Silva. Olynyk was dealing with a left groin contusion and Vincent was dealing with right knee soreness, but both will play after the Heat (4-4) listed both as probable.

Spoelstra said he wasn’t sure whether Leonard could return Thursday when Miami faces the 76ers again at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Heat will be without one player — wing Avery Bradley — because of a positive test for COVID-19 and another seven who were identified as close contacts. Those seven: guards Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn, and forwards Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Moe Harkless, Udonis Haslem and KZ Okpala.

“The most important thing right now: the nine players that are not here — and we do need to keep this in mind — those nine players are safe and they’re healthy, they’re continuing to test and that’s the most important thing,” Spoelstra said. “We take great pride in our organization with our structure, our discipline and how it has applied to the protocols, and adherence to everything the NBA has set forth to be able to do everything we possibly can to keep our players safe and healthy. And we had gone weeks without anything to suggest otherwise, so we take great pride in that.

“There was some level of understanding that things could happen during the season because it’s a reflection of what the virus is doing outside of this profession and we want to continue to proceed with our profession, but do it in the safest and healthiest manner as possible.”

Bradley is expected to miss 10-14 days. The seven players deemed as close contacts could be back Saturday against the Detroit Pistons in Miami or sometime next week.

The 76ers are also missing six players because of COVID protocols, including starters Tobias Harris and Seth Curry. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were both questionable, but both will play.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra looks on during the second half of a game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Jan. 9, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra looks on during the second half of a game against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Jan. 9, 2021 in Washington, DC.

NBA alters COVID-19 protocols

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the league, the NBA announced it is strengthening protocols to curb the spread of the virus.

While the NBA isn’t moving to a bubble, the league is trying to take some cues from what worked so well in the 2020 NBA Bubble.

Some of the notable changes:

For at least the next two weeks, players must remain at their residences when in their home market, except for team activities or other essential activities.

Pre-game meetings in the locker room for the next two weeks will be limited to 10 minutes.

Seating plans for team flights will be designed so those who sit closest to each other on the bench will also sit closest to each other on planes.

Players cannot arrive at arenas more than three hours prior to tip-off.

Players must wear masks at all times on the bench.

Anyone who regularly visits a player or staff member at home must undergo COVID testing twice per week.

Spoelstra is in favor of the stricter measures.

“I’m all for it — anything we possibly could do to ramp up the safety,” Spoelstra said. “Just because we want to proceed with our profession doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reality of what’s going on in the world. The virus is still very much out there and I think we have to do everything we possibly can to adhere to protocols, to add new protocols, to be even more vigilant than we ever have been — more disciplined — to be able to proceed and do it in a safe manner.”