As we near the NBA All-Star break, event participants have officially been announced, along with replacements for a couple hobbled stars. With COVID-19 numbers beginning to decline in some states, teams have begun allowing fans back to their arenas or increasing the number of fans allowed at games. A recent COVID-19 outbreak within the Toronto Raptors organization has forced more postponements, and has severely depleted the Raptors roster for their Wednesday game.
1. Star-studded All-Star lineup
We’re less than a week away from All-Star “Night."All-Star Game participants were announced last week, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James captaining their squads in a pool of players headlined by Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry. With Durant and Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis unable to play due to injury, Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker were named as replacements.
It’s not an All-Star event without the skills challenge, 3-point contest and dunk contest. Participants for all three events were announced Tuesday evening. The skills challenge will be headlined by Doncic, Sabonis and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul. The 3-point contest will be headlined by Curry, and Celtics duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The slam dunk contest, with an unusual three-person lineup this year, features Indiana Pacers guard Cassius Stanley, Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons and New York Knicks forward Obi Toppin. Fans were sorely disappointed when it was announced that high flying New Orleans Pelicans alltar forward Zion Williamson declined to participate. Nonetheless, these star-studded lineups are sure to provide fans with some top-tier entertainment come Sunday, March 7.
2. Return of the fans
With COVID-19 numbers beginning to drop in some states, some teams have begun allowing fans back to their arenas, while others are in the process of increasing the maximum number of fans allowed. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers, both of which allowed fans at reduced capacities since the beginning of the season, have begun increasing the number of fans allowed at home games. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets began allowing fans back into their arenas at 10% capacity on Feb. 23. While all of this is occurring, teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, both of which have not had fans at home games all season, announced that they would be allowing fans back at a reduced capacity starting March 22 and March 14, respectively.
3. Raptors COVID-19 outbreak update
The Toronto Raptors were the most recent team to suffer aCOVID-19 outbreak within their organization. The Raptors saw their last two games postponed and had to play with a depleted roster Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons. Not only did the Raptors miss the services of stars Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, but they also played without head coach Nick Nurse due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing protocols. As we enter the second half of the NBA season, it’s worth paying attention to the status of players and teams regarding COVID-19, and whether a bubble-like environment may be necessary for the playoffs.