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Raptors play on without Pascal Siakam, Nick Nurse, five assistants due to coronavirus protocols

With six members of the organization absent, the Raptors still played the Houston Rockets on Friday night at Amalie Arena.
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse argues with an official during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday in Tampa.
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse argues with an official during a game against the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday in Tampa. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published Feb. 26
Updated Feb. 27

TAMPA — The Raptors went through with playing their scheduled home game against the Houston Rockets at Amalie Arena on Friday night despite being without starting forward Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse and five of his assistant coaches due to the NBA’s coronavirus health and safety protocols.

Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said the league made the decision to play Friday’s game after going through the NBA’s twice-daily testing procedures.

“We get tested twice in the morning, so if those tests come back negative, that kind of gives you the clearance to participate in activities that day,” Webster said. “And then you can even do some testing later in the day if you’re concerned about it. But I think you know once the negative tests came back this afternoon, I think that gave that gave the NBA the comfort that, at least for today, we’re clear.”

The seven members of the Raptors organization landing in protocols does not mean they have positive coronavirus tests, only that at least one person in the group was in close contact to someone who tested positive.

The absence of Nurse and his assistants left the Raptors scrambling, and assistant coach Sergio Scariolo, who had been quarantining after returning from coaching the Spanish national team in the EuroBasketball qualifiers, will fill in for Nurse in an interim capacity. The team also considered plucking coaches from it’s G-League team, which is playing in a bubble in nearby Orlando.

Asked whether the team considered having veteran point guard and on-court leader Kyle Lowry serve as a player/coach for Friday’s game, Webster said that the league’s collective bargaining agreement prevented the team from paying a player to perform additional duties outside his contract.

The coaches will work remotely while quarantining. They can have no contact with the bench during the game, under NBA rules.

This marked the first time the NBA has been forced to deal with a potential coach-related coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic shut down sports leagues last March. The NBA has postponed 30 games this season due to the coronavirus, but none involving the Raptors. The Raptors are just one of four NBA teams to not have a game postponed this season because of coronavirus protocols.

The Raptors were off Thursday after returning to Tampa following their 116-108 loss to the Heat at Miami on Wednesday night. The Raptors have spent most of the month on the road, playing 10 of their 13 games in February away from Tampa.

“Yesterday being an off day was actually beneficial because there was nothing scheduled,” Webster said. “So I think once this became an issue, there wasn’t a ton of conversations about yesterday. It was more about the days prior. And so that’s when you go back and think about actions and where people were.”

The case-by-case way that NBA personnel are allowed to participate in games has come under scrutiny. Earlier this season, the Raptors played a game in Brooklyn in which Kevin Durant was initially ruled out, was allowed to play, then taken out mid-game to adhere to protocols.

“To be honest,” Webster said, “having been on on the other side of it in the Brooklyn game with Durant and talking to the NBA, obviously, we have to trust and have a high degree of comfort that they’re making the decision, they’re not exposing us, they’re not exposing (the other team) and they’re playing it safe as well.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.