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Thunder vs. Rockets Postponed Wednesday Because of Houston's COVID-19 Issues

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2020

FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2020, file photo, the NBA logo is displayed at center court during an NBA first-round playoff basketball game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. NBA training camps open around the league Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020,though on-court sessions will be limited to individual workouts and only for those players who have gotten three negative coronavirus test results back in the last few days. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Wednesday's opener between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder has been postponed in accordance with the league's health and safety protocols. 

The NBA noted the Rockets had three players return positive or inconclusive COVID-19 tests, with four other players quarantining as a result of contact tracing. Rockets star James Harden was also deemed "unavailable due to violation of health and safety protocols":

NBA @NBA

Tonight's game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center has been postponed in accordance with the league’s Health and Safety Protocols. https://t.co/Qn0hXlxCZr

Between COVID-19 protocols and injuries, Houston did not have the eight-player minimum required to play.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported earlier in the day that John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins were among the Rockets players sent home as a result of contact tracing.

Per Wojnarowski, multiple players gathered at an apartment to get haircuts, and while Wall and Cousins both tested negative, they had to leave the team facility because a teammate returned a positive test.

In an unrelated situation, Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported the NBA is looking into a video that showed Harden at a party without a mask:

"The video, which was published by Black Sports Online and has been circulating on social media, is purportedly from a Houston club's Christmas party held this week. The Rockets and the league office are attempting to verify that it is indeed a recent video, which would confirm that Harden violated the league's protocols."

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Harden responded to the story on Instagram:

Rachel Nichols @Rachel__Nichols

From James Harden’s Instagram- the issue the NBA is investigating, of course, isn’t whether he was at a strip club specifically. It’s being at an indoor gathering with a crowd of people without a mask, all of which is against NBA rules right now. https://t.co/pXIMJvDQ9Z

The issue is less the location of the event Harden attended and more about the eight-time All-Star attending what was potentially a large event while failing to follow mask guidelines. MacMahon noted the NBA's COVID-19 protocols prohibit players from being at gatherings with more than 15 people outside of team facilities.

According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Harden doesn't believe he violated the protocols:

Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne

Harden has told the league that he attended a seated dinner for a friend who’d recently been promoted at work, according to the source.

Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne

Harden has told the league he took a photo with his friend, when he gave her a gift.  Harden also claimed he left after approximately 30 minutes, and did not continue on with the group, which went to other locations later in the night.

The Rockets are off Thursday and Friday and travel to the Pacific Northwest for a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.

The NBA restarted the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort and successfully avoided any COVID-19-related issues within the Disney campus. 

Wednesday's postponement drives home what could lie ahead for the league in 2020-21 as it stages games in home markets.

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