December 30, 2021
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has entered the NBA's health and safety protocol, joining a lengthy list of Sixers players who have missed time thanks to the NBA's COVID-19 policies this season.
Assistant coach Dan Burke, who has served in the role of defensive coordinator since joining Rivers' staff last offseason, is expected to fill in for Rivers during his absence, starting with Thursday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets. Rivers is joined in the protocol by backup guards Myles Powell and Tyler Johnson, as first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
A quick rules refresher for anyone who might have missed it — over the Christmas holiday, the NBA adjusted their return-to-play rules for the health and safety protocol, coinciding with recent updates to recommendations from the CDC and following the NFL's move to do the same. On Monday, the NBA and the NBPA agreed to new rules allowing vaccinated coaches and players who test positive to return after just six days if testing data shows they're no longer an infection risk. Players, coaches, staff, and referees are also still able to test out of quarantine if they return two negative results 24 hours apart, with that rule remaining in place from the start of the season.
Rivers' absence likely won't provide a lot of insight about what it would look like to have someone else coach this group, primarily because of the way the schedule has broken for Philadelphia. After a long run of constant games and a lot of travel, the Sixers have a massive lull in their schedule by NBA standards. Following Thursday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia plays just three games from New Year's Eve through January 11th, giving them a decent amount of rest and relaxation time to kick off the new year. Unless Rivers has a tough, symptomatic bout with COVID, that could allow him to miss as few as two games before returning to the bench.
On the other hand, this is one of the few times all season where the Sixers have a chunk of days that could theoretically serve as a practice-heavy part of their season, tinkering on some things midseason that could help them go on a run and climb out of the playoff fringe they've hovered in recently. Though Rivers could certainly still dial in and have his assistants carry out whatever lessons and message he wants to get across, that's not a substitute for in-person instruction.
And of course, it goes without saying that the most important thing is Rivers simply being healthy. Many Sixers players have either been symptom-free or experienced mild COVID reactions, but Joel Embiid had a rough time with the virus, and there's no way to predict what Rivers may or may not go through. Here's hoping for a quick, painless recovery.
There's a bit of good news on the health and safety front for Philadelphia — they will get Andre Drummond back in the lineup against Brooklyn after he cleared the protocol earlier this week, and Shake Milton has been upgraded to questionable for the game against Brooklyn. Milton giving them another guard to turn to off of the bench would be a big deal for a team in dire need of some creative abilities, and while he likely won't be asked to do too much in his first game back, every little bit counts.
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