The season-opening game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, set to tip off at 7 p.m. inside Toyota Center, has been postponed by the league after COVID protocols and concerns made it impossible for the Rockets to field a squad of the required eight players for the game to be played as scheduled.
The list of players unable to suit up for Houston includes James Harden, due to a violation of the league’s health and safety protocols. Additionally, according to The Athletic, three other Rockets have tested positive or inconclusively for the coronavirus, while four others have been quarantined due to contact tracing.
Also, according to ESPN, contact tracing required the Rockets to send home three players on Wednesday after several players gathered in a single apartment on Tuesday to receive haircuts.
One of those players was rookie Kenyon Martin, who has tested both positive and negative for the virus on Wednesday and would be needing a third test for clarity. Two of the players joining Martin for haircuts were John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
It’s unclear if the postponement could eventually become a forfeit. Due to the 2019-20 season ending so late on the calendar, the 2020-21 season has been reduced to 72 games, ending on May 16 with the play-in to the playoffs tourney scheduled to begin on May 18.
It’s also unclear how aggressive the league will choose to be trying to make up lost games. Wednesday to May 16 is a span of 145 days, meaning the league’s 30 teams are already scheduled to play, essentially, every other day.
No single test or incident — a final positive test for Martin, for instance — has been identified as the straw that broke the Rockets’ opening-day back.
Nonetheless, the game is off and it’s unclear when the Rockets might be able to field a team.
The Thunder are scheduled to meet Charlotte on Dec. 26 in Charlotte.