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Oklahoma City Thunder reverse course on having fans in arena

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After initially planning for a limited number of fans to be in attendance for home games, the Oklahoma City Thunder are reversing course and will open the season with the arena empty, the team announced Monday.

“For months, we have worked in close collaboration with Chesapeake Energy Arena, the City of Oklahoma City, local health officials, and the NBA to put into place thorough health and safety measures to allow for reduced seating capacity,” the team said in a statement. “However, as we review ongoing and concerning trends in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Oklahoma, we want to exercise an abundance of caution to help control the spread of the virus in our community. Therefore, the Thunder has made the decision to begin the season without fans in the arena.”

On Nov. 10, the Thunder announced health and safety protocols for the upcoming season which included a plan to accommodate a reduced number of fans in attendance. The health and safety measures for games would include six-feet of seating distance between groups, required face masks, contactless self-service ticket scanning and concessions and strict sanitation throughout the building.

Though like many states across the United States, Oklahoma has seen a dramatic rise in positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.

“We will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation over the coming weeks to determine when fans will be able to attend our games,” the statement said. “We will take all necessary steps to create a safe environment for those who will be in attendance for games as the upcoming season begins, including players, coaches, staff, media and broadcasters.”

The 2020-21 NBA season is slated to open Dec. 22.

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Washington Wizards, Russell Westbrook fall in return from COVID-19 layoff

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SAN ANTONIO — Russell Westbrook had nine points, eight rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes in his first game in more than two weeks due to a left quadriceps injury.

His return came in the Washington Wizards‘ 121-101 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night. The Wizards hadn’t played since Jan. 11 after their previous six games were postponed because they did not have enough eligible players due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

The Wizards still had six players ineligible, and Washington faded down the stretch as coach Scott Brooks primarily used an eight-man rotation.

Bradley Beal scored 31 points, and Jerome Robinson added 16 points for Washington.

The Wizards made their first three shots, including a pair of 3-pointers. Washington was 14 for 42 overall on 3-pointers, helping it stay with San Antonio through three quarters. But the Spurs outscored the Wizards by 12 points in the fourth.

San Antonio finished 15 for 31 on 3-pointers in securing its largest margin of victory this season. The Spurs remain unbeaten in seven games when they hold a double-digit lead.

The Wizards fell to 3-9 on the season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Memphis Grizzlies have fifth straight game postponed

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Wednesday’s game between the Bulls and Grizzlies at FedExForum in Memphis has been postponed due to the NBA’s health and safety’s protocols.

It will be the Grizzlies’ fifth straight game postponed under the policy and sixth overall, matching the Washington Wizards for most in the NBA. The Wizards returned to action on Sunday, their first game in 13 days after six players tested positive for COVID-19 and three others had to miss several days following contact tracing.

The NBA said the game is being postponed due to contact tracing with the Grizzlies and the fact the team will not be able to practice before the scheduled game.

The Grizzlies have no new players entered into the health and safety protocols, a source told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The next scheduled game for the Grizzlies is Saturday in San Antonio against the Spurs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Washington Wizards’ Russell Westbrook returning from quad injury

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Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook will play in Sunday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, according to coach Scott Brooks, marking his first game action in more than two weeks due to a left quadriceps injury.

Westbrook hasn’t played since Jan. 8 due to the injury, which was caused by repeated contact to his quadriceps area, according to the team. But he has missed only two games due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the Wizards that led to six games being postponed.

Sunday’s game is the first for the Wizards since a win over the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 11. They still have six players listed as out Sunday due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Westbrook, who is listed as a starter Sunday, is averaging 19.3 points, 11.3 assists and 9.7 rebounds in seven games this season.

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