The wave of COVID that has been impacting the entire NBA — including the Sixers — has now affected the team’s head coach. Head coach Doc Rivers, now in his 21st season as signal caller, has entered health and safety protocols so assistant Dan Burke will take over until Doc returns, a source confirmed to Liberty Ballers. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was the first to report the news.
Philadelphia plays the Brooklyn Nets Thursday, taking on Kevin Durant, in what will be the two-time Finals MVP’s first game back from protocols. KD last played the Sixers back on Dec. 16. Brooklyn has James Harden available, fresh off his holiday drubbing of the Lakers and Clippers, plus another several role players who have been out in protocols since Dec. 10.
Rivers made headlines recently for blasting beat reporter Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, who was wondering if Doc was concerned with his team’s struggles against shorthanded, COVID-affected teams.
"That's a question that tells me clearly, you didn't play enough. You gotta understand that. If you win a game, you're happy... My point is it's a dumbass question."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 29, 2021
Doc Rivers was PISSED with this question on beating the injured Raptors by just 5 points.pic.twitter.com/6XPuE8auDU
Doc let us all know that these days he feels a win is a win is a win.
The more close games btwn COVID and healthy teams I see, more I think we neglect that guys making guaranteed money just aren’t heavily invested in reg season games in December, while the opposition has guys who are basically trying out for the NBA. Not all about on-paper matchup.— Austin Krell (@NBAKrell) December 30, 2021
Burke was brought in from the Indiana Pacers, in many ways to replace former assistant Ime Udoka, now with the Boston Celtics. Udoka had served as the team’s de facto defensive coordinator, a job Burke now spearheads.
As of now, the team has the 19th ranked defense (109.5 points per 100 allowed). Perhaps that’s impressive given that without Ben Simmons in the fold they no longer profile as an elite defensive team personnel-wise. They also had to survive missing Embiid for about three weeks when he was sick.
It’s an opportunity for both Burke and assistant Sam Cassell to step up and lead the team against a Nets group who currently sits in first place at 23-9.
In addition to Rivers, newly-acquired players Myles Powell and Tyler Johnson were placed in health and safety protocols, a team source confirms. There’s a cruel irony at work when new guys brought in to replace guys who’ve tested positive then enter protocols themselves. But that’s where we are.
Sixers’ Myles Powell and Tyler Johnson have entered Covid protocols and will be out vs. Brooklyn tonight, source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 30, 2021
For now, we’ll wish Rivers, Powell and Johnson a speedy recovery if they in fact tested positive. Hopefully they’re not as symptomatic as some of the team’s other players have been this year. Earlier Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid had severe breakthrough Covid cases and missed extended time.
If one were looking for silver linings, assuming everyone fully recovers, perhaps the Sixers could have some version of a mostly-vaccinated team who has been exposed to this obstinate virus. Some experts are saying it’s a matter of when not if we’ll be exposed to the Omicron variant. And from a sports perspective, it could be advantageous to deal with this in December rather than April. It’s a callous calculus indeed, but hopefully everyone exposed recovers fully and develops some version of turbo-boosted immunity moving forward.