Coming off one of the best scoring performances of his 14 NBA seasons, Clippers forward Nicolas Batum entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols Wednesday as the team was preparing for the first stop in its eight-game trip.
Batum will miss the game Wednesday in Denver, but with the Clippers on the road for 13 days, and the NBA last month providing a quicker pathway for players to clear the COVID-related protocols, it’s possible for Batum to rejoin the team before the trip ends.
The Clippers were rarely affected by COVID last season, but this season the protocols have sidelined 10 players for a total of 45 games. This is the second time that Batum, who scored all 32 of his points in the second half Monday in a victory against Indiana, has entered protocols this season, with the first leading to an eight-game absence that began in late November. Coach Tyronn Lue said that he hears from others around the league discussing his team’s rash of absences “all the time.”
“I guess we dodged a bullet last year, but now it’s catching up with us this year,” he said at the team’s shoot-around Wednesday morning. “It’s tough, but whatever. It is what it is.”
Batum’s absence comes at a time when the Clippers (22-23) believed they would be at nearly full strength, after Justise Winslow and Luke Kennard, who had missed eight consecutive games, each cleared protocols in recent days. Their challenges aren’t over, with their first opportunity to play in days — or in Kennard’s case, since Dec. 31 — coming one mile above sea level at Ball Arena, a venue whose altitude is challenging enough for those already in basketball shape.
“It’s a tough place to come back for your first game,” Lue said.
Kennard tested positive before the Clippers’ Jan. 1 victory in Brooklyn and said he first felt symptoms within the next two days.
“I had a rough few days,” Kennard said. “I was stuck in New York for a while, which wasn’t fun, but [was] able to get back [to Los Angeles] and still couldn’t clear it. It was a tough couple weeks.”
Once at his home in Los Angeles, Kennard had some exercise equipment available to begin working out again, saying he made do by riding an exercise bike and running a hill near his home. But he didn’t shoot a basketball until “two or three days ago,” he said.
“I feel good overall, did everything I could while I was out to get back but definitely going to be a process over the next couple of weeks on this trip,” Kennard said.
Denver (22-20) won’t have former Clipper JaMychal Green available because of his own stay in health and safety protocols.