Tyrese Maxey has had a pretty impressive start to his NBA career. The No. 21 pick in the draft out of Kentucky, Maxey has been getting regular minutes in the 76ers’ backcourt, and had his best game yet on Thursday, scoring 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting against the Nets.
On Saturday, Maxey really showed out. The 20-year-old from Dallas got his first NBA start, and he scored 39 points on 18-of-33 shooting with seven rebounds and six assists. It was the most points scored by a rookie in the NBA since Grayson Allen had a 40-point game for the Jazz on April 10, 2019, and the highest-scoring game for a 76ers rookie since Allen Iverson had the fifth 40-point game of his brilliant 1996-97 campaign.
And it never should have happened. Philadelphia was without Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Vincent Poirier, and Matisse Thybulle because of coronavirus and associated protocols, as well as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons due to injury. Mike Scott is technically healthy, but in reality has a lower-body injury that’s preventing him from playing, so while Philadelphia met the NBA requirement of being able to dress eight players, there were really only seven players able to go.
So, Maxey went out there with Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Dakota Mathias, and Isaiah Joe, with Paul Reed and Tony Bradley as reserves, and the 76ers did what they could against the Nuggets. And what they could do was admirable, but predictably not enough. Nikola Jokic came up one rebound shy of a triple-double, Gary Harris scored 21 points, and Denver led by as many as 22 points in a 115-103 game.
The Nuggets weren’t all available either, as Michael Porter Jr. was out due to health and safety protocols.
And things are just getting worse throughout the NBA.
Bradley Beal having contact tracing exposure to Jayson Tatum is interesting because, y’know, they’re not teammates. But the Celtics are going through it with coronavirus, and now who knows what spread might have come out of the Boston-Washington game on Friday night in which Beal scored 41 points.
Saturday was the Wizards’ third game in four days. Same for the 76ers, who played the Wizards on Wednesday, and on Monday start another run of three games in four days. The Celtics, off on Saturday, play the Heat on Sunday after Miami’s game against Washington on Saturday.
That’s a lot of repeated close contact among these teams, and it’s not exactly hard to see the next headline in the series being “Heat hit with coronavirus.” It is quickly becoming evident how bad of an idea this bubble-less NBA season is, especially not using the flexibility that the league afforded itself to move games to the second half of the season.
What’s more, we know that coronavirus has been particularly severe among Black Americans, and the majority of NBA players are Black. The irresponsibility of this — to play regular-season NBA games, even in mostly empty arenas — is galling.
The NBA pulled off the bubble last summer and got a lot of well-deserved praise for it. We’re a long way from the bubble now.