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Michael Malone, Nuggets on coronavirus precautions: Games without fans would be “pretty boring”

DALLAS – The first sign of a “new norm,” as Nuggets coach Michael Malone referred to it in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, came Tuesday as the team was flying to Dallas.

Team trainers wore gloves and mopped down seats with sanitizing wipes in an effort to protect Denver’s traveling party. Customary amenities like pillows and blankets were kept stowed away.

The next sign came after Wednesday morning shootaround, when Malone walked into a remote room at American Airlines Center and took a seat at a podium. New NBA media protocol called for a 6-8 foot barrier between the players and coaches and assembled media. It wasn’t dissimilar from the postseason set up that generally helps accommodate more media.

“This is, I wouldn’t say absurd,” Malone said. “Maybe it’s necessary and precautionary.”

While the NBA took measures to separate media from the team, bigger questions, like playing games without fans, or moving games to cities that hadn’t yet been impacted by the virus, were reportedly being discussed.

According to multiple reports, the Golden State Warriors will host the Brooklyn Nets at the Chase Center on Thursday without fans in attendance after the San Francisco Health Office sent out an order prohibiting events with 1,000 or more people.

A conference call with the league’s board of governors and the commissioner’s office was also set for Wednesday.

“I was reading this morning, somebody threw out the potential idea of if a city has cases where there is the coronavirus, maybe they would cancel games in that city and hold it at a neutral site,” Malone said. “And that to me is just such a foreign concept, but it’s also scary because that’s the reality we’re all dealing with in trying to figure out how to best move forward with the current state of affairs.”

The Nuggets’ team doctor is on the current road trip and is scheduled to address the team, Malone said. In addition, the Nuggets have shared information from the league office with their players about the safest protocol.

Some of the players are at a loss over the scenarios being discussed.

“I don’t want to think about it,” said Nuggets veteran Will Barton, sitting at the same podium his coach spoke at minutes earlier. “I don’t want to play. I think it just takes away from the game.

“It’s tough to think about it with no fans,” Barton said. “At the end of the day, you just get that extra kick and juice from the fans. … I think the games would be pretty boring without the fans. It’s no entertainment. Might as well have open gym.”

Guard Jamal Murray may feed off the crowd more than anyone on the Nuggets. He wanted the league to find another solution rather than playing games with no fans in the stands.

“I just think that we’re out there flying, traveling, planes, all across America, putting ourselves at risk to catch some type of virus and still trying to give the entertainment to fans and keep the business going,” Murray said. “I feel like it’s just not a fair trade in the players’ eyes. We want to play basketball in front of fans and have the crowd going. That would just kind of, not just kind of take away from it, that would take all of it away.”

As his team was going through shootaround Wednesday, with only essential team staffers allowed on the court, the potential new reality struck Malone.

“I looked at Jerami (Grant) and Gary (Harris) and I said, ‘Imagine playing a game right now where all you see in the stands is just nobody,’” Malone said. “It would be really strange to play, 18 games to go, a meaningful game, with no one in the stands.”

The gravity of the situation didn’t dissuade Malone from adding a small dose of levity.

“I wouldn’t mind it as much on the road, I really would not like it at home, for obvious reasons,” he added.

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