Nuggets coach Michael Malone tests positive for COVID-19

Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone gestures toward players during the first half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

DENVER (AP) — Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone was placed into the NBA’s health and safety protocols Thursday, raising the total number of head coaches on that coronavirus-related list to seven.

Malone’s status was confirmed to The Associated Press by people with direct knowledge of the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because neither he nor the team has revealed the matter publicly.

Malone joins Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Frank Vogel, Chicago’s Billy Donovan, Phoenix’s Monty Williams, Portland’s Chauncey Billups and Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault in the protocols.

Also in the protocols: around 120 players, as of early Thursday, along with an untold number of other staffers from around the league — including assistant coaches, broadcasters, referees, media relations personnel, stat crew members, athletic trainers and more.

“This is mentally exhausting,” said Portland assistant Scott Brooks, who is filling in for Billups during his protocols stint.

The NBA has seen 558 players entering Thursday — already a single-season record — take the court this season, largely because teams have had to sign dozens of replacements to hardship contracts just to get through the periods of roster depletion caused by time missed with the virus.

“It’s mindboggling,” Brooks said. “There’s so many good players in the world. It’s just tough to make it. It’s tough to make it. There’s 30 teams … these guys don’t even know those players and they’re making an impact. They play hard and they know how to play. They’re going to be NBA players. They just have to find the right spot.”

Entering Thursday, 10 games have been postponed in the NBA this season for virus-related reasons, the most recent of those coming Wednesday when Miami — through a combination of players either entering the protocols or having injuries — did not have the league-mandated eight available players for its scheduled game at San Antonio.

Malone was scheduled to work Thursday, with Denver planning to host Golden State. The Nuggets were testing players Thursday, and those results will help determine if Denver has enough available for that contest.

The NBA changed protocols in recent weeks mandating that everyone in the bench areas must wear masks during games — with the exception being head coaches. Some coaches said last season that the masks, when they had to wear them, interfered with their ability to communicate with players and referees during games.

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