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Overnight developments in China point to likely postponement of preseason games

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With slightly more than a day before game time in Shanghai, it’s looking unlikely the Nets and Lakers will play either of their preseason games in China. The question now is who pulls the plug: the NBA or China.

Overnight U.S. time, the NBA abruptly canceled its media availability for players; Shanghai officials dropped an NBA fan event planned for Wednesday night; the Education Ministry canceled an NBA Cares activity, this one involving the Lakers; the games’s sponsor, a Chinese cell phone company, backed out of its promotions; and in the most telling sign, across China’s largest city, banners and other promotional materials related to the first of the two games were being pulled down from buildings.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols reports from Shanghai that what few fans have shown up the players’ hotels cover their faces when they see cameras, not wanting to be shown supporting the NBA.

And Brian Lewis tweeted earlier, no one is saying anything...

There’s been no official announcements, but there also appears to be increasing concern about player security, particularly at the Mercedes-Benz Arena where the first of two preseasons games is scheduled to be played. According to more than one NBA observer, playing before an empty arena was on the table, but the NBA was unlikely to agree to that.

And for the first time, one of the Nets players spoke about the situation in Shanghai.

“It was unfortunate that the events were cancelled today but we’re not experts in that field,” Jordan said on ESPN’s The Jump. “The field that we are experts in is basketball. We wanted to come here to play basketball and see all our fans in China.”

Another player told a friend that “this is just awkward for us,” according to SNY.

The Shanghai game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Shanghai time Thursday, 7:30 a.m. New York time. A second game in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, is scheduled for Saturday.

Adam Silver was scheduled to arrive in Shanghai Wednesday hoping to salvage the games — and the NBA’s place in China, but rhetoric on both sides has intensified.

Before leaving Japan, Silver had again insisted that the NBA supports Rocket GM Daryl Morey’s right of free expression. It was Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protests Friday night, U.S. time, that started the firestorm with China first assailing the Rockets, then escalating the issue to include the NBA in general. On Tuesday, CCTV and TenCent, who carry NBA games in China, said they had decided they would not broadcast the games.

At the same time, reports Tim Reynolds of AP, all around China, stores that sell NBA merchandise were removing Rockets-related apparel from shelves and many murals featuring the Rockets — even ones with Yao Ming — were being painted over.

The most telling sign was the cancellation of the NBA’s media availability. The press, mostly Chinese, had gathered for the event which was then canceled.

Joe Tsai, the Nets newly minted owner, spoke briefly to U.S. reporters on Tuesday, explaining his Facebook statement that tried to explain the Chinese side of the controversy but wound up being criticized for echoing Beijing’s characterization of the protests as a threat to the “territorial integrity of China” and the protesters as a “separatist movement.”

On Tuesday night, Tsai turned to praising his team. “The players got in late, so we had an open buffet kind of setting so they could just come in, grab some food and go to sleep,” Tsai told the Post’s Brian Lewis. “What I observed, the chemistry, the camaraderie around the team is incredible. They’re talking to each other, they seemed comfortable with each other, having fun.

“This is after a long, what, 16-hour flight? I would’ve been, ‘Forget it, I’m going to sleep.’ But they were hanging out. It’s important to have that chemistry, especially this early in the season. We’re more than half a new team. To see them — not just the original players, but the new guys — was [good].”

Hong Kong’s main newspaper which is owned by Alibaba, Tsai’s company and includes Tsai on its board of directors, focused its fire on Morey. The South China Morning Post editorialized that “no apology or expression of regret can repair the damage caused.”

And on late Wednesday, President Trump weighed in on the issue, criticizing Warrior coach Steve Kerr for declining to comment on the Morey tweet or Adam Silver’s response.

“I watched this guy Steve Kerr and he was like a little boy who was so scared to be even answering the question. He couldn’t answer the question. He was shaking, ‘Oh, I don’t know,’” Trump said. “He didn’t know how to answer the question, and yet he’ll talk about the United States very badly.

“I watched [Gregg] Popovich, sort of the same thing, but he didn’t look quite as scared actually,” Trump added. “But they talk badly about the United States but when we talk about China they don’t want to say anything bad. I thought it was pretty sad, actually.”

On the Nets official site, there was no indication of any change in plans. Their social media was filled with images of the Nets practice at Mercedes-Benz.

In fact, the Nets official site has made no mention of Tsai’s statement on Facebook.

Should the games be postponed, it would be a blow to the Nets preparation for the coming season. Unless a game with another NBA team is added to the schedule, the Nets will play only two preseason games, Friday’s game vs. Basquete Franca of Brazil and then, on October 18, a contest against the defending champion Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center.