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With Blazers game postponed, Christmas Day among the uncertainties as Nets, NBA struggle with omicron

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Golden State Warriors v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images

In Los Angeles, they’re getting ready for the big game Saturday. Nets vs. Lakers. LeBron. Christmas Day. The first big game at the newly renamed Crypto.com Center. Prime Time!

And the priciest ticket in the NBA!

But will it come off? Will both Kevin Durant and LeBron James go up against each other for the first time in three years? Will it be in prime time? None of those are dead-set certain. The NBA has informed all teams playing on Christmas Day that the schedule could change and they may not be able to say until Christmas Eve. The league has already booked and estimated $25 to $30 million in advertising, per Sportico.

Adding to those uncertainties, the NBA on Wednesday postponed the Nets-Blazers game set for Thursday because the league says the Nets don’t have eight available players to proceed with the game. It’s the third straight game the Nets have lost to COVID. The postponement may very well be a strategic move by the NBA. By postponing the Blazers game, the NBA has reduced chances of new infections and increased chances of more Nets, including their stars, being ready for the lucrative Christmas Day schedule, whenever they play.

It’s just the latest set of questions the NBA and the nation face as they try to survive the highly transmissible omicron variant that is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the league (90 percent) and the country (73 percent).

As of Wednesday morning, the Nets still had 10 players in the health and safety protocols, including the Big Three of Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Joe Harris is still out and Nic Claxton is still recovering from a sore wrist. For the record, that was the starting lineup the Nets projected back in training camp before Irving announced he would not get the vaccine and Claxton became ill with a non-COVID illness.

The Lakers are in better shape. Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker “tested out” of COVID protocols and played Tuesday night. Trevor Ariza is back after a long layoff. James is dealing with some nagging injuries, but otherwise healthy. Still, coach Frank Vogel and four other players are in protocols.

Otherwise, there’s little news. Wenyen Gabriel finally signed as a replacement player, giving Brooklyn its fourth new player. The Nets haven’t practiced in a few days. Reporters haven’t gotten a chance to talk to Steve Nash or whoever else is available.

On Tuesday, Adam Silver said the league is not planning to pause the season, telling Malika Andrews that despite all the issues, and some postponed games.

“No plans right now to pause the season,” Silver told Andrews on NBA Today. “We have of course looked at all the options, but frankly we are having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now.

“As we look through these cases literally ripping through the country, let alone the rest of the world, I think we’re finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to over the past several months, and that is this virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now.”

Silver also talked about how the NBA needs to push ahead with boosters. About 65 percent of players have gotten the third shot which early data shows helps individuals avoid severe cases of the disease. He also hinted the league might allow players who return a positive test but are asymptomatic to play earlier than the current 10 day prohibition.

“We’re not quite there yet, but we’re paying a lot of attention to what other leagues are doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, back in New York, things haven’t changed. There’s no indication that the city will change its indoor venue rules and permit Irving to play at home. In talking to various reports, the office of Mayor-Elect Eric Adams has said he doesn’t plan what would amount to a carve-out for a single player.

And the state assemblyman who has pushed for a change in city regulations to prohibit non-vaccinated players, like Bradley Beal, from playing in New York, heavily criticized the Nets decision to permit Irving to play on the road.

He told Matt Sullivan of Rolling Stone that Irving’s reinstatement is “an outrage” that encourages anti-vaxxers.

“It makes my blood boil that celebrities and professional athletes are getting a pass. And the rest of us? Our health is endangered, and we’re sick and dying. It’s the ultimate F-you to fans,” he told Sullivan, who wrote, “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” the book about the Nets 2020-21 season.

“They’re sending a mixed message. They are allowing the vaccine-hesistant players to dominate the news cycle, and they’re perpetuating conspiracy theories and other misunderstandings around vaccines. And at the end of the day, they’re putting lives at risk based on their foot-dragging.”

Sullivan also quoted an anonymous front office staffer on Irving’s positive test.

“When Ky tested positive, it was meant to be,” texted the staffer who got COVID in the past week. “But also part of me was glad that it shut up the anti-vaxxed hailing him.”

Meanwhile, SI’s Chris Mannix suggested that there are some in Brooklyn who hope that Irving’s teammates will be able to convince him to eventually get the vaccine.

“The conversations I’ve had with people in Brooklyn… what they are hoping for is Kyrie’s back, he’s in the facility, he’s around Durant, he’s around Harden, he’s around his teammates, and he comes around the next month or so to getting vaccinated,” Mannix said on his podcast. That seems optimistic considering Irving’s record of refusal.

Meanwhile, Harden sent out a Christmas tweet offering some holiday gift suggestions ... using one of his endorsers.