Jayson Tatum will not play against the 76ers tomorrow as he begins his return from COVID-19. The Celtics listed him as out, as he remains in Boston and trained at the Celtics practice facility 12 days after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Brad Stevens did not rule out Tatum joining the Celtics as late as this afternoon. The Celtics travel to Boston this weekend to play the Cavaliers on Sunday. That will likely mark the day Tatum joins the lineup, which Stevens indicated will feature Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Tatum to officially end the two-big starting unit.
Tatum’s presence at the Auerbach Center indicates he’s both cleared COVID protocol and cardiac testing that Robert Williams III discussed the other day during his recovery from COVID. The NBA is making sure player’s hearts aren’t adversely affected by COVID contractions.
“The cardiac screening has to be done before you enter the gym and before you can do anything,” Stevens said. “I would never want to put somebody out there who hasn’t gone through that. Then the minutes restriction is then decided by ... how many minutes were they playing prior to and what was their activity level during the 14 days, which is usually none.”
Robert Williams III began with a 8-10 minute restriction following his COVID layoff. Stevens opted not to play him on Wednesday against Philadelphia, with Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis playing well ahead of him, and that timeframe not being enough to get Williams going. Kemba Walker (Knee) will see his limit increase to 25-28 minutes on Friday.
Aaron Nesmith is listed as questionable with back spasms, while Carsen Edwards remains in the COVID protocol with no update on his condition. He originally entered the protocol on Jan. 8, rejoined the team for the Wizards game, then reentered the protocol. Romeo Langford (wrist) is with the team in Philadelphia, but is only shooting pregame right now.
Tatum’s absence Friday likely points toward his conditioning and game readiness not being fully ready, or his potential restrictions not being worth the strain of traveling both ways. Boston heads to Chicago, San Antonio next week and begins February with a west coast trip.
Travel, condensed schedules, COVID, cancelled shootarounds and injuries made ramp-ups and integrations difficult to begin the season, with Stevens indicating that Tristan Thompson is behind schedule too after missing training camp with a hamstring injury.
“Everybody’s in the same boat. Everybody has to maximize film sessions, walkthroughs, hotel and zoom sessions, and whatever the case may be,” Stevens said. “Those guys, it’s just making sure they get back from injury and making sure they’re getting enough reps, because you don’t practice a lot right now, but that’s part of it. You never do during the regular season.”