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Masked man: Spurs’ Popovich wears face covering for game

NBA Restart Basketball - AP Photo/Eric Gay

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Gregg Popovich was working in a mask on Thursday — though not in his usual role — when the San Antonio Spurs made their scrimmage debut at the NBA restart at Walt Disney World.

Popovich was not serving as head coach for the game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Spurs had Becky Hammon in that role Thursday and will use Mitch Johnson there on Saturday and Will Hardy in their scrimmage finale on Tuesday. Popovich was seated to their left, slightly behind the group, for the first half and moved into a first-row seat to begin the second half with his mask still in place.

It is unclear if Popovich will wear a mask for the entirety of the Spurs’ time at Disney. By NBA rule, all assistant coaches behind the first row of seats — there are three rows of seating in the bench areas for games at Disney, instead of the usual two in NBA arenas — must wear a mask. Popovich’s original seat appeared to be set between the first and second row, so it wasn’t certain if he was wearing a mask for safety reasons or simply to be compliant with NBA policy.

Hammon, Johnson and Hardy were not in masks.

Popovich was the coach who spoke in the team’s pregame news conference and followed NBA rules by wearing a mask in that availability.

“You know, things go on in our lives all the time that are unexpected and they have to be dealt with,” Popovich said, speaking about the restart amid a pandemic. “This is another one of those. Obviously, a bit more dramatic, a little bit more dangerous and very disruptive. But there’s only one choice and that’s to deal with it, to handle it, to be wise about it and try to make the best of it and move on.”

At 71, Popovich is the NBA’s oldest active head coach and his involvement at Disney was a discussion point during the league’s shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control say those who are 65 and older are more susceptible to “severe illness from COVID-19” increases.

The NBA has three head coaches who are at least 65: Houston’s Mike D’Antoni and New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry are the others. A pair of assistants who have reached that age, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lionel Hollins and New Orleans’ Jeff Bzdelik, are not with their respective teams at Disney for the season restart.

Spurs assistant Tim Duncan also is not at Disney, with part of the reason so he could remain behind in San Antonio and help monitor the rehabilitation progress of forward LaMarcus Aldridge — who is out for the season with a shoulder issue.

GIANNIS’ FOULS

Bucks star and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had five first-half fouls in his team’s scrimmage opener against San Antonio.

If this had happened in a real game, that would have been a real rarity. The last time a player had five first-half fouls in an NBA game that counted was Dec. 7, 2013, when Utah’s Mike Harris did it against Sacramento.

OLADIPO PLAYS

Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, who had ruled himself out of the NBA restart because of injury concerns but is reconsidering, started the Pacers’ scrimmage opener against Portland on Thursday.

Also back on the floor: Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic, another starter in that game. It was Nurkic’s first NBA live action since he broke his leg on March 25, 2019.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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