While the NBA expects positive COVID-19 cases throughout the 2020-21 season, league sources told ESPN there isn't a specific number of positive cases or a precise scenario that could cause a game to be canceled or postponed.
In conjunction with league and team health officials, the NBA will consider several variables, including the nature of the positive cases and when, where and how they happened.
For instance, teams could have a similar number of positive COVID-19 cases but differing circumstances for the total, such as potential spread in a facility or isolated cases at home, leading to the NBA's reluctance to create a fixed number that would lead to play being suspended on a given night.
The possibility of any game taking place could first be affected by local or state restrictions, which have been evolving over the course of the pandemic. For example, California's Santa Clara County recently passed legislation banning contact sports because of COVID-19, forcing the San Francisco 49ers to temporarily relocate to Arizona. The NBA and teams are monitoring any possible restrictions that could affect play, including the possibility of quarantine periods in specific markets for those who have been traveling from out of state.
The NBA suspended its 2019-20 season on March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus prior to a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In mid-October, the league completed the season in a bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, with zero positive player tests, though there were at least three instances of players breaking protocol.
According to the NBA's health and safety protocols for the 2020-21 season, any player who tests positive will have to follow a series of steps before returning. Those steps will depend in part on whether the player is symptomatic, asymptomatic or experiencing severe symptoms, but he will be sidelined for at least 12 days.
During the first wave of coronavirus testing in late November, 48 of 546 players tested positive for COVID-19, according to a recent joint announcement from the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.