When New York City created an exemption to its city-wide mandate that allowed Nets star Kyrie Irving to play in Brooklyn, that looked like the end of the NBA‘s vaccine drama. However, with the first round of the postseason coming up, a new potential problem is emerging for the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Starting earlier this season, a Canadian vaccine mandate was put into effect that prevented unvaccinated road players from entering the country. Players have been affected for single games, but thus far, the impact has been relatively minimal. However, with Toronto currently seeded No. 6 in the Eastern Conference, the possibility that they might host several home playoff games is becoming significantly higher.
Right now, there are four teams fighting for the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference: the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. Barring a major surprise, those are the four teams that will earn the top four seeds, and unless Toronto surprisingly drops out of the playoffs, one of them will battle the Raptors when the playoffs begin. This wouldn’t be a problem for Milwaukee and Miami. According to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, both have said that their rosters are fully vaccinated.
However, when Bontemps reached out to the Celtics and 76ers, both declined to answer, indicating that both teams could have unvaccinated players that would be barred from participating in road playoff games in Toronto. Philadelphia has not yet played in Toronto since the mandate kicked in, but we know that star guard James Harden is vaccinated because he played home games in Brooklyn. Boston played in Toronto on Monday, and while a number of regulars were out, eight players took the floor for them in a 115-112 overtime loss. Those eight players were Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, Derrick White, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet and Payton Pritchard. Their availability proves that they are vaccinated.
Before Monday’s game, Celtics coach Ime Udoka acknowledged that Toronto had changed their rules, but said that, “all of our guys, if healthy, are available to play.” The 76ers play in Toronto on April 7, which could give some indication of which of their players would be available in a possible playoff series.
For now, the Celtics and 76ers are just trying to secure the best possible playoff positioning. That might mean the highest possible seed and home-court advantage. It might mean avoiding the lower-seeded but extremely dangerous Nets. Now, it might mean avoiding the Raptors.