HOUSTON — The James Harden soap opera in Houston now comes with a canceled season opener – and a $50,000 fine for the league’s leading scorer.

Houston’s opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night was scrapped after coronavirus cases and Harden’s violation of the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols left the Rockets without the league-mandated eight players available.

It was a dispiriting blow to the NBA on just the second night of an uncertain season launching with the pandemic still raging.

The NBA announced the postponement in a release that said three Rockets players had returned tests that were either positive or inconclusive and that four other players were quarantined because of contract tracing.

The release also said that Harden was unavailable for the game because of a violation of health and safety protocols after video of the disgruntled star surfaced on social media where he was without a mask at a crowded party in a private event space Monday night.

The league later announced the fine for Harden, saying the protocols prohibit attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people or entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar establishments.

Already a distraction to the team amid months of rumors that he wants to be traded, Harden’s latest move potentially threatened the health and safety of his team and kept the Rockets from beginning their season.

Houston has 16 players on its roster; with seven dealing with tests or quarantine and one hurt. That would have left eight eligible players, which is the league minimum to start a game. Harden’s unavailability lowered Houston’s total of available players to seven.

Houston’s injury report released Wednesday morning indicated that Ben McLemore and rookie KJ Martin were not with the team and were self-isolating, and that DeMarcus Cousins was questionable because of a sprained right ankle.

Harden’s since-deleted Instagram post explaining why he attended the event in question would certainly suggest that he was in violation of the NBA’s protocols.

In the post he wrote: “One thing after another. I went to show love to my homegirl at her event (not a strip club) because she is becoming a boss and putting her people in a position of success and now it’s a problem. Everyday it’s something different. No matter how many times people try to drag my name under you can’t. The real people always end up on top.”

But for now, the eight-time All-Star is on the shelf after admitting to breaking the rules set forth in the protocols.

“In light of the serious and highly infectious nature of the coronavirus… individuals must not engage in activities or conduct that a reasonable person would regard as posing unnecessary risk relative to the significance (or lack thereof) of such activity or conduct,” the protocols say.

Harden may now be ordered into quarantine.

And it will likely cost him a good sum of money; players “also may be subject to a proportionate adjustment to pay for any games missed during the period that the player is in quarantine and undergoing testing due to engaging in such activities and/or conduct,” the NBA said.

Harden could lose about $280,000 for each game missed. Houston’s next scheduled game is Saturday at Portland.

Teams have been told by the league that any player who misses games while in quarantine because he broke protocols will miss game checks.

Oklahoma City also was involved in the March 11 game that led to the league shutting down for the coronavirus pandemic; the Thunder were to have been the home team that night for a game against Utah, called off when it was learned Jazz center Rudy Gobert was the NBA’s first player to test positive for COVID-19.

The Thunder, unwittingly, now find themselves part of history again.

HORNETS: Charlotte exercised the third-year contract option on forward PJ Washington and the fourth-year option on forward Miles Bridges.

Neither move Wednesday comes as a surprise as both appear to figure into the team’s long-term plans.

Washington, a projected starter this season, enters his second NBA season after starting 57 games as a rookie. He averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 30.3 minutes per game and shot 37.4% from beyond the 3-point arc. The 6-foot-7 forward earned All-Rookie second team honors in 2019-20.

The 6-foot-6 Bridges, in his third NBA season, has played in 145 games with 89 starts, and improved his scoring average to 13 points per game last season after averaging 7.5 as a rookie.

REFEREES PROMOTED: Simone Jelks was one of three referees promoted to full-time status by the NBA on Wednesday, making her the fifth woman on the current lineup of officials.

Jelks joins the group of female NBA referees that also includes Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling, Ashley Moyer-Gleich, Natalie Sago and Jenna Schroeder. Jelks becomes the seventh female full-time ref in NBA history, with the current five preceded by Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer.

Jelks worked 16 regular-season NBA games as a non-staff official last season. The former USC player has also worked games in the G League for the last three seasons.

WEDNESDAY’S GAMES

76ERS 113, WIZARDS 107: Joel Embiid scored the go-ahead basket with 1:09 left and had 29 points and 14 rebounds to lead Philadelphia to a win at home.

Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal were fantastic for Washington. Westbrook had 21 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds to wow the Wizards after he was acquired in the big deal that sent former cornerstone John Wall to the Houston Rockets. Beal, a two-time All-Star who was second in the league in scoring last season, had 31 points.

MAGIC 113, HEAT 107: Evan Fournier gave Orlando the lead with a late 3-pointer, then converted a three-point play in the final minute and scored 25 points in a win over visiting Miami.

Fournier’s 3-pointer from the left wing gave the Magic a one-point lead with 4:17 to play. Following a difficult runner in the lane, Fournier converted another cutting layup and was fouled by Andre Iguodala to put the Magic ahead 108-101.

Bam Adebayo led Miami with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

PELICANS 113, RAPTORS 99: JJ Redick converted a four-point play with just over a minute remaining and finished with 23 points, and Brandon Ingram led all scorers with 24 points as New Orleans rallied from an 11-point deficit to beat the Raptors at their temporary home in Tampa, Florida.

Zion Williamson had a big second half for the Pelicans and finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds to help deliver Coach Stan Van Gundy a victory in his New Orleans debut.

Pascal Siakam led the Raptors with 20 points. Kyle Lowry finished with 18 points and 10 assists.

PACERS 121, KNICKS 107: Domantas Sabonis scored a career-high 32 points and Victor Oladipo added 16 of his 22 in the second half, leading Indiana past visiting New York.

Sabonis also grabbed 13 rebounds as Indiana’s new coach, Nate Bjorkgren, celebrated his first career victory.

RJ Barrett finished with 26 points and Alec Burks had 22 for New York, which lost on opening night for the fourth time in five years.

CAVALIERS 121, HORNETS 114: Collin Sexton scored 27 points, Darius Garland added 22 and Cleveland overcame the hot shooting of Terry Rozier to beat visiting Charlotte.

Hyped rookie LaMelo Ball didn’t score in his NBA debut with Charlotte, and Hornets center Cody Zeller broke his left hand.

Rozier made a career-high 10 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Hornets, who made it interesting with a late rally.

HAWKS 124, BULLS 104: Trae Young scored 37 points, and visiting Atlanta spoiled Billy Donovan’s debut as Chicago coach.

SPURS 131, GRIZZLIES 119: DeMar DeRozan had 28 points and nine assists, Dejounte Murray added 21 points, and visiting San Antonio used a balanced attack to overcome a huge game by Ja Morant.

Morant, the reigning rookie of the year, scored 34 of his career-high 44 points in the second half. While that helped carry the Grizzlies offensively, it wasn’t enough to put a deep dent in San Antonio’s double-digit lead through much of the second half.

TIMBERWOLVES 111, PISTONS 101: Malik Beasley scored 23 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, leading Minnesota’s comeback against visiting Detroit.

D’Angelo Russell pitched in 18 points, and Anthony Edwards – the first overall pick in the NBA draft last month – added 15 points in his debut as the Timberwolves overcame a deficit that often reached double digits and was still 12 points midway through the third quarter.


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