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The expected spike in COVID-19 diagnoses is eye-popping even with the acceptance of a deadly pandemic ripping through the states, and any thought of the NBA being immune was nonsense.

You can’t make a deal with the devil and be surprised when the kitchen is burning.

Two weeks after the most family-oriented holiday, a new round of infected citizens was inevitable — to which NBA players were just as susceptible to as everyday folk. The league wanted the gobs of money its broadcast partners put in front of them by starting Christmas week, even knowing the inherent risk starting at that time carried.

Pandemic fatigue had long set in, with so many daring fate and airborne illnesses to do what they wanted to in some cases — or being innocent bystanders in others.

Whether it’s positive tests, contact tracing or even inconclusive results, it’s a never-ending game of Plinko, just a matter of which player it lands on today and whether it’s severe or precautionary.

The most notable players this weekend to hit the NBA health and safety protocols list are St. Louis born and bred Jayson Tatum, who ended up on the Celtics injury report Saturday after playing the Wizards on Friday night — not in enough time before landing fellow native Bradley Beal on the shelf due to their postgame meeting of proximity.

The league can perform to show it’s against age-old discrimination in attacking social ills, but this virus doesn’t discriminate. Not against good intentions, heavy protocols or even the calendar changing from 2020 to 2021.

COVID is here until it isn’t, a harsh truth not many are willing to embrace. A vaccine isn’t coming quick enough for first responders or vulnerable people, so it can’t depend on the needle coming in on the white horse to save the enterprise.

The success of the summer bubble has produced calls for many to return to that setup, but it feels so unrealistic given the once-in-a-lifetime circumstances surrounding it. The restrictive rules resulted in no positive tests but the mental strain it seemed to create means the players aren’t likely to embrace that again — not when they’re collecting checks on the regular right now.

It’s easy to call for a bubble when you don’t have to live by its rules, especially when the lightweight freedom the players have currently doesn’t feel like enough.

It isn’t totally hopeless, as the contact tracing and multiple tests give off erring on caution to prevent superspreader situations, but flying blind with a seat belt doesn’t take away from the danger.

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