Sydney Kings ready to launch following early-season hiatus

By the time the ball is tipped on Thursday night, the Sydney Kings will have had plenty of time to digest a Boxing Day loss to Melbourne United, with 18 days to have passed since they last hit the court.

While many teams around the league have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 wave that has ground the season to a halt, the Kings have been fortunate to keep case numbers low during the stretch.

"We actually got lucky because we only had a couple of positives," head coach Chase Buford told ESPN. "We thought there would be more to follow for sure but according to RAT testing we've all still been negative, so fingers crossed."

Currently, the Kings are required to complete a RAT test each time they enter the facility, regardless of whether they have been deemed a close contact or carry any symptoms.

The NBL's struggles mirror those in the NBA, with ESPN's Baxter Holmes reporting more than 300 players have now entered the league's health and safety protocols this season because of COVID-19-related issues, with the number spiking higher among coaching and support staff.

NBA players and staff can test out of the health and safety protocol with two negative tests in a 24-hour period, though the league is now requiring non-boosted players to undergo daily coronavirus testing through the All-Star break in mid-February as reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Despite the recent swathe of postponed games, the NBL remains cautiously optimistic that it will be able to continue the season this weekend with fewer disruptions moving forward.

On the court, Sydney is 3-3 heading into the clash with the Illawarra Hawks, with one of those losses coming in a 92-84 loss to Brian Goorjian's squad back on December 11.

The Kings are hoping the recent hiatus will prove beneficial, with the roster decimated by injuries to start the season.

"I do think this break has helped us," Buford admitted. "We've had a pretty busy early part of the schedule. A lot of good teams, a lot of games and a lot of injuries. It was good to try and get everyone healthy for a second and take a breath. Some guys have been pretty tired and worn down and they get a chance to get their gas tank filled up a little bit.

"It's hard to really give us a full evaluation considering how many of our important players haven't been able to play.

"At the end of the day, we're a 3-3 team which is probably fair. It's going to look worse when you have a historically bad night where you set loads of records.

"We struggled on offence at times, I think we've been pretty good on defence at times and had one really bad outlier that hurts us. We've been competitive and played some tough teams well, we just haven't had the shot making to get over the line in a couple. Hopefully Jaylen [Adams] coming back will help ease that."

Star import duo Adams (ankle) and RJ Hunter (knee) are expected to return for the game against Illawarra, with the pair only seeing the floor together on one occasion - an early season win over Melbourne United.

"Jaylen will play and play a good amount. RJ will play a little bit each game across the course of the weekend as we try to ease him back into things," Buford said.

Buford did reveal Angus Glover will miss the game, as he returns to conditioning after a positive COVID test.

Overall, it's been a challenging start to his first season manning the sidelines in the NBL, but Buford is positive about the experience thus far, as he looks ahead to what he expects to be an unpredictable battle with the Hawks.

"I enjoy the physicality; I think our guys on the defensive end play with a lot of that and on offence hopefully it will work a lot better," he said.

"I'm enjoying it, it's been a lot of fun, there's been a lot of high intensity games. The game against Illawarra, we didn't win, but I thought it was a really high-level basketball game.

"They're a good team. I think the majority of your energy and effort has to go into what you're going to do to stop them. It'll be interesting, we haven't played in two and a half weeks, they haven't played in nearly a month. It's different. You never know what to expect, you can come out blazing guns early then lose a second wind, it's so unpredictable.

"I think the first five or 10 minutes will be pretty crucial to see who can take control of the game. It's a wildcard when you haven't played in so long."