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Suns' Chris Paul status for WCF unclear after being placed under NBA's health and safety protocols

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Chris Paul has been placed under the NBA's health and safety protocols, the Phoenix Suns confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

"It's like anything else when we've had guys in the past who have had it or been in that situation where you got to go into protocols, there's a natural concern for the person and that's basically where it ends," Suns coach Monty Williams said after Wednesday's practice. "The league is trying to do everything they can to keep individuals and teams safe. There's just a natural concern for an individual."

The Suns will provide another update on Paul's status Saturday.

This puts Paul's status for the Western Conference finals up in the air as he's coming off a 37-point performance in Sunday's Game 4 win to complete a sweep of the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association released their weekly COVID-19 testing results Wednesday evening, stating "of the 164 players tested for COVID-19 since June 9, one new player has returned a confirmed positive test."

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Paul is the only player an NBA team has indicated is under the league's health and safety protocols. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said on Wednesday morning's 'Get Up!" that Paul has "already been vaccinated," but Paul hasn't said publicly he is.

"We've always had the mentality not to punt on third down around here," Williams said. "We don't want to jump the gun before we have to or make a decision before we have to. We try to go about our business in a fashion that's appropriate for the day."

The conference finals will start either Sunday or Tuesday depending on when the Utah Jazz-Los Angeles Clippers matchup ends.

If the series goes six games, the conference finals will begin Sunday. If it goes seven, the conference finals will start Tuesday.

The Jazz-Clippers are tied 2-2 going into Wednesday's Game 5 in Utah.

"There's a natural tendency to let your head spin a little bit, but I try not to do that, especially with our team," said Williams, who was the only one Suns made available for Zoom media interviews Wednesday. "There's a goal in front of us and we're focused on that and we're hoping and praying that we'll be whole again before we play Game 1."

Chris Paul (3) drives between Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Will Barton (5) during Game 4.
Chris Paul (3) drives between Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Will Barton (5) during Game 4.

If Paul is being placed under health and safety protocols for COVID-19 contact tracing, he'll likely be out five to seven days.

The Suns returned Sunday after sweeping Denver to reach the conference finals, didn't practice Monday, but had a light practice Tuesday and a full one Wednesday.

"Had a really good practice today," Williams said. "Got up and down. Guys got a really good sweat. They're actually still out on the floor. Nothing has changed for us. We're just trying to manage these days. I've talked to a number of coaches who've been in this situation just to get information on how they've handled this much time off. We're trying to keep a game rhythm as best we can."

Testing likely took place Tuesday. If Paul is the player who tested positive in the latest run of league testing, he could be out much longer and miss Game 1 and Game 2 even if the conference finals series starts Tuesday.

The games for the conference finals are scheduled every other day. No names are released on the NBA testing report. Paul is the president of the NBPA.

"I am a man of prayer and I believe in times like this, as it has been the whole season, you have to have faith to get through the year the way that we've gotten through it," Williams said. "These are moments when you need a lot of faith. We're in the playoffs and we've got a chance to win and win big. So my faith isn't going to waver now because we've had a few obstacles . We've had obstacles all season long. We've gotten through a lot of stuff. You look forward to these challenges, you embrace them. You move forward."

Still, the Suns may start the conference finals with Cameron Payne starting at point guard instead of Paul.

"As a coach, I have to think through those scenarios and I've thought a lot about it," Williams said. "We've haven't made a decision just yet because we don't have to, but it is a process for me not only to think about who starts, but the rotation after that because it can change a lot based on who you go with as a starter."

Williams elaborated that Payne has seen action with the starters as the Suns developed a rotation in which Payne entered the game for Paul at the midway point of the first quarter.

Payne scored 34 total points in Game 2 and Game 3 against the defending Los Angeles Lakers in the first round when Paul was limited with the right shoulder injury suffered in Game 1, but the Suns lost both games to fall down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.

With two days between Game 3 and Game 4, Paul got rest, which proved to be essential in recovering from the injury, Paul scored 18 points in a Game 4 win after convincing Williams and Suns General Manager James Jones to let him start the game.

"We've had guys this year step up in big moments at that position," Williams said. "Cam Payne to E'Twaun (Moore). Book (Devin Booker) has even played some point for us from time to time. Our guys are ready for the challenge."

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, talks with Suns guard Cameron Payne, left, during the first half of Game 2 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, talks with Suns guard Cameron Payne, left, during the first half of Game 2 of their NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday, May 25, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Then Williams proceeded to rattle teams also dealing with "a situation" like the Philadelphia 76ers with Joel Embiid (knee), the Los Angeles Clippers with Kawhi Leonard (knee), Utah Jazz with Mike Conley (hamstring).

"So we don't feel like we're the only ones dealing with a situation when it comes to health and trying to stay healthy," Williams said. "It's what you prepare for as a staff and a team and we feel like our guys are ready for whatever presents itself."

Paul was named to the All-NBA second team Tuesday to mark the 10th time he's made All-NBA in his 16 seasons. Finishing fifth in the NBA MVP voting, Paul overcame the shoulder injury to dominate the conference semifinals against the Nuggets.

Averaging 25.5 points on a heated 61.8% shooting from the field, Paul shot 6-of-8 from 3 in the series that went four games.

Paul posted 41 assists to only five turnovers against Denver.

Jun 9, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) celebrates with forward Jae Crowder (99) against the Denver Nuggets during game two in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic
Jun 9, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) celebrates with forward Jae Crowder (99) against the Denver Nuggets during game two in the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

The Suns have had five players placed under health and safety protocols this season – Cam Johnson, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky III, rookie Jalen Smith and Damian Jones, who was waived in February.

Johnson, Saric and Smith all said they tested positive for COVID-19 while Kaminsky confirmed he was out due to contact tracing.

So as Williams has said, the Suns have "dealt with stuff this year," but made in essence a vow not to allow anything to "change our culture."

That philosophy is being tested once again with Paul being under health and safety protocols and possibly missing the start of the conference finals.

"I just left our gym, the spirit was unreal," Williams said. "Our guys understand we've dealt with stuff this year. Other teams have dealt with it. It's just part of the NBA. From an emotional standpoint, our guys turned the page. Right after we got home and the crowd was there, that was a pretty cool moment for the team, but the next we day we got together, it was business as usual because the one thing that we said was we were never going to let anything change our culture."

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns' Chris Paul placed under NBA's health and safety protocols