BY LOUIS MILMAN

(HOUSTON) — Houston Rockets star James Harden could return to the court this weekend if he continues to test negative for the coronavirus, ESPN reports.

Harden was fined $50,000 and ruled unavailable for the team’s scheduled season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday due to a violation of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. That was the result of a league review of video showing Harden socializing maskless at a club earlier this week.

Harden’s absence, combined with two players who had tested positive for COVID-19, and several more deemed close contacts of those two players, the Rockets did not have the required eight available players to play the game, forcing it to be postponed.

Harden tested negative for COVID-19 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reports. He will have to remain in isolation until Friday with no positive tests, before he would be made available for the team’s game on Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Harden told NBA investigators that he believed he was in compliance with all protocols, saying he had entered through a separate entrance and sat in an area of the venue with his security detail while wearing a mask. A source tells ESPN that Harden took a photo with a friend and gave her a gift,before leaving after approximately 30 minutes.

This comes after Harden, an eight-time All-Star, requested to be traded this offseason. He also violated league COVID-19 protocols during a brief holdout during training camp, by attending a birthday party for rapper Lil Baby in Atlanta, and being spotted at clubs in Las Vegas. He had to register six consecutive days of negative coronavirus tests before being allowed to return to practice.

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