By CARLOS RODRIGUEZ
MEXICO CITY (AP) – The Miami Heat spent a lot of time in the last couple of days as a group of tourists in Mexico City. When they got back in the court, they were all business.
Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson each scored 20 points and Miami beat the Brooklyn Nets 101-89 on Saturday in the Heat’s first game in Mexico in franchise history.
Playing in front of 19,777 fans at raucous Arena Ciudad de Mexico, Dragic was 9 of 19 from the field and had seven rebounds for Miami. The Heat snapped a two-game losing streak to improve to 12-13.
“It was a terrific and easy trip coming down from San Antonio, we had a day off to go out and see the city, you don’t travel all this way to watch TV in your room, I’m going to need to get on a diet after this trip,” said Miami’s coach Erik Spoelstra, who said he visited as many coffee shops as possible. “It was fun but then we got back to work and we prepared good for tonight’s game.”
James Johnson added 17 points, Justice Winslow had 15 and Kelly Olynyk 11 for Miami. The Heat rallied from two seven-point deficits, using a stingy defense that allowed only 36 points in the second half.
“It was a great game for us, especially on the defensive end,” Dragic said. “Tyler played great and the second unit gave us the extra boost that we needed, we have a deep bench and everybody can play.”
Miami arrived Wednesday night after suffering a loss in San Antonio. The players had a video session the day after and Spoelstra left them visit the city the rest of the day.
Most of the players and coaches went shopping and sight-seeing in Polanco, an upscale neighborhood in the capital.
“The fans are terrific, it’s a great environment,” Spoelstra said. “I was pleasantly surprised walking around and seeing NBA games on the T.V. everywhere we went, and the fans recognized us, it felt like we were in Miami”.
By arriving two days ahead of the game, the Heat had a chance to know the city but it came with a price because they struggled early in the game with the altitude. Mexico City’s 7,350 feet above sea level is at a far higher elevation than Denver – the NBA’s highest venue at 5,280 feet.
Professional teams try different approaches to avoid the effects of the altitude on the body and usually, arriving as close to a game as possible is regarded as the way to go.
“It was tough, it feels like we played two games, but ‘Spo’ (Spoelstra) did a great job rotating so we could stay fresh,” Dragic said.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson led the Nets with 18 points. Coming off a 100-95 victory over Oklahoma City on Thursday night in the Mexico City opener, the Nets dropped to 10-15.
In the third quarter, the Nets took a seven-point lead on Tyler Zeller’s layup, but Dragic sealed a 10-2 run to give Miami a 60-59 lead and the Heat took a 75-72 advantage into the final period.
The game between the Heat and the Nets was the fourth in Mexico this year. It marks the first time the NBA has hosted four international regular-season games in the same country in one calendar year (outside Canada). In January, the Phoenix Suns played the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs. Also, the game was the 26th south of the border since 1992, also a record for any nation besides the U.S. and Canada.
INCHING ON RILEY
Spoelstra (452-295) is two wins short from tying Pat Riley (454-395) for the most wins in Heat history. Spoelstra is the only second active coach in the NBA to record at least 450 wins with their current team. The other one is Gregg Popovich.
FEELING THE HEAT
The Nets suffered their sixth straight loss to the Heat. Brooklyn has not beated Miami since 12/28/15.
Heat: At Memphis on Monday night.
Nets: Host Indiana on Tuesday night.
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