Kelly Olynyk only knows a few words of Spanish, but there’s little doubt he’s the Miami Heat’s foremost authority when it comes to playing in Mexico City — the Heat’s next destination after taking on the Spurs on Wednesday night.
As a member of Canada’s national team and most recently the Boston Celtics in December 2015 when he scored 21 points in a win over the Sacramento Kings, the 7-footer has played “between 12 or 14” games in the Arena Ciudad de Mexico, which stands 7,382 feet above sea level and can leave players not used to such high altitudes gasping for air.
“The altitude, you get used to it,” Olynyk said after Wednesday morning’s shootaround at the AT&T Center. “Once you get your first wind out of the way, you’re kind of settled in. Like Denver, you’re a little short-winded to start.
“It’s a great place to play. The fans were awesome. They love basketball. They don’t get to see it a lot. It’s like their NBA Finals that one game. It’s great when you can see what the game does and what the game brought so many people in the world.”
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The Heat, playing its first regular-season game not in the United States or Canada, has scheduled practices on back-to-back days in Mexico City before Saturday’s 6 p.m. tip-off against the Brooklyn Nets.
Unlike any of the previous 13 international preseason games Miami has played in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Brazil, China, London or Paris, the Heat is treating Saturday’s game as a business trip because it counts in the standings. Outside of signing a few basketballs for fans inside the team hotel and a clinic the coaching staff will be involved in with, the focus will be on beating the Nets and not enjoying the scenery.
Coach Erik Spoelstra is downplaying the fact Brooklyn could have an advantage since the Nets are playing another game in Mexico City — Thursday night against Oklahoma City — before the Heat arrives.
“It’s one of the rare times that you actually will be able to get used to it,” Spoelstra said of the high altitude. “We’re going to be there three days. Normally, when you go to Denver, at most you have a night and sometimes you have a back-to-back. I think our guys will get adjusted to it pretty quick, even by the second day.”
Said Olynyk: “[The Nets] might have an advantage for the first six minutes but other than that you’re into the game, into the flow. You don’t think about it after that.”
Point guard Goran Dragic hasn’t played in Mexico City, but did play in Monterrey, Mexico, in his second season in the league with the Phoenix Suns. He scored one point and had six assists in a preseason loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 18, 2009.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Dragic said of the trip to Mexico City. “It’s a nice city, big. We had a good time over there. So I’m looking forward to it.”