For all the concern about playing 7,382 feet above sea level and struggling to breathe, the Miami Heat looked pretty good Saturday night in its first regular season game outside of the United States or Canada.
In what was its best game of the season protecting the basketball, the usually turnover-prone Heat coughed it up a season-low five times and rode the combined scoring efforts of Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Justise Winslow to a 101-89 victory over the Brooklyn Nets at the Arena Ciudad de Mexico.
“I think it was really big,” Tyler Johnson said of the Heat’s win, which ended a two-game losing streak and improved the team’s record to 12-13.
“They’re a good team. Brooklyn, they don’t get a lot of credit in things they are able to do. I think they are second in pace and at this altitude we knew it was going to be tough, them trying to get up and down the court. I thought it was a big time defensive effort in the second half of the game. The first half I thought offensively we were trending, the second half our defense was back where it needed to be.”
Dragic scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and Johnson, who has started to come out of his early season shooting slump, scored 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting.
James Johnson missed a few dunks early in the game, but finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Winslow hit a career-high four three pointers and finished 5 of 6 from the field. He also had six rebounds, an assist and two big blocks in the second half.
“I think I was just in a rhythm, defensively and offensively,” Winslow said. “I think I got to the point now where I’m really just trusting my skills and all the work I put in, not thinking and just flowing really.”
Trailing by as many as 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, Brooklyn trimmed the Heat lead to 91-87 on a Spencer Dinwiddie three-pointer with 3:03 to play. But the Heat went on an 8-0 run to put the game away.
The Heat held Brooklyn (10-15) to 40.7 percent shooting and is now 9-3 this season when holding an opponent under 45 percent.
“A great game for us, especially defensively,” Dragic said. “We know that they were going to try to play fast. They scored 89 points and shooting 40 percent from the field. That’s in our wheelhouse. We want to play like that every night on defense.”
The five turnovers by Miami, which came in averaging 16.3 turnovers per game (tied for 26th in the NBA), marked only the third time this season the Heat had fewer than 10 turnovers in a game.
What changed Saturday?
“We were just slowing down,” Josh Richardson said. “We weren’t going fast. We were all tired.”
Spoelstra did his best to combat that early by subbing players in and out of the game faster than usual. By the four minute mark of the first quarter, all nine Heat players who saw action had already been on the floor. Still, the altitude was tough to deal with, players said.
“The altitude was really tough,” Dragic said. “My chest felt like it was exploding. It was like having two games in one game. I think Spo did an amazing job rotating the guys early and then to be fresh the whole game.”
The Heat continues its three-game road trip Monday night in Memphis.
▪ Former Heat All-Star and three-time NBA champion Chris Bosh, whose career has been cut short by blood clots, watched his former team courtside for the first time since being released this summer. After the game, he video bombed Winslow’s postgame interview.