MEXICO CITY — The NBA is back in Mexico for a regular-season game, and the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves are learning there’s an additional rival to conquer: The altitude.
During a practice game Tuesday, Minnesota’s players looked noticeably exhausted.
“It was very tough getting through the sprints,” Kevin Love said. “You lose your breath very easy in here, but it was a good practice. Hopefully we’ll have our wind tomorrow.”
The Timberwolves and Spurs will play Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. EST.
Sitting at 7,350 feet above sea level, Mexico’s capital is at a far higher elevation than Denver, which is the NBA’s highest venue at 5,280 feet.
“In Denver, which is the highest city in the United states, we can feel (the altitude) in the first five minutes,” the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili said. “I’m sure it will be much more difficult here.”
Minnesota, which will be the home team, has never played in Mexico. During the practice, Love and the rest of his teammates looked visibly tired.
“We did not know the altitude would affect us so much but we were able to run a bit during practice,” said Jose Juan Barea, who has twice played in Mexico, once in Cancun for the Timberwolves and another time in Guadalajara, when he played for Puerto Rico’s team during the Pan American games in 2011.
“The trainer asked us to drink a lot of water because he wants to make sure we’re OK,” Barea said.
Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said he plans to modify his strategy a bit to take the city’s altitude into account.
“We have to be very aware on probably getting guys in earlier than we normally would,” Alder said. “We had a scrimmage to get ready for it. Our substitutions will be quicker.”
Spurs coach Greg Popovich said he won’t change his substitution plan and simply hopes that “as the minutes go by, the (altitude’s) effect will pass. I’m not planning any changes.”
The game Wednesday will be the 21st played south of the border. Although, this will be the first regular-season game since the Dallas Mavericks faced the Houston Rockets on December 6, 1997, at Mexico City’s Palacio de los Deportes.
The Spurs have played five games in Mexico, including one just a couple of years ago when they played a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It’s certainly different because now is a sum game,” Ginobili said. “In preseason, it’s for fun. Now we do not want to lose.”
All but two of the 21 games have been held in Mexico City.
After their practice, the Spurs took their socks and sneakers off and played against a team of Trique Indian boys, who have earned acclaim in Mexico and abroad after sweeping through a youth basketball tournament despite their generally short stature and the fact that most play barefoot.
The team from the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca won all six of its games to become this year’s champions at the International Festival of Mini-Basketball held recently in Argentina.
“It’s a wonderful story,” Popovich said. “They have good fundamentals. I was surprised to learn many don’t speak Spanish.”
They played a five-on-five that was won by the Trique Indian boys, 10-4.
“We ran, and we had fun,” said Ginobili, who is from Argentina. “I know they did well in Argentina and it was pleasure to have had this experience with them.”