Spurs, Timberwolves to play in 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 for Puerto Rico’s national team – in

Cancun and Guadalajara.

”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.”