Magic remain in Mexico City to play Jazz

December 15, 2018

The idea of playing games in an international setting such as Mexico City is viewed as an opportunity to grow the NBA by various management figures in the front offices of the Orlando Magic and the Utah Jazz.

For players and coaches, there is time to explore things in Mexico City, but the visit to Mexico is considered a business trip with winning as the main objective.

The Magic achieved the winning aspect of the trip by beating the Chicago Bulls in front of 20,201 fans, and another large crowd will be in the stands at Mexico City's Arena Ciudad de Mexico when Orlando is the home team against Utah on Saturday afternoon.

It will be the ninth regular-season game in Mexico and, including preseason, the 28th game played in Mexico.

Orlando is trying to sweep two international games for the second time in team history after making enough plays down the stretch in Thursday's 97-91 victory over Chicago. The Magic also swept the then-New Jersey Nets in two games played in the Tokyo Dome in November 1996.

In the last three seasons, Orlando, Brooklyn and Phoenix gave up home games to play in Mexico City. Brooklyn and Phoenix both took splits from the two games and the Magic are hoping that being acclimated to the high elevation works in their favor, though they are hoping more of the crowd is rooting for them this time.

"It was good, it felt like a road game for us, kind of a home game, but it was a fun game especially towards the end the fans really got into it when it was close at the end," Orlando center Nikola Vucevic told reporters at practice on Friday. "You could really feel the energy. No matter if it's home or on the road, you feel the energy, so it was fun to be in."

"I hope so," Magic coach Steve Clifford said of possibly owning an advantage for Saturday. "I know that early in the game you could see that it's hard, the beginning of the game is hard."

The Magic are in a position to get their second straight win in Mexico because of a strong performance from Nikola Vucevic. He helped the Magic snap a three-game losing streak and rebound from double-digit losses to Dallas and Indiana by scoring 26 points and hitting the tiebreaking jumper with 28 seconds remaining.

Vucevic was held to a season-low eight points Monday in Dallas but rebounded by reaching 25 points for the eighth time. The Magic are 6-2 when he gets at least 25 points, but Clifford was equally as impressed at Vucevic getting eight of Orlando's 40 deflections on Thursday.

Vucevic had a full complement of support as Evan Fournier returned from missing Monday's game for personal reasons and had 10 points. D.J. Augustin added 15 and took the charge on defense before Vucevic's clutch jumper.

Vucevic also had a new starting frontcourt as Aaron Gordon started alongside Jonathan Issac. Gordon was 2 of 11 from the field and Issac contributed 10 points.

On Saturday, Vucevic will be going against close friend and France native Rudy Gobert, whose 24 double-doubles are second in the league behind Joel Embiid.

"There are a lot of fans there, and I've never been to Mexico City, so I'm excited," Gobert told reporters. "The league is worldwide, and there's a lot of people around the world, a lot of countries that don't have the opportunity to watch NBA games, so I think it's great to promote the game and also for the kids I think it's fun."

The Jazz will play their first regular-season game in Mexico. Utah faced Dallas in preseason games in Mexico City in 1996 and 2003, and also played Phoenix in Mexico in 1996.

"It's cool to go there for a little bit of a showcase game," Utah guard Donovan Mitchell told reporters. "But we take it seriously, and we're going there to get a win."

Utah will be the third team to play its 19th road game of the season but hopes to continue its recent upward trend. Since a 121-88 home loss to Indiana on Nov. 26, Utah is 5-3 in its last eight games.

Gobert posted his latest double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday when the Jazz cruised to a 111-84 home win over the Miami Heat. Mitchell scored 21 points and Derrick Favors added 17.

Kyle Korver added 16 points. He's shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range in seven games since being obtained from Cleveland on Nov. 29.

Gobert is among six international players on Utah's roster. Joe Ingles and Dante Exum are from Australia, Ricky Rubio is from Spain, Raul Neto is from Brazil and Thabo Sefolosha is from Switzerland.

Utah has won four straight from Orlando and 12 of the last 15 meetings.