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Nets run out of gas, lose in Mexico’s thin air to Heat

An early lead crumbled after Brooklyn scored only 36 points in the second half.

The Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie jumps for the ball

The Nets' Spencer Dinwiddie jumps for the ball next to the Heat's Goran Dragic during a game in Mexico City, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Christian Palma

MEXICO CITY — Before taking the court Saturday night at Arena Ciudad de México, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was asked if his team might have an advantage playing its second game in three nights at the 7,382-foot altitude of the Mexican capital against the visiting Heat, especially after the closely guarded preparations the Nets’ performance team made to deal with the conditions.

“Great question,” Atkinson said. “I guess we’ll see after the game.”

The answer came when the Heat took control with a 14-5 fourth-quarter run in a 101-89 victory over the Nets, who managed just 36 second-half points and clearly ran out of gas.

Spencer Dinwiddie hit a pair of three-pointers that cut the Heat’s 10-point lead to 91-87 with 3:03 left, and it seemed the Nets had a chance. But the Heat responded with a 10-2 run to end the game.

The Nets are in the top five in the NBA in pace of play, but they slowed to a crawl. Asked if the altitude was a factor, Atkinson said, “We weren’t playing at a fast pace. I thought our overall offensive energy was down. But listen, they’re a very good defensive team. As a team, we’re not going to use fatigue as an excuse.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra noted that his team made a short trip from San Antonio and had two days between games, one more than the Nets.

“[The Nets] play at an incredible pace and they wear you down,” Spoelstra said. “But our guys showed mental toughness to make great defensive plays down the stretch. As the game wore on, guys were fatigued, but we executed better.”

Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson led the Heat (12-13) with 20 points each. Johnson came off the bench to shoot 8-for-11 and backup Justise Winslow added 15 points, shooting 5-for-6.

The Nets (10-15) had six players in double figures: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (18), Dinwiddie (15 points, nine assists), Isaiah Whitehead (13) and Allen Crabbe, Tyler Zeller and Caris LeVert (12 each). The Nets shot a poor 7-for-27 from three-point range.

As part of their preparation, the Nets took Friday off. Some players traveled just over an hour to visit nearby pyramids while others visited a zoo in a park near the team hotel.

Atkinson said all the players made the local restaurant scene. Several developed stomach problems, and backup guard Joe Harris was too sick to play.

“He was vomiting all day,” Atkinson said. “He tried to go out and warm up. He came to me and said, ‘I can’t do it.’ We gave him IVs and tried to get him going, but it just wasn’t possible.”

Despite the loss of Harris, the Nets hung in well, cutting Miami’s lead to 75-74 on a pair of foul shots by Dinwiddie to open the fourth quarter. But it quickly went downhill as the Nets ran out of breath.

“I think we just missed shots,” Dinwiddie said. “They played great defense to limit us as well, but we can’t make any excuses for their rest or the altitude.”

The Nets’ international adventure included a major trade on Thursday when they acquired Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas from Philadelphia. They will join the team Monday in Brooklyn, beginning a new phase of the season.

“Overall, I thought this was a positive trip, beating Atlanta and then Oklahoma City,” Atkinson said. “We would have liked to get this third one.

“We’re not at that point yet in our progression and development where we can grind through a game like this and pull it out. But we’re getting closer.”

New York Sports