MEXICO CITY — When the Nets “host” the Thunder Thursday night, it will be anything but just another game. First, it will take place in cavernous, 23,000-seat Ciudad de Mexico Arena, and be played at an altitude of more than 7,300 feet. The NBA has issued more than 250 media credentials, which is an indication of the massive coverage NBA Mexico City Games 2017 will receive.
The Nets, who also will be the home team against Miami on Saturday, were suitably impressed when their bus rolled up to the arena with its soaring, artistic façade and brawny presence on the outside. “Oh, it was amazing,” DeMarre Carroll told local reporters asking for his first impression. “I was like ‘wow,’ I didn’t know it was this big.
“Coming over here, I heard about the food and great culture here. But when I walked into the arena, my mouth dropped because this is a great atmosphere and I feel like this is going to be a great game [Thursday] night.”
Following a brief practice, the Nets were inundated by Mexico City media outlets and also sat down for ESPN Desportes interviews. As Allen Crabbe said, “We’re excited. It’s a different atmosphere playing in the NBA Global Games. You look and you see all these media people, and it doesn’t feel like we’re in a regular game. It feels like we’re in the playoffs or something like that. It’s nice. Hopefully, fans pack it out and get an exciting showcase.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson explained this is his third trip to Mexico, having previously visited as part of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program and coached the Dominican Republic at the FIBA Americas tournament. He assured everyone loves Mexico City and also local hoops hero Jorge Gutierrez, who played 25 games for the Nets previously and got a tryout in Atkinson’s first season.
“We were asked to do this and said we’re going to lose two home games, and I felt like I’d rather go to Mexico City,” Atkinson said. “I think it’s great for the NBA and it’s great for our organization. We’re trying to be a global organization, we have a lot of diversity on our staff and with our players. So, it fits with what we’re trying to do culturally.”
In September, parts of Mexico City were devastated by an earthquake with a 7.1 magnitude on the Richter scale. Atkinson said the Nets were briefed by NBA officials on what to do in the event of another earthquake, and he expressed his sympathy for victims of the tragedy.
Asked what precautions the Nets are taking to handle the altitude, Atkinson said, “I can’t give you all the details, but we’re on top of it. Playing at elevation is a different deal, so we’re trying to do everything in our power to address that. It started with today’s practice, pretty light, low intensity, but we got a lot of things done. We did film and then it was more of a mental practice and a lot of shooting.”
When the fanfare gives way to basketball, the Nets (9-14) will be tasked with defending a star-studded Thunder team featuring Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. They’re off to a slow 11-12 start but have won three straight and are adjusting to their offseason personnel changes.
“It’s just sticking to our principles, playing team defense, try to limit those three guys,” Crabbe said of the Nets’ approach. “All of us have shown that, when it’s the big teams, we don’t back away, we don’t shy away. You’ve seen how we played against Cleveland, how we played against the Warriors. Something about Oklahoma City when you have all these stars, guys get up for these games.”