MEXICO CITY — Travel is part of the NBA schedule, but the Nets will be 2,088 miles away from Barclays Center, as the team plane flies, when they play “home” games against the Thunder on Thursday and the Heat on Saturday in Mexico City. There will be no homecourt advantage at Arena Ciudad de Mexico, especially against the Thunder, which features such well-known players as Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.
But Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who was a globetrotter in his playing days with teams in five European countries, believes the tradeoff is worth it for the cultural experience. “I’d love to be home, but the opportunity to go to another country and for our guys to get that experience outweighs the two games at home,” Atkinson said before the Nets scored a 110-90 win Monday night at Atlanta.
“Maybe the players feel differently, but I think we’re going to grow as a basketball team and grow as an organization from a trip like this. You’re together a lot more because there’s a lot of stuff to do, whether it’s [visiting] pyramids or team dinners that are at an authentic Mexican restaurant. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Travel isn’t the only obstacle the Nets face. There’s the 7,382-foot altitude in Mexico City that presents a challenge for the NBA team that plays at the fastest pace in the league. Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said the Nets’ performance team is “a step ahead” in terms of warning players to stay hydrated and to use the steam room to get their red blood count up to help with oxygen intake.
“You’ve got to think about it like we’re coming from Brooklyn and we’re playing OKC,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “They have a bunch of superstars, so they might have more fans than us there. We understand that. But we also understand that it’s a mindset you’ve got to have going into it about how you prepare, how you play, how you feel. And I feel like we’re going to play good.”
The Nets’ itinerary includes visits to the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, but Atkinson said the Nets won’t wear their players out with tourist activities. They also will be briefed by NBA security on how to conduct themselves.
“I’ve been on a lot of trips with the NBA internationally,” Atkinson said. “There’s a protocol. They gather everybody in a room and give you the do’s and don’ts. We follow what they do by the book. As a club and an organization, we’ll lean on the NBA for that. It’s a great cultural experience. We’re looking at this similar to our trip to Navy [for training camp]. It’s definitely basketball, but let’s grasp the culture. Let’s invest ourselves.”
Notes & quotes: Atkinson said guard D’Angelo Russell, who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, will be on the trip . . . Guard Isaiah Whitehead suffered a hip injury playing for the Long Island Nets on Saturday but might rejoin the NBA team in Mexico City. “We’re just evaluating him right now,” Atkinson said. “He should be healthy enough. We’re just waiting for confirmation on that.”